Singing, games, and holding hands!

I love playing circle games with my kids. And my kids love playing them. They love the catchy melodies, the movement, and the challenge: For some games, that’s the challenge of doing the right thing at the right time, for others, it’s the challenge of hiding something or guessing something. All of these games have songs that can be taught quickly by rote. Beyond that, there are many elements that can be plucked out to suit your learning outcomes at any given time.

Doggie, Doggie

This simple guessing game uses sol, mi, and la. It also gets my kids singing solo—many of them for the first time ever—and they don’t bat an eye at it because they are so focused on other things. So while the students are busy trying to guess who has the bone, I’m assessing singing voice, pitch matching, rhythm, and projection. I play this game with PreK and K.

Button, You Must Wander

Sometimes I just bring this one out for fun. Once in a while, I’ve used it as a specific teaching too. It has a very typical phrase structure, which I’ll point out when composing with the students. We can look at the question and answer, as well as the third phrase that stands out as different. But like many of the games, it also reinforces steady beat and collaboration. I play this with Grades 1-2.

(I’ve only seen this notated in simple meter, but I learned it in compound meter, so that’s how I play it. I feel like it suits the passing better that way.)

Great Circle Games for Music Class! Janine's Music Room

Bow Wow Wow

This is great for working with rhythm. After I’ve done this game with my class, I often bring it back a few weeks later as a rhythm dictation or reading exercise. After they’ve read or notated all four verses, we will read the whole thing. “Hmmm… does anyone know a song that uses this rhythm?”

As for actually playing the game, I teach the song, then the actions in place, and finally we try it in a circle. The reaction I get when they jump to face a new partner the first time is priceless! And it’s smooth sailing from there. This is a huge hit with K-1.

Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush

I used to shy away from this one, but it’s found its way back into my repertoire. Not only does it have a nice, strong beat, but it reinforces form and repetition in song. During “Here we go ‘round the mulberry bush” the children join hands and walk (or skip) in a circle. For each verse, they drop hands and do an action.

Classroom teachers love this one, too, because it goes over basic routines and hygiene that the children should learn: wash our hands, brush our teeth, walk to school, brush our hair, etc. But unlike many songs that are composed FOR teaching these things (which are often awkward or at best, not very musical), it is naturally suited to the music.

Little Sally Walker

Oh. Yes. I love this one. For the first few rounds, the kids are so embarrassed, but once we get going, they let loose! The student who plays Sally has to come up with a movement—the crazier, the better—and someone else has to copy it. I love playing this game because the children come out of their shells and drop the self-consciousness, and they just have so much fun. I tried to use this song to explore complex rhythms, but that didn’t go so well. It has a great mi-la-sol moment in it, as well as a descending 5-4-3-2-1. But honestly, this one is just for fun. I play this with Grades 3-5.

If you are looking for more ideas, check out my 5 Great Circle Games from Around the World.

I could have made this list into 25 great circle games, but we’ll start with five for today because you’re probably a music teacher, which means you would never have enough time to sit down and read a list longer than that. But I’d love to add more to my repertoire too. What are your favorites?

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5 Great Circle Games for Your Music Class
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