Manipulatives Made Easy

Has it really been over 4 months since my last post? I feel so ashamed and dirty. Now, it use to be every Friday evening I’d sit with my burrito and type up a long brain dump about what happened over the week. Sort of my “I need to do this to sleep at night” release. Now I spend my Friday nights either still trying to get caught up on actual work from work or attempting to squeeze in a little more grad homework before the weekly deadline, (because who doesn’t want to define objective behaviors on a Friday night, right??)

I see them all the time when I travel from classroom to classroom watching music teachers from all over do their thing. Being a manipulative geek myself I use to live and die by them in my classroom. Pieces of laminated paper with everything from quarter notes to NASCAR race cars, popsicle sticks, pool noodles, magnets, even foam dice. If it littered the aisles of the craft section of Walmart, I pretty much found a use for it in my classroom.

The main purpose of a manipulative is to make the lesson or activity more interactive. To give students an actual visual to play with and help understand what you are try to teach them.  Manipulatives can be physical pieces of craft material, pre made products specifically meant to be a manipulative, or they can even be a virtual product able to be used on a piece of technology. I’m sure you are sitting there thinking (How in the heck was this tech wizard able to figure out how to use and make such crafty manipulatives? and how did she get them to work with her lessons?) I know a lot of teachers out there tend to swing in either direction, you are really all about tech or really all about non tech. What you might not know is there is a happy medium! Yes, tech and traditional ways all mixed together into a perfect lesson.


Here’s an example of an activity that would use the manipulative above and a projector and teacher computer:


  1. Students will create 2 measures of rhythm using quarter notes, quarter rests, and eighth notes.
  2. The class will perform selected rhythm compositions from their classmates.


  • Have students get into groups
  • Give each student a pre made bag with a handful of popsicle sticks and a selection of beat cards.
  • As a class, have everyone build the same composition together. Write on the board and have students build along with you. The cards make up the rhythm and the popsicle sticks are the bar lines.
  • Students will now break off into groups and compose their own piece together.
  • The teacher will go to and log into the free side of the kids website. Then make their way to the QBackbeat creative.
  • When students are done, the teacher will explain how the program on the board works and will ask for volunteers to help put their rhythm into the program.
  • Once they think they have it correctly into the program, the class will listen, perform back the rhythm, and then the teacher will ask the volunteer group if the rhythm that was performed is that they thought it was going to be.
  • This process of putting rhythms into QBackbeat will continue until every group has gone.

Possible assessment:

Have students in the small groups perform their rhythm to the class before it is played and compare what they have played to what is written down. 

How easy is that? No fancy technology required and not a lot of effort into the manipulative (And something you can keep for more activities later!) What kinds of manipulatives do you create to use with your students? 


2 thoughts on “Manipulatives Made Easy

  1. Dan Beal says:

    Can we talk? I am an iPad Music Educator that spends a great deal of time composing, improvising, and even PERFORMING on iPads with my 2nd and 3rd grade students. Can you email me at I would love to chat, hear about what you do, and share ideas!!! -Dan Beal

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s