Halloween Bulletin Board: Using Language to Introduce Rhythmic Notation

One of the initial experiences I use after introducing quarter note and eighth notes in 1st grade involves notating language. I present a single word in isolation, ask the students to clap along with the rhythm (syllables), question them about how many times they clapped, and then ask them to identify what rhythm symbol we would use to represent that word.

Since it’s getting close to Halloween, I put several Halloween themed cut-outs around my room. Next to each one is a card with its name. As a group, the students had to find the pictures, clap the words, and identify the notation. The students could then lift the card to reveal the answer.

So for example, up by my desk were a witch and a spider:

 After the students identified the spider as two sounds, or eighth notes, a student lifted the card to show the answer to the class:

Towards the end of the activity, we made our way to the back of the room where we discovered a challenge: Frankenstein!

The students clapped his name and determined there were three sounds. “But we don’t know any notes with three sounds. How can we show this using our notes”? Without fail, each of my classes discovered on their own how to use combinations of the notes we know to represent words with more than two sounds.

I also use this time to question the students about the order of the combinations (i.e. should Frankenstein be quarter-2 eighths, or should it be 2 eighths-quarter). I often have a student that is able to demonstrate how this changes the way the word sounds without me modeling it first.

In a future class, we’ll revisit this activity by having the students compose their own Spooky Rhythms. Students will draw a picture of a Halloween monster or object and write the notation for it underneath. As a class, we can use their individual words to create phrases which can then be transferred to instruments. I particularly love setting the xylophones up with La, Ti, Do, Mi & Fa to give it a spooky minor sound.


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