Elementary Music Lesson Plans for Classroom or Distance Learning

No-Sing Activities for Recycled Rhythm Instruments

Do you need to create elementary music lesson plans with free activities and ideas that will work for your classroom or distance learning? Are you in a situation where you cannot currently sing in your music classes?

“Found instruments” are all around you. The picturebook Max Found Two Sticks by Brian Pinkney makes the PERFECT introduction for using “found instruments” with your elementary music classes.

Elementary Music Lesson Plan for Classroom or Distance Learning | Recycled Rhythm Instruments

Teaching Music in a COVID Environment

Many music teachers have been told that they will not be allowed to use their classrooms this year and will be teaching from a cart. Teachers who are allowed to use their classrooms may not be able to share supplies such as rhythm instruments or mallets. Singing may not be allowed at your school. Even games where students are in close proximity may not be allowed.

So, with a HUGE portion of standard elementary music activities banned, what can you do?

Designing Safe Elementary Music Lesson Plans

In the midst of a pandemic, the following activities would be considered among some of the safest for music classes.

If you are a 1:1 school, you will want to do a few online activities. You should prep students and teach them how to use Music Literacy Boom Cards, Music Composition Drag & Drop Blocks, and other online music activities just in case your school is forced to close down again. But, do NOT spend the entire class on digital devices. Kids NEED interaction in a real classroom as much as is currently possible.

Recycled rhythm instruments are a perfect way to get kids active and participating at their desks or properly social distanced in another setting.

Max Found Two Sticks by Brian Pinkney

Storybooks always make for great elementary music lesson plans, whether you are in the classroom or teaching via distance learning. You can read this book with your students to kick off an entire unit using only recycled rhythm instruments. 

Oatmeal boxes, coffee containers, butter tubs, cottage cheese containers, plastic cherry tomato containers, and small boxes of all sorts all make great rhythm instruments.

Elementary Music Lesson Plan for Classroom or Distance Learning | Recycled Rhythm Instruments

I actually created a video lesson with a 4-part play along using recycled instruments for the song Bow Wow Wow. The arrangement turned out quite musically even though it was performed on free recycled containers. You can do the same thing.

Ask the classroom teachers to please find a place for each student to keep their own instrument so that no one else touches it. Each instrument should be handled only by its’ “owner” to prevent spreading germs.

Below are nine different activities you can do in your Recycled Rhythm Unit. Space out the activities. Don’t try to do all of them all in one class session. Build each lesson upon the previous one.

Nine Lesson Plan Ideas Using Recycled Rhythm Instruments

1. Decorate/create their instruments. Caution students that some decorations will change the sound of their instruments.

2. Experiment with sounds. How many different types of sound can students make from one instrument?

3. Create rhythm patterns that have at least two different timbres.

Elementary Music Lesson Plan for Classroom or Distance Learning | Recycled Rhythm Instruments

4. Echo play. The teacher could “Say and Play” (say the rhythm syllables while playing the pattern), students echo. Gradually drop out the rhythm syllables. Once students are proficient, let them be the leaders.

5. Sight read rhythm patterns. Consider having students “Say” or read the pattern the first time and immediately play it. This blog post includes 10 Ways to Use Interactive Rhythm Pattern Flashcards. This post also includes links to seasonal rhythm pattern flashcards which makes the activity even more fun. 

6. Create and perform Orff patterns. Using the theme from the book or any other chosen theme guide students to create simple rhythm patterns. Depending on the level of students, layer those patterns one on top of another.

7. Learn about Form. Create different sections for your rhythm piece and try them out in different forms – ABA, AABB, ABC, or my favorite Rondo Form – ABACA.

8. Play-along rhythm patterns. Max Found Two Sticks is also a perfect introduction to marching band music. This is a genre that many of your students may not be familiar with. Consider creating play-along rhythm patterns for Stars & Stripes Forever or your favorite marching band piece.

9. Short Composer Study. Tie everything together with a short composer study of John Phillips Sousa – The March King.

Create Videos of Your Class “Performances”

In-person performances are probably not going to be possible this year. Video your students’ classroom activities and post them online. Or, save them and put them together into a class “Premiere Performance” to be released and watched by families simultaneously. If they can’t watch the premiere, families can always watch the video later. These videos may also be shared with extended family members who may not have been able to see each other for some time.

Note: Take every opportunity to video your students. Do NOT wait until they are performing perfectly. Treat every day as if it might be the last in the classroom for a while. 


Start saving containers of all sorts TODAY! Ask your friends, neighbors, students, and other teachers to contribute to your found “instrument” collection. The more ownership kids have, the more creative and invested they become.

You can create meaningful elementary music lesson plans for your classroom or a distance learning situation using just a storybook and recycled rhythm instruments. And, it can be free. It doesn’t have to cost anything!

Best wishes friends!

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