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When I was in the classroom, I used a lot of manipulatives for games and activities. I kept most of them in a copy paper box or in the storage cabinet behind my desk. I ended up with such a large collection that the teacher who took over my old position, said that opening that box was “like Christmas”. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the box only contained the manipulatives that I’d laminated. 
Sadly, I never got around to laminating many of my favorites. I had a distinctive love/hate relationship with our school’s laminator, which was likely produced in the year 110BC and transported by cart and oxen. Unless I was in the mood for the smell of burning plastic and an unidentifiable screech, I tried to avoid it. Plus, the chance that it was unoccupied was usually slim to none. Perhaps the other teachers had inhaled too many plastic fumes and developed an aural mutation, that allowed them to ignore the earth-shattering screeches emanating from the ancient machine. We’ll never know.
Either way, today I’ll be describing a game my students enjoyed that involved one of my many sets of un-laminated manipulatives. Those last two words are definitely an exercise in diction.
Moving on…
I began the lesson with a warm-up in which students improvised four-beat rhythm patterns. The goal of this short improv exercise was to inspire my students to have their own musical thoughts before they wrote them down or saw them on paper. This is a habit I picked up after attending a session by Feierabend (he’s pretty awesome). At this point in the year, my students had already worked with barred sixteenth notes, but I felt that they needed some extra practice.
Each student was given their own cup of rhythm cards, with iconic and stick notation. You can read more about my use of cups as storage here. Then, I had students pair up. I told each student to write out a four-beat rhythm pattern using their iconic notation (picture) cards. 
Graphics by and The3amTeacher
When they were done, they read their rhythm out loud to their partner. Then, they quickly switched spots and decoded their partner’s rhythm using the stick notation cards. We were using the empty lily pads to represent rests.
Graphics by and The3amTeacher
I reminded them to check their work, which gave each student a chance to decode their partner’s rhythm as well as their own. For students who needed an extra challenge, I added an additional step, and asked them to play the rhythm on their over-turned cups. If you don’t use cups, you could easily substitute a rhythm instrument instead. 
To be honest, I’m not really sure that this activity qualified as a “game”, but that’s what my students called it, and I stuck to it. As Roger Sams pointed out at our state music education pre-conference last year, “Call anything a game, and the kids love it.” He’s right. Despite having never once implied that speed was a factor in this game, my students consistently raced to switch places to see how quickly they could decode each others’ rhythms. 
Beyond practicing rhythmic concepts with this matching game, you could also use it to monitor progress. While I was busy walking around helping students with their decoding, I also carried my ipad mini to keep track of who was grasping the concept and who wasn’t. I used the idoceo app for tracking progress.
The manipulatives you see in the pictures above were created using free clipart from and The3amTeacher. You can print out pictures of an alligator, turtle, and frog to try the game in your own classroom and ask your students to create their own stick notation cards. You can also click on the pictures above to preview the practice slides and manipulatives from my store.
How often do you use manipulatives in your classroom? And more importantly, how do you feel about your own school’s laminator?