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Gotta Have Games: When Learning Is Fun, it's a "Win" for Everyone

By Valeaira Luppens | September 14, 2019

Gotta Have Games: When Learning Is Fun, it's a

Kids love playing games! This is one of the reasons why P.E. is so popular in elementary school. Most students don’t realize they’re learning important skills that will hopefully help them achieve life-long personal fitness. Games are extremely adaptable, because they’re based on “play” with rules that you can design to correlate with your curriculum.

Today, I would like to focus on games that teach note recognition. Wouldn’t it be nice if the students learned what you were teaching them the first time? Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. Case in point: how often have you told your students that the spaces in the treble clef are F-A-C-E? The students who play musical instruments are frequently exposed to note identification on a daily basis (repetition), but those who aren’t may need a gentle reminder to retain this information and this is the perfect opportunity for games to step up to the plate.

Grades K–2: Perky Turkey

During the Thanksgiving season, I teach the song “Five Fat Turkeys” to my students. After they learn the song, I create a staff on the floor using electrical tape. After reviewing the names of the spaces in the treble clef, I select a small group of students to dance around like turkeys while singing the song. At the end of the song, another student (pretending to be the cook) approaches the turkeys carrying one of the four letter names (F-A-C-E). The turkeys must immediately jump into the correct space or the cook will take them away.


  • Using electrical tape, form a musical staff on the floor the length of your room. Also, using four 8.5” x 11” pieces of sturdy posterboard, prepare each poster as illustrated below.
Gotta Have Games - sample image


  • Teach the song “Five Fat Turkeys” to the class. Explain that a musical staff has five lines and four spaces. The bottom space is the farm where the turkeys live. F stands for farm. The next space up is where the farmer planted the apple trees. “A” stands for apple. (Continue the pattern.)
  • Select several students to practice standing on the correct spaces when you show them different game cards.
  • Let the game begin! Select 5 or 6 “turkeys” who dance around while the class sings the song. When the song ends, the “cook” will march in carrying one of the four posters. The “turkeys” must immediately jump on the correct space, or the “cook” will take them away.

Grades 2 and 3: Elf on the Shelf

Another super fun activity I use during the month of December to reinforce letter name recognition is to hide an “Elf on the Shelf” in a different spot in my music room every day. As the students arrive into the classroom, they can barely maintain their excitement while trying to be the first to spot the elf. If the student who finds the elf can correctly identify the note the elf is holding, they get to write their name on the “Elf’s Friends List” poster which is posted at the front of the room.


  • Obtain an “Elf on the Shelf”
  • Design a poster that is titled “My Friends List” under a picture of the “Elf on the Shelf”
  • Prepare multiple small cards for the elf to hold that depict random notes located in the treble clef.


  • During the month of December, hide the elf in a different spot in your music room every day.
  • As the students arrive into the classroom, instruct them to see who can spot the elf first. If the person who spotted the elf can correctly identify the note the elf is holding, they get to write their name on the “Elf’s Friends List” poster.

Grades 4–6: Music Baseball

Music games not only provide positive motivation and active engagement for students to learn, they can also provide students with a “hands on” experience they might not otherwise have had. When playing Music Baseball, the team members encourage each other to do their best so their team will win. This game not only challenges their ability to identify letter names in treble, bass, or both clefs, it offers an incentive for the unmotivated student to learn the names of the notes. I highly recommend playing Music Baseball with your upper elementary students to reinforce their note recognition. The rules are a little more complex, but fully outlined in the book I co-authored with Greg Foreman entitled Gotta Have Games.

Music Baseball sample image


Games can also offer an extra bonus for teachers by providing them with an opportunity to observe and evaluate students’ performance and/or understanding of a musical concept. If some of your students are still having trouble mastering a concept, repetition is a great tool. For example, if upper-level students are still struggling to master note recognition, try attacking the problem with several different approaches. Not only do I have the students play music baseball, I also have them design their own mnemonic devices for the names of the lines and spaces in both clefs and create a bulletin board with their clever ideas. (Guys Buy Donuts Friday Afternoon). Relay races work well too. Simply divide the class into two teams and list words (ace, bed, bad, badge, bead, baggage, cab, cabbage, café, cage, dab, edge, face, feed, and fed. etc.) that they must correctly write on the board.

Over the years, I discovered the positive impact that games have had on my students. I also discovered that if my students were both learning and having fun, I was having fun, too!

Valeaira Luppens

Valeaira Luppens served as an elementary music specialist in the Lee's Summit, Missouri School District for 20 years. She is a recipient of the Expect the Best award, a district-wide honor for exemplary teaching and service

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