Interactive Manipulatives in Google Slides: Make Custom Learning Tools For Your Music Students

This is a guest post by one of our blog writers, Sarah Joncas.

There are so many uses for Google Slides in the classroom. I wrote about some of them in a previous Midnight Music blog post, and Katie wrote about using Google Slides to create teaching resources here. Today we’ll look at how to use Google Slides to make interactive manipulatives to use with students.

Google Slides is an online slide deck creator that is part of Google Apps and Google Apps for Education. It is easy to use, and allows for collaboration and sharing of files within the Google system. Many of the principles discussed in this article can also be used within PowerPoint and Keynote, so don’t be discouraged if you prefer a software-based solution to making slides! 

What do I mean by interactive manipulatives? I’m talking about more than just lecture slides, but rather slides that students will actually do something with. They will move shapes, pictures, or text in order to demonstrate their understanding of a music concept. I got the idea to start making these after becoming frustrated with dealing with supplies for a physical manipulative that I often used – giant staff paper and bingo chips. After having a dozen bingo chips get lost in a single hour, I decided I needed a modern way to give students the same experience of putting notes on the staff without the messy small pieces of plastic. 

What can I make?

You can make nearly any kind of manipulative you’d like in Google Slides. Here are a few example ideas to start with:

  • Pictures for students to sequence to determine the order of parts of a song (for example, in the children’s song Little Rooster, I have pictures for different animals students can pick to sing next, and we put them in order as we go through the song)
  • A music staff with notes for students to place, or a pre-done staff with notes on it and letter labels for students to move to the right notes
  • Rhythm composing slides that allow students to move rhythm symbols from a note bank up to lines to create their own rhythmic pattern
  • Self-evaluation rubrics

For all these ideas, I’d suggest starting with a blank slide. While Google Slides has some great Themes to use for slides, I find that for manipulatives, the simpler the better. Because students will need to see fine details on the slide in order to know where to interact with them, a basic, white background is the easiest. Here’s how to get your blank slide and get started:

Starting with a blank slide

When I’m making interactive manipulatives for my students in Google Slides, I always start with a blank slide. Here’s how:

1. Start at and sign in with your Google Account if you aren’t already signed in.

2. Under “Start a new presentation”, click on the “Blank” template. 

Google Slides Templates

3. A new untitled presentation with a title slide should open. You can keep the title slide if you want, but I usually don’t when I’m making manipulatives. To change the slide layout, right click on the slide and choose the Blank slide layout under the “Apply Layout” sub-menu.

4. Begin making your interactive manipulatives!

How should I set it up?

When I set up interactive manipulatives, I always start by thinking about fixed elements. These are any parts of the slide that I want pre-set, parts that won’t change at all and students will not move. For example, if I decide to make a staff for students to write melodic patterns, I might use 5 horizontal lines as my fixed element. I’ll want to group my fixed elements together so that students are less likely to move them by accident. I made my 5 lines using the Google Slides built-in shape tools, and to group them I’ll just select them all and click on “Group” under the “Arrange” menu. Once the lines are grouped, Google Slides treats them as one object.

Google Slides fixed elements

Now, I need to create my interactive elements. In this case, I’m going to keep it simple and just focus on note heads, so I’ll use Google Slides built-in oval shape drawing tool and add it to the bottom of my slide.

Google Slides interactive elements

Then I’ll change the fill color to make it more visible. 

Google Slides add color to interactive elements

Now I’ve got one note, which is great if that’s all I want my students to use. But I’d like my students to create patterns on the staff, so I’m going to copy and paste my note head many times to duplicate it. I usually just put the copied notes on top of one another to keep things neat. If I’d wanted to, I could also make the ovals different colors in order to differentiate notes or give students multiple options.

Here’s the trick before setting students free to interact with the digital manipulative: duplicate the slide! It saves so much time to be able to go back to a blank template rather than having to reset the notes or other interactive elements each time! Right click on the slide in the left menu, then click “duplicate slide” and make as many slides as you’d like. You can also make a copy of the entire presentation if needed, which is handy if you teach the same course to multiple groups of students. I usually have a “use it” copy and “keep it” copy of each slide deck to ensure that I don’t accidentally get rid of something that I need.

Interaction Options

There are some different options for having students use the interactive manipulatives, depending on what technology is available:

  • One computer with a projector, student interacts with the slides via the mouse
  • One computer with an interactive projector, student interacts with the slides via the interactive projector system
  • Individual computers for each student, with each student interacting with slides in their own copy of the Google Slides presentation (set up in Google Classroom makes this very easy!)
  • Computers for each group of students, with each group interacting with slides in their own copy of the Google Slides Presentation.

With younger students, I always demonstrate both the musical concept (usually before I introduce the Google Slides interactive manipulative) and the technology concept of how to interact with the Google Slides presentation. Students may not know how to click and drag to move parts of the interactive slide, especially if they are using an interactive projector system. 

I have an interactive projector system with digital “pens”, and I find that covering up the button (which functions as a right click) with tape helps my students be more successful with clicking and dragging to interact with manipulatives in Google Slides. I also try to start with something that doesn’t require too much precision in movement so that students can get the hang of moving items without difficulty. 


Google Slides is a great tool for making interactive manipulatives for students to use. It is a flexible tool, allowing music teachers to make any kind of manipulative they can imagine! Because Google Slides is so flexible, it can be used to teach a variety of concepts, and gives students a means of hands-on learning with technology that is engaging and fun. Try making some Google Slides manipulatives of your own today!

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About the Writer

Sarah Joncas is a music teacher from Massachusetts, USA. She teaches kindergarten through fifth grade general music, fifth grade chorus, fifth grade band, and percussion ensemble. Before becoming a teacher, she worked with technology and educational software.

In 2014, she was named a TI:ME Technology in Music Education Leadership Fellow, which allowed her to attend a music education conference in Texas and explore cutting edge music teaching technology. She has earned degrees in Music Education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Boston University. You can connect with Sarah on Twitter or her blog Teaching Music Musings

Looking for More Resources for Music Teachers?

Hello! I’m Katie Wardrobe – an Australian music technology trainer and consultant with a passion for helping music teachers through my business Midnight Music.

I’m a qualified teacher but no, I don’t currently teach in a school. I help teachers through my online professional development space – the Midnight Music Community – where there are tutorial videos, courses, links and downloadable resources.

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I like to focus on easy ways to incorporate technology into what you are already doing in your music curriculum through a range of creative projects. I also run live workshops and have presented at countless conferences and other music education events.

If you want simple, effective ideas for using technology in music education, I would LOVE to help you inside the Midnight Music Community.

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