Issue 126: More ideas for the Large Class – Rhythm cards

Teaching a noisy subject like music to a class of nearly 40 children crammed into a small classroom can be a complete nightmare.

You can end up spending most of the lesson bellowing “I’m waiting for you to settle down now” and other ‘waste-of-breathe, waste-of-time’ phrases. At the end of the lesson everyone is frazzled and grumpy and no-one is looking forward to next week.

So, get them going from the very beginning, doing something all together which is simple, impressive, and ever-so-slightly challenging.

I’m talking rhythm cards, of course, suitable for all ages, but surprisingly effective with the youngest children. I’ve even used them with Reception classes. Take it slowly with younger children, go faster with the older ones.

To start with, do some “listen and copy” clapping games; you clap a rhythm (like “my name is Jane”, “I like eating fish and chips” – just clap the words without saying them aloud). That gets their attention, and their ears “in focus”.

Extend the activity by getting them them to stay silent when you clap the rhythm of “Don’t clap this-one back”. As this is the rhythm that most teachers use to get the attention of the class, that’s a real challenge for them!

Now for the rhythm cards;

The basic units are crotchets  which count 1 beat and I call “Doo”, pairs of quavers, which are half-a-beat each (so a pair adds up to one beat) and I call “Doo-bee”, and crotchet rests, a sort of squiggle counting 1 beat of silence. I call them (unsurprisingly) “sh”. Younger children are encouraged to say “sh” out loud, older children have to be silent for the time they would have said “sh”.


They are so easy to draw, a child could manage it! (There’s a clue for another activity…..)

I start with flash-cards made from an A4 piece of card, folded into half to make two long thin strips. Choose any random selection from crotchets, pairs of quavers and rests. The only rule is that each card must add up to 4 – like the one above. Laminate them to make them last for ever and ever.

Go through the cards with the children – verbally first, then clapping, then on simple-to-use percussion instruments. I count them in at the speed that they are to go at (posh music word “tempo”) “1 2 3 4” “doo doo-bee shh doo” or “clap clap-clap sh clap”  or “bash bash-bash shh bash”

To make this into a competitive game, challenge them to recognise the rhythm for “Don’t play this-one-back” (Doo Doo Doo-bee doo”. When this card comes up, anyone who plays it is “out” and has to put their instrument down. NOW they are paying attention!

How about having two different cards held up at the same time; Group 1 claps card 1 while Group 2 claps card 2? doodoobee-copy

Like this (sorry about the caption – rotate one thing, and everything else rotates as well!)

doo do-by doo sh Finally, when they are REALLY good, put on a backing track, and they can clap/play in time to the beat. That must be about three lesson’s worth of ideas…..


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