Little sponges: A simple way to reinforce rhythm in 5 minutes while working programs
First of all, I just want to say that Beat Blocks should be used just when needed to boost your already brilliant pedagogy. Secondly, kids are sponges and exposing them to concepts and melodies repeatedly will soak into them and come out when you need it. If you're like me, this time of year is when stress sets in and we're singing about Hanukkah and Christmas in October trying to prepare for the huge holiday program in early December. The way our program is set up, it's very hard to have the space to do a proper "inform-ance" and the parents really aren't interested (yes, I'm trying to change it!), so it's very heavily performance-based. My first graders have learned eighth and quarter notes this fall (long/short), but they still need a lot of work decoding and dictating the rhythms on their own. Rather than kiss our concepts goodbye until Janunary, we've been using Beat Blocks as a quick dication game while also learning our music. Here's how I did it.
I took the refrain of one of our performance songs ("Mary Had a Baby"), and used it as a set-up for building rhythms. I used 4 sets of blocks so that each "riser" had a set to share. This encourages group work, and it's economical as well. I sang the refrain with different words "Lets build a rhythm, oh yeah... lets build a rhythm, oh yeah.... lets build a rhythm, oh yeah - Lets build a rhythm on our blocks!" I would then clap or verbally cue a 4-beat pattern and they kids dug into their eighth/quarter note blocks and built them on the base. They hold them up to show their answer and I was able to quickly tap the tops to check them and give them immediate feedback (formative assesment!) such as "check the third beat!" or "does this read like a word?" When all groups have found their way to right answer, we re-set the blocks while I sing the refrain. We repeated for about 5 repetitions/rounds so that each child on the riser had a turn to build the group's answer.
After doing this for a few class periods, I sang the new lyrics (the actual lyrics of "Mary Had a Baby"), and the kids sang it out immediately.
Repetition, repetition, repetition. Young minds crave the structure of it, and they truly soak in musical concepts if presented in short burst like this. Never sacrifice your pedagogy for a performance or anything else that gets thrown your way during the year - just use your creative mind to break it all down into smaller bites for the kids!