5th grade is one of those tricky grade levels for an elementary music teacher. On the one hand, they can do so much cool music stuff!
On the other, they are starting to get caught up in their peer groups and hesitate to participate if they’re worried about how they’ll be perceived.
When I first started teaching general music (back in the Dark Ages), they were my least favorite grade level to teach. Now, they’re still not my favorite, but I’ve learned to love them and harness their energy.
To make your lives easier, I wanted to include 9 of my favorite 5th-grade music lesson plans for you to check out. Will each one be a slam dunk? Probably not, but you should be able to find something to use and have a good experience.
#1 Who Are You? – Ostinato Chant
This is one of my favorite activities to do on the first day or weeks of back to school. It’s a simple layered ostinato activity we can expand onto instruments.
While the rhythms are simple, this is perfect for dusting off their neurons and getting ready for more intense learning.
Here’s the notation:
- Teach each part to the whole class on its own.
- Have the class do the stomping part while T. does the pat part. Repeat with the clapping part.
- Repeat step 2 with the class doing the pat part, and the T. does the others.
- Repeat step 2 with the class doing the clapping part.
- Split class in half and switch parts.
- Split the class into thirds and have the class do the whole ostinati pattern. Rotate parts, so students do a bit of everything.
- Transfer to instruments. Let students either help you pick which ones or use these:
- Stomp – congas
- Pat – hand drums
- Clap – rhythm sticks
Pro-tip: Expand even further by facilitating further experimentation with dynamics, tempo, form, and more! Get student ideas; they’re so creative!
#2 Simple Gifts Song And Parachute Game
I’m all about teaching my students a mix of “fun” songs and ones that are more classic in nature (as long as they’re culturally and historically appropriate).
Simple Gifts or the Shaker Melody is a beautiful song, but it’s not one your students may just buy into right away. With the 5th-grade music kids, I’m not above a little bribe.
In this case, the bribe is the parachute dance/movement game.
First, the notation:
First, just the moves:
- Students walk to the right with their left hands in the middle. (16 beats)
- “…where we ought to be…” clap and turn around with a right hand in the middle.
- Walk to the left (8 beats) and clap/stop on the word “right.”
- “Twill be in the valley of love and delight.” Two slow bows. (8 beats)
- Quick, small hands wave to the beat. (8 beats)
- Big two-beat motions up and down. (8 beats)
- Turn in a circle to the right for 8 beats (clap on 7).
- Turn in a circle to the left for 8 beats (clap on 7).
Then, make the moves with the parachute. If they can handle it, then I add small items such as bean bags, stuffed animals, or scarves onto the parachute.
It’s a fun way to get into an otherwise serious song.
Check out more circle games for the music classroom.
#3 Al Citron
I’ve made it a goal in my teaching to include a more culturally diverse collection of songs. One of those I added before this goal is a song called Al Citron.
I learned this from another student in my Kodaly Level 3 training who was from Mexico. He said they played it as kids with sticks, and it was a blast!
It’s also perfect for this age level in terms of concepts, coordination challenges, and more.
Here’s the notation:
This is a passing game with sticks.
The students sit in a circle with a single bean bag or stick in front of them.
They move to the right on the first beat.
They picked up the stick in front of them on the second beat.
This is usually enough to keep them busy for a while, but there’s an advanced version too.
On the words, triqui triqui tran, you hold onto the stick and bring it back to center once more before passing it on.
Start the song slow and speed up as much as possible.
Check out how fast they can go.
#4 Musical Instrument Bingo
Not every lesson needs to be super active (though I would say most of them should be). Sometimes it’s good to take a step back and play a game that covers more about the music itself rather than practicing the skills.
For me, musical instruments are one of those topics I feel are critical in a students’ curriculum, and fifth-grade music is the last chance to get it covered.
I’m not one to reinvent the wheel, so I usually look for something someone already made.
There are some great and affordable ones on TPT, but I’ve used this musical instrument bingo for years and love it.
I’m also excited to add in some world music instrument bingo too which I got on Amazon!
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#5 Rhythm Puzzles
This is less of a full lesson plan for 5th-grade music and more of an extension you can do with any song you already have on your list.
Convert songs your kids know into rhythm-only sheet music. Cut them up, measure by measure, and mix the measures up.
Now, in small groups or individually, they have to solve the puzzle and put the rhythms back into the right order.
To make it harder, I don’t usually tell them what song they’re trying to figure out. Sometimes I even put several songs together in one pile.
#6 Timbre Sorter/ Found Sound Band
Take any song you already do and add a whole other lesson to it by extending with some found sounds.
For those who don’t know, found sounds are when you play anything in your area like an instrument. Chairs, tables, pencils, walls, doors, windows (carefully), and whatever can become an instrument.
- First, review the song, songs, ostinato lesson, or whatever you’ve been doing.
- Now, ask them to find a new “instrument” in the room that’s NOT a traditional instrument.
- Play with the new instrument.
- Write down the instruments they chose on the board and facilitate a discussion on what categories they could make to sort the instruments.
- Sort the instruments together.
- Play the song again, but this time with intent! Have the class choose specific instruments and play them together.
#7 Compose A Song
This could be a lesson on its own, but if you want to use it as part of another lesson, then it works perfectly.
Basically, your students are making up their own rhythms, song, and even chords depending on where they are in your sequence or curriculum.
I find they do better when given some boundaries or rules to follow rather than completely broad directions.
You could start with a simple melody line and build off of that.
You may want to offer a poem to use as a basis for inspiration!
Here’s an example of some boundaries I use to help give them a place to start:
- You need to compose a song with a melody using do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, and high do.
- The song needs to end on do.
- The song is in 2 or 4 meter with at least two contrasting sections.
- You need to use at least four different rhythm values.
- Hint: Use the words to help decide which rhythms to use.
#8 The “Egg Game”
OK, this is a game I use as a sneaky way to reinforce steady beat.
Maybe you’re a genius music teacher and have zero problems with any of your students losing the beat and, if so, please share your secrets.
For me, I always think it’s the perfect time to reinforce the beat. This is where the egg game comes in.
I learned this from my host teacher, Paul Rose, retired from Mount Pleasant Public Schools in Michigan.
- Students in a circle with their legs crossed, hands resting on their knees, palms up.
- As you say a simple chant like “Pass, Pass, Not, Fast” to the beat, students are going to pass an egg shaker across their body from their right hand to the next student’s right hand (or vice versa if it’s in their left).
- Start with one student having two eggs, one in each hand. It needs to pass around the circle to the beat, so it arrives back in the starting person’s hand at the same time.
- Now have the person directly across from the starter take two eggs. All eggs need to return to each starter at the same time. (Yes, people will need to cross their hands to pass the eggs).
- Continue adding eggs and see how high they can get.
The key here is to pass to the beat and keep your hands ready. It requires a huge amount of focus at higher levels, and my fifth graders love it! (Especially when they get to compete for their high scores against the other fifth grade classes).
#9 Sing Me Another Canon
Yeah, I love canons. This one isn’t “fun” on its own, but it’s beautiful and meaningful.
At first, some of the 5th graders will balk at it, but once they get going, they realize how cool it sounds to sing in parts like this.
Here’s the notation:
You may also want to check out my 10 favorite solfege rounds.