“Tossing” around Lesson Ideas
That Maximize Student Engagement

By NAfME Member Theresa Iacarino
Baltimore County Public Schools–Cromwell Valley Magnet Elementary School

Toss a colorful dancing scarf in the air, and try not to smile as it floats gracefully into your hands again. After a long day of looking down at books, papers, and computer screens, it is a refreshing feeling to look up and stretch into the higher levels of the space around you. When students have the opportunity to toss objects in a safe and musical way, it is typical to see engagement from the entire class and to hear joy and excitement in the lesson. Use these song suggestions to help you find ways to “toss around” ideas that get your students singing, moving, and playing to learn music concepts! Song suggestions are listed by grade level, but always keep in mind that these melodies could work in many grade levels depending on the content connection and the presentation of the material being done in a way that is age appropriate.


Grade K – Down, Down

Autumn leaves can serve as a great representation of melodic contour that provides the opportunity to toss around fake (or real) leaves. This beautiful tune is fun for students to respond to and perform, and it also connects with the seasons of the year. The original melody I’ve been teaching for 16 years possibly came from the 1995 book series Share the Music, Grade K or Grade 1. A colleague from my district provided the second half as well as this transcription of the melody (shared with permission).

Down Down lyrics


Activity: Encourage students to hold a handful of leaves as they create movements to track the downward melodic direction of the first half of the song. Float gracefully in an upward direction for the second half the song and toss the leaves up high to get to the word “sky”.


Grade 1 – Plainsies Clapsies

Plainsies Clapsies is a great song for teaching rhythmic concepts of quarter notes and eighth notes as well as the pitches la, so, and mi. This has a high energy game that can be performed by students all at the same time. It can also be performed as a circle game with a large group, which may be more appropriate for older students or as a chorus energizer/warm-up game. Click here to see a teaching video for the song!

Plainsies Clapsies lesson ideas

Elimination Game: Have students stand in a scattered formation and use bean bags or a small beat buddy to perform the movements to this song. Speed up the tempo each time you sing the song. If anyone drops their manipulative, they are out and sit down in their spot. Continue increasing the speed until you decide the remaining players are the “winning” group.



Plainsies, Clapsies

Pass side to side in left and right hands

Twirl around to backsies

Pass around your back to your other hand

Right hand.

Left hand.

Hold in right hand. Hold in left hand.

Toss it high.

Toss it low.

…Toss it high. Toss it low.

Touch your knee.

Touch your toe.

Lift your left knee and touch bean bag to the knee and step back down. Then, lift the right knee and touch the bean bag to the toe of the right leg.

Touch your heel and through you go.

Kick back your left foot to touch the bean bag to your heel behind you. Lift your right knee to pass the bean bag under the right leg.


Group Circle Game: Stand in a large group circle with space for each child to perform the same movements above without bumping each other. Keep the tempo about adagio/moderato for this version of the game. During the last movement, pass the bean bag under the right leg and give it immediately to the person on the right. As students continue to “get out” for dropping the bean bag, they will have to toss it to the person still standing to the right of them in the circle. (Note: This may mean you need to include a little riff for bean bag travel time between large gaps of students!)

Click here for notation and to see how Jennifer Hibbard suggests more lesson plan ideas for “Plainsies Clapsies”!


Grade 2 – Snow Song

Music educator Kelli Silverstri wrote a beautiful melody (for purchase from Teachers Pay Teachers) to use in the winter season called “Snow Song”. With the purchase of plush “snowballs” from Amazon you can provide an opportunity for tossing snowballs no matter what weather is outside! Students use the snowball to track the melodic contour of the song. Since there are only four pitches, it makes a great de-coding activity for pitch! At the end of the song the students can toss the snowball at a target. One option is to place a large basket/bucket in the middle of the room with students standing in a circle. Another option is to highlight some posters hanging in the music room that may not be noticed as much anymore. Direct the students’ attention to the target while tracking the melodic direction of the song and the end . . . SPLAT!!! It makes for a SUPER engaging activity and a chance to practice matching pitch as well as supporting their future athletic aspirations.

Snow Song

(Click here to see and purchase the tune!)


Grade 3 – Second Story Window

This beautiful melody was shared in a Maryland Music Educators Association (MMEA) in-service conference presentation by Kristin Smith (Grace Episcopal Day School, Kensington, Maryland) and Michelle Fella Przybylowski (Cheltenham Elementary School, Pennsylvania) in 2017 (shared with permission). The compound meter allows for a skipping movement from the students while they sing this song. Turn this melody into a rondo form piece by assigning students a nursery rhyme to perform for the changing sections. Give each student a blank piece of paper and have them write the words to one of the nursery rhymes—Hickory Dickory Dock or Humpty Dumpty (feel free to include more if you want to create a longer rondo piece). During the A section, the class sings the song “Second Story Window” and skips around the room while holding their paper with the rhyme. Be sure the students in the next section make their way to the front of the room. Then, students with the B section nursery rhyme, Hickory Dickory Dock, recite the rhyme together and when they are finished they can “throw it out the window” by crumbling the paper and tossing it into a designated basket or through a hula hoop that the teacher holds up as a window. Continue the process until the piece is completed!

Bonus Ideas:

Second Story Window music

Second Story Window Hickory Dickory Dock Humpty Dumpty shapes


Grade 4 – A-Tisket A-Tasket

Use this song to practice notating and performing rhythm patterns that are grade-level specific. Prep for this activity by cutting paper into four quarters before students arrive. Write four patterns on the front board and practice performing for accuracy. Then, pass out blank slips of paper and have students notate only one of the patterns and write their name on the back.

A Tisket A Tasket rhythm

Full Class Activity: Have students fold their rhythm paper in half one time and find a standing spot in a scattered formation while they hold the paper. They sing the song while dancing around the music room (see my preferred lyrics below). When the lyrics first mention “dropping it,” the students all drop their folded slips of paper on the floor. During the second half of the song, students find and pick up a pattern to perform. When the song ends, give the students some silent “think time” to audiate their pattern, and then have all students perform their rhythms at the same time while clapping and speaking. Use this time to assess the students closest to you for accuracy and independence in reading.

A tisket, a tasket, a green and yellow basket.
I wrote a letter to my love and on the way I dropped it.
I dropped it, I dropped it, and on the way I dropped it.
A little kid they picked it up and put it in their pocket.

Circle Game Activity: Have the students fold their written pattern in half one time and drop it into a basket (green and yellow, if possible) before they form a seated class circle. Feel free to spice it up by allowing them to bring one small percussion instrument to the circle, too! One student holds the basket and skips around the outside of the circle. At the first mention of “dropping it” the student takes out one rhythm and hands it to the closest student. The student with the paper prepares to perform the rhythm while the class continues to sing the remainder of the song. At the end of the song, the student performs the rhythm, and the class echo performs in the rhythm. Watch a sample video here! The outside student switches spots with the performer and leaves the rhythm paper on the floor in front of them so the new outside student knows not to pick that spot again. Continue to play the game until each student performs a rhythm.

Virtual Teaching Game: Students write down MANY rhythm patterns on many slips of paper and toss them on the floor in a scattered formation. At the start of the song be sure to hold one pattern. During the song, students skip around their space, “drop it,” and pick up a new pattern when “a little kid they picked it up” comes up in the lyrics. Continue for many rotations!

Click here to see the notation for this tune as well as more brilliant ideas from music teacher extraordinaire, Jennifer Hibbard, at Yellow Brick Road.


Grade 5 – El Floron

I was lucky to be blessed with an AMAZING college intern, Christy Senita, who became a cherished colleague and educational leader within my district, and she shared this gem of a game song. “El Floron” is a circle elimination game from Puerto Rico. Have the class form a standing circle formation to begin. Try to maintain a steady beat for this passing game!

Click here to see the notation for “El Floron.”

Directions from the resource above state: Students pass the ball around the circle. Whoever has the ball at the end of the song must sit down. The students keep passing the ball, throwing it to the nearest person. If the ball hits the ground, the seated students may steal the ball and at the end of the song may throw it to someone still standing and get them out. Game continues until all students are seated. Senita suggests “choosing a tempo that induces panic and a sense of doom” when she plays this game with her high school students. What’s not to love about those rules?!

Click here to see a video clip of students playing the original passing game. (Notice: They did not try to steal the ball in this video . . . and I’ll be honest . . . I don’t typically allow elementary students to steal either!)

Game Variation: Assign students to pairs and give each pair a bean bag. This version of the game is a lot like an egg toss game. Partners stand and face each about two feet apart. They toss the bean bag back and forth while singing the song . . . always trying to keep it close to the steady beat (or macrobeat). If a partner pair drops the bean bag, they sit down. Each time you sing the song, the students still in the game take one step back to create more tossing space. Continue until you have a winning partner pair!


About the author:

Terri IacarinoNAfME member Theresa Iacarino has been teaching elementary vocal music in Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) since August 2005. She holds two degrees from Towson University including a Bachelor of Science in Music Education (2005) and Master of Science in Music Education (2012). She earned a second masters degree in School Leadership and Administration from Goucher College in 2018. She has led various professional development sessions for the BCPS Office of Music and Dance, Maryland Music Educators Association (MMEA), and Towson University. Terri writes elementary vocal music curriculum for Baltimore County Public Schools times as well as arts-integrated curriculum for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s Midweek Concert Series. In 2018, Terri was awarded the Beacon Scholarship from the American Center for Elemental Music and Movement (ACEMM) in which she hosted schoolwide drum circles. Terri was named Joppa View Elementary School’s Teacher of the Year nominee for the 2019-2020 school year. Currently, she teaches at Cromwell Valley Elementary Magnet School in Towson, Maryland. Terri is also an adjunct professor at Towson University teaching a course on using ukuleles to enhance elementary instruction.

Follow Terri on Twitter at @iacarinoT.

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November 16, 2020. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)

April 2024 Teaching Music

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November 16, 2020


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November 16, 2020. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)

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