12 Ideas to Reimagine Teaching with Beanbags

Fresh ideas for using bean bags this fall in the music room or choral rehearsal.

As summer vacation draws to a close, it is always fun to get some fresh ideas for the beginning of the school year.  So go ahead and add some ways to use the bean bags from Bear Paw Creek to your repertoire! These activities will also bring giggles and smiles to teaching the potentially humdrum foundations of music making. 

This blog will share activities using beanbags not only the classroom, but also in choral rehearsal. In addition, at the end of the post is a game I developed exclusively for you, the fans of Bear Paw Creek’s Blog!  This game is open-ended, so with some poster board and markers, and of course, beanbags, you can make a delightful game that can address any skill your students need to work on.

I have been thinking about beanbags a lot lately. It is a shame for a prop that raises the spirits of students and teachers alike to be overlooked. Especially considering its durability and versatility. Why don’t we use them more?  And, if we don’t have them, why not? They are certainly one of the most affordable props out there.  In fact, www.bearpawcreek.com has bean bags for just $20 per dozen, and you can even choose the bright or muted color palette or texture that works best for your students’ needs.

If the obstacle is a lack of awareness of how to use this awesome prop, then let’s overcome it, with these 12 ideas that will help you to reimagine teaching with beanbags. These ideas include activities that I have developed, as well as some existing activities that I have adapted to beanbags, not to mention the exclusive game at the end of this blog.

Let’s get you excited for the new school year, and for using that underdog of props, beanbags!

Bean Bag Activities for the Classroom

1.Ostinato Bean Bags: Teach your ostinato, but in a kinesthetic way. Students toss the bean bag from hand-to-hand in rhythm with their singing.

2. Quick Sort: Looking for a fast way to divide students up for an activity?  If you have a variety of bean bag colors then you can hand out bean bags in a color-coded manner to designate groups/activities.  For example, if you wanted to have a sound ensemble activity, you could designate red=sung sounds, yellow=spoken sounds, orange=whisper sounds etc, and a next step would be holding up a red beanbag to start the sung group’s performances.

3. Bean Bag Engagement: Not that kind of engagement! I like to use props like the bean bags to call on students. It is an incredibly easy way to infuse more mundane tasks with fun.  I also like to have the students use this method to call on each other, which makes your existing activity even more entertaining.

4. Bean Bag SMART Notebooks: There are some great SMART notebooks available that allow students to randomly select a question or challenge by popping a bubble. Rather than walking up and popping it, you can safely have student underhand toss a bean bag at the board. My students love this method!  SMART Notebook exchange has “Candy Rhythms Koosh Ball Game” and Teachers Pay Teachers has several as well.

5. Bean Bag Shakers: If you are a new teacher that doesn’t have many props or an itinerant teacher trying to reduce how much equipment you move, consider using bean bags as a percussion instrument. You can shake or tap it, and the volume is low, so it may be just right if you have students with sound sensitivity.

6. Steady Beat Bags: When students are still learning to find the steady beat, a strategy is to have the student gently tap their chest. Putting a bean bag in that hand makes it more fun, and adds more sensation. 

Bean Bag Activities for the Classroom or Choral Rehearsal

7. Treble or Bass Clef Toss: Use masking tape to create a five line staff on the floor and have students toss a bean bag onto the staff. Then they name the note based on which line or space it lands on. Another option would be drawing the staff on poster board or other moveable surfaces to make a portable version if you are an itinerant teacher.

8. Bean Bag Rhythm: A variation on the ostinato bean bag activity above, requiring students that are struggling with a particular rhythm to toss the beanbag to the steady beat.  This could be up and down in one hand or hand-to-hand as they say rhythm syllables, chant the lyrics in rhythm, or sing the troublesome section.

9. Bean Bag Note Values: I was introduced to this activity with tennis balls, and it works great with bean bags too. Assign each note value a bean bag movement that will take an appropriate amount of time. For example: two eighth notes= fast hand-to-hand toss, quarter note= single hand toss, half note= go around body 1st beat in front of body 2nd beat in back, whole note= same as half but stopping in four points- 1 front, 2 side, 3 back, and 4 other side.  Students should verbalize the counts as another pathway to learning. Display the note value students are performing so that they can make the connections between the symbol, the movement and value.  Once the students are proficient, I turn on pop music and have the students perform various note values to the beat, continuing to display the note symbols and point to them throughout.

 

Bean Bag Activities for Choral Rehearsal

10. Part Throw: If singers are forgetting that they don’t sing in a particular section, play a game!  As that section begins, have the forgetful singers toss their beanbag to a chorus member who is supposed to sing that part.  It will be so memorable that they will probably not make that mistake again.

11. Projection Toss:  This thrilling activity was intended for adults using a football, but I have adapted it here for children using beanbags. If your chorus is not projecting their voices to the back of the rehearsal space, try having them send their sound out with the bean bag by tossing it forward (after you get out of the way!). Alternatively, singers could get into pairs and have them sing a phrase tossing to their partner and then their partner sings a phrase tossing it back.

 

Here it is… your exclusive open-ended game:

The Bullseye of Music!

As I was thinking about ways to use bean bags that would be fun and engaging for our students, I also factored in that we teachers don’t necessarily have much time to craft. So if I was going to create something, I wanted it to be a game that could be used for different units.  The result is a game that can be used throught the year, with any age and the only thing you’ll need to change is the Fact Sheet.  

The 12th activity, The Bullseye of Music! :

How it works:

  1. Have two children, or the whole class play.
  2. Child A throws the bean bag at the bullseye.
  3. Child B (the opponent or class representative) announces the color which their bean bag hit.
  4. Child A puts the tip of a pencil into a paper clip in the center of the spinner for that color and flicks it. The paper clip indicates a number.
  5. Child B gives Child A the task or question based on the color and number, and they have a blast performing it!                                                                                                                                                                 

I didn’t design this for keeping score so there isn’t a plan for that, but you could certainly develop one.  The game is so engaging because the target requires skill and the spinner is pure chance.  I put the arts Integration/extra fun activities in the center, on red, to make them harder to get. 

How to Make Bullseye of Music Game Pieces:

Materials: Foam poster board, For tracing- a frying pan & small bowl, Poster markers/paint, Pencil, Paper clip, Paper, Sheet protector/clipboard

Steps:

  1. Target– Sketch the biggest possible circle you can on the poster board
  2.  Trace frying pan and small bowl creating the concentric circles of a target
  3.  Color each ring in a different color (I went the traditional route of red yellow and blue)
  4.  Spinner– On the paper, use the small bowl to trace three circles and coordinate the colors to match the circles on the target
  5.  Divide the circles into five sections (or more) and number them
  6.  Fact Sheet– create blue questions or activities of an easy level and number them 1-5 to match the spinner, and repeat for yellow   being medium level and red being difficult/super fun. Zoom in on the image above for an example Fact Sheet.
  7.  Print out Fact Sheet and slip into a sheet protector and plan to give to Child B or the Opponent described above.
  8.  Once the materials are done, grab your Bear Paw Creek bean bags, pencil and a paper clip and start having a fantastic time learning new concepts or reviewing!

Remember, all you have to do from here is create a new Fact Sheet to totally change the game!

Thanks: My appreciation to my music teacher colleagues in Anne Arundel County, MD for being such wonderful teachers and collaborators.

I hope you enjoy your bean bags in the classroom or rehearsal all the more for having some new ideas.

BPC has a great selection of bean bags right here on bearpawcreek.com.

Leah Murthy is a music educator, performer and military spouse. She is currently a Doctoral candidate in Music Education at Boston University, holds a Master’s in Music Education from The Boston Conservatory, has 15 years experience teaching music and recent contributions to professional journals such as The American Organist and The Chorister. When she is not teaching music in Maryland, or playing with her two little girls, she is in Washington D.C. conducting for The National Children’s Chorus.

Magical Moments- with Music Props in Church Choir Rehearsal Part 3

Part 3- Wave Your Scarves and Streamers to Improve Phrasing, Intonation (and Fun!)

Welcome back from the sometimes lazy days of summer, to an always exciting fall, filled with opportunities to try new activities with your props from Bear Paw Creek! In this installment of “Magical Moments” we will explore the wonders that ribbon streamers and movement scarves can work in your church choir.

 In this third blog on making magical moments with music props in church choir rehearsal, I will share activities using scarves and streamers that are tailor-made for your sacred choral ensembles. In addition, I will give you tips on how to acquire a set of scarves or ribbon streamers for your group, no matter your budget, including DIY ideas.

 Magical moments are within reach the instant that you take out the scarves and streamers, because they are enjoyable! When the brightly-colored chiffon and satin start making their rounds through the room, the Holy Spirit starts moving singers to smile. This affords you the opportunity to “break the ice”, by having your singers get moving to their anthem, or any song that will get their hearts pumping and their energy for the rehearsal in full gear!

Everyone has fun when the scarves and streamers come out!

 

Scarves and Ribbon Streamers 

Use scarves and ribbon rings for self-expression, easing kids and adults into dance and movement. If an anthem has a dance time signature like 3/4 or dance-like rhythm, scarves and ribbon rings can help them to internalize the dance-like feel.

 

  • Moderate Budget- Bear Paw Creek also has Make Your Own Hoop Streamers available. These are 4” polycarbonate hoops, to which you would add your own ribbons: Make-your-own Hoop Streamers
  • Small Budget- go to the thrift store for scarves or buy plastic bracelets and loop ribbons onto them
  • No Budget- have members and families donate their unused scarves or lengths of ribbon (which can be used successfully on their own without rings)

Make Your Own Ribbon Rings

You need-

Make Your Own Hoop  from BPC at $1.25 each or  Plastic O-ring Shower curtain rings cost about $10 or less

Ribbons $5-10 craft store or plastic flagging tape about $3 from hardware store

STEPS-

  • Cut plastic tape or ribbon to double desired length
  • Fold ribbon in half
  • Place ring a couple of inches below the top of the loop you have made. Take the loop in your hand and tails in the other and reach through the loop to grasp the tails and pull them through. Pull the knot firmly to make it tight.
  • Repeat on the same ring until you have your preferred number of ribbons/streamers

 

TIPS:

– For a good deal, look at the craft store for ribbon remnants, I find grosgrain ribbon to be tougher than satin.

-For ribbons the float in the air well use strips of flagging (not sticky) tape from the hardware store. It can be found next to the caution tape

-You can also use rigid bangle bracelets or I have even used my daughters’ cast-off baby stacking rings. If you use shower curtain rings be sure that they are in an O-ring closed circle so the ribbons can’t slide off

– For increased durability use glue at the ends of ribbons that may unravel

– You can even just loop the ribbon halfway over the bangle and sew into position.

Magical moments are within reach the instant that you take out the scarves and streamers, because they... afford you the opportunity to “break the ice”, by having your singers get moving, their hearts pumping and their energy for the rehearsal in full gear!

 

 

Activities-

Difficult Section or Pitch- Use the streamers to follow the melodic contour of the difficult section in order to give singers a visual and kinesthetic learning opportunity and minimize the time spent in rehearsal fixing the section.

Kids-

Move Expressively- to a recorded Praise and Worship song like:

     Jesus is My Superhero– by Hillsong Kids, Gagnam Style- Christian Remix, or God Made Me by Casey Darnell and John Delich

Holy Spirit- Have the children show how they think Holy Spirit moves: up and down, through, side to side, or any way at all.

Pitch Exploration- Have one student stand before the group and however they move the scarf up and down the choristers reflect that in singing

Pitch Matching Hello- Sing hello followed by a chorister’s name on Sol Mi, then roll up and toss the scarf to that chorister and repeat.

Turn, Turn, Turn- Use scarves to create motions to match the text of Ecclesiastes Chapter 3, or to the Byrds rendition of that same biblical text altered and set to music in “Turn! Turn! Turn!”.

12 Apostles- Sing “The Twelve Apostles” song to the tune of “Jesus Loves Me”. Have 12 children stand before the rest of the group represent each apostle. Each child representing an apostle creates a motion to go with their apostle’s name. As the whole group sings along they can do the motion for each apostle.

TIPS: -Scarves and streamers can create a bonding and teambuilding experience for adults in choir because they may be doing something new and unusual for them.

-Keep an eye on the edges of handmade ribbons and scarves because with boisterous use they will need some minor maintenance to prevent fraying.

I hope these ideas  of how to get your choir moving with scarves and ribbon streamers have gotten you in the mood to try some new things with your church choir this season. When you give these props a try with your choir members of any age, you will find your singers energized, and able to pick up tough passages even faster when the element of movement is added to the rehearsal mix. Happy rehearsing!

BPC has a great variety of streamers and scarves for you to choose from, right here on bearpawcreek,com.

Leah Murthy is a music educator, performer and military spouse. She has a Master’s in Music Education from The Boston Conservatory at Berkelee, 14 years experience teaching music and recent contributions to professional journals such as The American Organist and The Chorister. When she is not teaching music in Maryland, or playing with her two little girls, she is in Washington D.C. conducting for The National Children’s Chorus.
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