Issue 96: The Cup Game

At last! A chance to teach The Cup Game, which I first wrote about here.

It was the last music lesson of term, and I had finished the topic that we had been working on, so I was looking for something new. Of course, I did not have 35 paper cups all ready to hand – but luckily the nearby 24 hour supermarket had plenty of suitable cups, on special offer too. I zipped round at 7 am before breakfast and collected 40 paper picnic cups for about £5. They have proved to be pretty durable; that is to say have lasted two classes and are still in reasonably good shape for several more.

I also downloaded “The Cup Song” from amazon for 89p, and watched a couple of YouTube videos; one of the scene from the film “Pitch Percfect”, and one of a child teaching the movements. You should have seen me trying to do the moves and scribble them down on a piece of paper, as fast as I could. Thank heavens for the pause button! I found it was a bit like riding a bicycle; getting the hang of it is very tricky at first, but then you slide the movements into your “muscular” memory and it becomes automatic (hopefully – I haven’t reached that level of skill yet).

In the end I devised one-word instructions for each movement. There are two “phrases”. Place the cup upside-down in front of you. In slow motion, the movements, over 8 counts, are




tap, (tap on the floor on either side of the cup, or the top of the cup. Use alternate hands)

pick (lift cup up WITH RIGHT HAND)


put (put cup back WITH RIGHT HAND).


Then over another 8 counts;


twist (pick up WITH RIGHT HAND curved round left hand side of cup – easiest if you see video) ,

mouth (tap open mouth of cup against left palm),

floor (tap base of cup on floor),

give (RIGHT HAND pushes base of cup into LEFT PALM to transfer cup to LEFT HAND),

hand-down (put RIGHT HAND flat on floor in front of you),

cross (LEFT HAND reaches across right hand and places cup upside down on floor),



When I taught this to year 3 and 4, I broke it down into very small steps, slowly building up to the whole sequence. I didn’t make a big deal of right and left. There were a couple of girls who had already learned the whole pattern and the song that goes with it; my pattern differed slightly from theirs, so they did it their way and the rest of us learned it my way. Constant encouragement and revising of earlier steps was needed to make sure that the children who were ready to give up right at the beginning managed to keep persevering. In the end everyone could do the whole pattern apart from two boys, and they would have succeeded if they had been able to concentrate on listening and trying, rather than on moaning and complaining!

That sounds harsh, but learning to resist the habit of “shutting down” and just sitting and wailing “It’s too hard”, and properly get down to the demanding business of focussing and concentrating, is an important skill for all kinds of learning. I believe that it this kind of music activity offers a light-hearted way of developing this kind of grafting, and they may as well practise it on something trivial like “the cup game” rather than on something like fractions or punctuation!

With year 5, once again a couple of girls already knew the song and the actions, and proceeded to demonstrate this with frightening speed. “Whoa”! I cried, as the boys reeled back from the challenge.

I did make a hard and fast rule about right and left handed-ness, because I wanted to turn it into a circle game. To help them work out which hand is which, I showed how if you gently scratch along your right arm, you can feel which arm is which. The children were quicker at learning the pattern.   After a while we were able to get the cups travelling anti-clockwise round the circle; when you put the cup down at the end of the second phrase you place it in front of the person on your right.

I ended both sessions with a variant of “Zum galli galli” which all the children know; “Collect”. I chose a couple of children to be collectors and so rounded up the cups in an orderly fashion before moving on to another activity.

ants playing "the cup game"





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