Thursday, March 28, 2013

Percussion Family Through Exploration

Sorry it has been such a long time since I last posted. I started writing this blog post quite a while ago, but never got around to finishing it and posting it. I have a bunch of other posts started, too. I'm hoping to post them the next few weeks.

One of my favorite activities I have done with my students for the Instrument Families unit was with my 3rd grade students. For each of the instrument families I normally use a crossword for note taking and to keep students on task. The kids normally really enjoy following along with the crossword and we fill it out as a class.

The instrument family I have the hardest time teaching about is the percussion family. The percussion family is simple and easy, so there is not a lot of things I see the need to teach them about. The past several years, I have decided the biggest thing I want students to know about the percussion family (other than the fact that they need to be hit, scraped, or shaken) is that they can be both pitched and unpitched. This is the only instrument family that has both pitched and unpitched instruments. However, for kids to actually learn this they need to know and understand the difference between pitched and unpitched instruments.

This year I had a new idea on how to teach this concept. I was trying to come up with a way that would allow the students to be more active in the learning rather than them just listening to me talk. So instead, my lesson was a stations set-up. I put out 9 different percussion instruments around the room: piano, xylophone, hand bells, triangle, tambourine, hand drum, rhythm sticks, maracas, and cymbals. Along with this I put together a rather simple worksheet that had the instruments and a line for students to write if the instrument was pitched or unpitched.

Piano Station

As a class, we talked about what a pitched instrument is and what an unpitched instrument is. We went through some examples and talked about how to tell the difference. Then, after putting kids into small groups I let them loose around the room. They each were assigned their first station and then after about 3 minutes at each station they switched to the next station.

Rhythm Sticks Station

My expectations were simple:
  1. They needed to decide and write down their answer first!
  2. Play on the instrument respectfully
  3. As soon as the timer goes off everyone switches right away

Xylophone Station

As long as they followed the directions they could continue around the room. If they did not follow the directions they had to sit out for as long as I asked them and make up the work for the stations they missed during recess. (I didn't actually have to do this with any of the kids as they were all too excited to be allowed to play the instruments.)

Triangle Station

After three classes of this activity I found that about 95% of students understand the concept and did very well on the worksheet. The other 5% came in during recess and worked through the stations with me to see what they were having difficulty with.

The amount of fun the students were having and the positive results definitely mean I will be doing this activity again in the future.

Edited 1/7/15 - You can actually get this worksheet for FREE in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store. You can download it HERE


  1. This is awesome! My third graders are always ITCHING for chances to get up and play!
    Any chance you could upload the worksheet you used? I could make my own, but why re-invent the wheel, haha?

    1. I'm so glad you found this post and enjoyed reading about it. This is still one of my favorite lessons with my students. I will really miss teaching this lesson this year due to a slight shift in my curriculum.

      This is actually a worksheet that is included as part of one of my Teachers Pay Teachers freebies. You can get it here -

  2. I'm interested in your crossword note taking. Do you have examples in your TPT store?

    1. Hi,

      Yes, these crosswords are all part of the same freebie listed at the end of this post. You can find it here:

      Thanks for your interest. :-)