Music on a Cart

5 Multifunctional Manipulatives

January 28, 2018 10:16 PM By Danielle
Check out these super fun, multifunctional manipulatives for teaching elementary music |

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Pool noodles, tennis balls, jumbo dice, and plastic bowling pins. All of those things sound like fun additions to a children’s party, but they also make for really great educational manipulatives. However, when it comes to teaching music from a cart, transporting those types of objects on your cart and finding storage for them can be difficult due to their sizes and shapes. Does that mean you can’t incorporate manipulatives as part of your music lessons, centers, or workstations? Definitely not! Instead, you just need to rethink the types of materials you utilize, depending on your storage availability and cart setup.

In my years of teaching music from a cart, along with figuring out how to maximize my cart storage space, I’ve also experimented with different kinds of manipulatives I could easily carry around and incorporate in the often cramped classroom spaces I teach in. Along with the portability factor, I’ve found that materials that I could use for multiple purposes were you more bang for your lesson buck! Here’s a list of my current 5 favorite multifunctional lesson manipulatives:

Check out these super fun, multifunctional manipulatives for teaching elementary music |

Inflatable Beach Balls 

Who doesn’t like the fun of an inflatable beach ball? It’s a great tool I like to use for echo games or to encourage solo singing. If you allow your students the rare opportunity to sit on top of their desks rather than sit on the floor or stand during the activity, they're sure to name you as the coolest teacher in your school! The beach ball’s smooth, wipeable surface is great for dry erase markers and when not in use, the air can be let out in order to store it flat for future use. Inflatable plastic globes are great, too, giving students a 3D visual of where in the world a certain folk song or instrument they're learning about comes from.

Fly Swatters

I began using fly swatters as concept reinforcement and assessment tools a few years ago and I love them! I love them so much that I purchased not only a few regular-sized fly swatters, but also several jumbo-sized ones, too.

I printed, cut, and laminated insects on which I use a dry erase marker to write the concepts students are currently learning. This could be used for a myriad of concepts, such as rhythms, solfege, composers (their names, what country they’re from, titles of famous works they’ve written, etc.), dynamics, tempo markings, the possibilities are endless! Divide your class into small groups and within those groups let students take turns quickly searching for the correct insect to swat after the question or concept is called out. Incorporate student ownership by making “calling cards” for each group so students lead the game. This is a great voice saver for you and a great substitute lesson plan, too! Other perks are that the swatters are flat, can be stored easily on a shelf or hung by the hole in the handle, and you only need about 4 or 5 of them since students take turns in the group games. I do like to buy an extra or two because although I explain and demonstrate how to play the game and how to be careful with the swatters, students understandably get excited and on the rare occasion a swatter will break. But at only $1 per swatter, I'm definitely not breaking the bank!

Check out this fun, fast-paced game your music students are sure to enjoy! |

Looking for some insect picture cards to use for your own fly swatter game?

Check out this and more in the Resources section!

Plastic Sheet Protectors

Plastic sheet protectors are great alternatives to dry erase lapboards. Not only are they inexpensive (just pennies per sheet!), but they’re also slim and light, making them easy to store on your music cart. With its transparent writing surface, you can insert anything you’d like into the pocket (a blank sheet of paper, pre-printed staff paper, a worksheet) and it's instantly much more versatile compared to a standard, plain white lapboard! If you’re looking for something more durable than standard sheet protectors, you can purchase reusable dry erase pockets:

Reusable dry erase pockets - a little more pricey, but also more durable.

I like how the dry erase pockets include a reinforced hole on one side which allows you to hang up the pocket for easy display, lending itself well for posting lesson objectives or “I can…” statements on your cart if your district requires that.

Plastic Cups

A very versatile stackable manipulative I like to use are plastic cups. Aside from the very popular cup rhythm activities, cups can be used to review music terms, rhythms, instrument families, and more! I began with disposable plastic party cups, but after seeing how easily and often they crack, I went to the dollar store and purchased a set of more solid, durable plastic cups. And just like the beach balls and sheet protectors mentioned previously, the smooth, shiny surface of plastic cups are perfect for writing on with dry erase markers! I LOVE that the cups I purchased have a small, viewable space towards the lip of the cup that can be seen even when stacked:

Mini Dust Pans

I saw these colorful mini dust pans in the dollar store and instantly thought they’d make for a great assessment tool:

Students race to sweep up small, labeled objects (something with a little depth, such as plastic cubes, color tiles, or even folded index cards) based on what’s called out. For example, having students race to see who can sweep up only the string family instrument names scattered on the floor or all of the rhythms that add up to 4 beats. Students might not be crazy about cleaning up their room at home, but a music sweeping game is a whole other story! And, as with the fly swatters, you can purchase just a few dustpans which is plenty for your students to take turns with in small groups.

How about you? Do you have a particular music lesson manipulative that’s your favorite? Have you tried any of the ideas above? Are there any manipulatives you’ve found difficult to store on your cart due to their shape or size? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Encouraging you to rock as you roll,

Need helpful elementary music teaching resources? Check out the Cart Closet! |


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