Thoughts on Teaching Series #4: Teaching General Space in a Small Room

This week I worked with several challenging 1st grade groups in the music room. Not a big room, and at least 4 students had poor impulse control.

However, I wanted to do The Stick Together Game (from Step on the Beat) as a follow up to teaching Body Shape Jam (from AlphaBeat) for a lesson on Body Parts. This would involve traveling, stopping, connecting parts, then traveling again with parts connected.

Here’s how I set them up for traveling. First, we did a call and response of “General Space, Go!” with voice and gesture, clapping the syllables of ‘general space,’ and pointing across for ‘go.’

Next, I demonstrated traveling, with words recited rhythmically, while playing the pulse on my hand-held drum:

Move into the empty space/ bodies moves-mouths don’t/ listen for the stopping sound/ stop on your spot//

Each short phrase was 4 beats long, so the demonstration was 2 8’s long, which is a good duration for general space traveling practice. The last 4 counts included shaking the drum to indicate the stop was coming and playing a strong double beat to indicate stop.

I kept my key words to address body control, spatial awareness, and listening skills, which are crucial to success.

Then, we did it as a group, with my words and drum. A third practice was ‘drum talk’ only.

Happy to say that, when we did the group activity in general space, it was a success.

I might add that my locomotor choice for this activity started with walking on the pulse. We could graduate to gallop or skip if students demonstrated the crucial success skills.  But not the ‘r’-sounding one (let the children figure that out themselves!)



March 12, 2016. Tags: , , , , , , , . Behavior Management, Kate Kuper on Teaching Creative Dance, Teaching Skills, Teaching Tips, Thoughts on Teaching Series. Leave a comment.

Teaching Tips for Everyone

I just completed another semester of teaching Creative Dance for Children.
As I observed the college students practice-teach in our lab program, these tips came up repeatedly.

Note: Our classes follow the lesson plan format established by Anne Green Gilbert in her two seminal works: Creative Dance for All Ages and Brain-Compatible Dance Education.  If you do not already own these two volumes…run, don’t walk… and get them.

Tips for teaching 4 and 5 year olds

1) Free Play before Class

If behavior is inappropriate…..Don’t just stand there and watch. Provide a fascinating alternative instead, preferably related to the concept(s) of the day.
This is relevant if children come into the room and start running, or hitting each other with the prop of the day (scarves, noodles, etc.)

Use a sound source,  instead of your voice, to transition from free play to the warm up.  Teach it on the first day of class. A drum can be very effective. Or play a melody on a pitched instrument, such as a recorder (flute), that says “time to clean up and join the circle.”

To speed up (and make joyful) the transition for gathering in a circle,  sing to gather the children.   The novelty attracts their attention and gets them moving quicker.
Example: Pick a familiar melody such as “London Bridge” and make up words: “Join me in the circle now, my dear dancers.

DROP HANDS BEFORE you open out a circle, to prevent pulling.


Warm Up

Pitch your singing voice high, since the children have high voices.

When a child is off-task but not distracting from the group or hurting herself or others, it’s okay to leave her/him alone, and invite her/him in to participate periodically.

If you are sitting near a child who doesn’t get a movement pattern, you can manipulate their limbs so they get the pattern, or ask an assisting teacher to do so.

Introducing the Concept

Color-code the different concept words on the board so you can refer to them by color for your non-readers.
Use color to suggest meaning, such as green for “go” and red for “stop.”

Clap the syllables of words and say them at the same time to help children to ‘chunk’ the information and understand it better. Always have children say the new vocabulary/concept.

Give a brief explanation of new vocabulary any time you introduce it.
Examples: Gestures are everyday movements we do to communicate. Locomotor movement goes from one place to another.

Note: when facing children you have to reverse your OWN right and left.

Developing Skills

When children try to cut in line, teach them to find a place at the end of the line. This is a basic get-along skill required in school, too.

For leaps….when you set up cones or other props to leap over….. check the leap distances to make it challenging.

To signal a ‘freeze’ to a group while they are running, it helps to shake the drum as a ‘warning’ followed by the double-beat ‘freeze’ sound.

It is helpful to play the uneven rhythm of skip, gallop and side slide  on a drum when teaching these locomotor movements.

The first time you teach constructive alignment, tell the children that you are going to give them 3 adjustments: legs, arms, head. Ask them to ‘pretend they are sleeping’ when you do the adjustments so they’ll be dead weight.


Designate ‘zones’ when you divide the groups so each group has a nice amount of work space.

When watching different dances:
Ask the audience beforehand to “watch with a purpose.” What will we be looking for?

During review,  if you aren’t getting anything back, you can always refer back to the board and the color of the word.

Review all activities before asking for favorites at the end of class.

To be quick and inclusive, have everyone show their understanding of the concept at the end (e.g. ‘show me shaky movement’ or ‘show me a curved shape’)  Call on specific kids rather than have them raise hands.

 Tips for teaching older children (ages 6 -10)

Warm Ups

Any time you teach movement that involves dropping the head, children will raise their heads up to watch you. Therefore, model first, have them do it, then embed it in the combination.

Remember, when you are at the barre they ALWAYS have to see you. You must be furthest downstage of their movement. Otherwise, they are looking over their shoulder.

Sometimes a movement is better understood with everyone facing your back to see the mechanics of the movement, rather than in a circle.

Developing skills and moving across the floor

Rhythmic acuity is an important skill to build. If students are rushing the beat, you can stop the group, have them listen to YOU clapping the beat, then have them join again.

When modeling something that faces away, have them watch you first, then have them join you in the face away.

For backwards walking (and all backwards movement) across the floor, you can have first line people touch the backs of all the others as they arrive at the line.

In a jump-hop combo, encourage dancers to alternate the hopping leg.

For safety sake in weight sharing/bearing….teach a wrist connect (holding at wrists rather than hands).

Always give a 4-count pick up at the top of a rhythmic combination, even when first modeling.

What would you give as a refinement when students repeat the combination? As you watch students, note what could be refined. Timing? Skill? Smoothness of transitions?


If groups are done creating and seem to be aimless, you can say “show me what you’ve got.” You can also do that for groups that get ‘stuck.’ “Show me what you’ve got” helps groups get ‘unstuck.’

Give a time ‘warning’ for wrapping up: “1 more minute.”


General Tips for All Ages:
Make sure the volume of the music never overwhelms your voice.

Make sure students don’t always group together the same. Give them frequent opportunities to learn how to work with others.

Note how hard it is for the children to integrate when they come late! Have a welcoming strategy for that (e.g. pair your assistant with that child to help them transition)

When students come into class wearing distracting clothing  (mask, feather boa, crazy shirt, scarf) try right at the start of class to see if you can get rid of it. (Could be a class rule).  But do it in a fun way.  Usually, when a student is bothered by the garment, you can see an opening and ask them to leave it by the door to pick up on the way out.

Demand that children give you their concentration and call on the off-task ones to get their attention during all instruction-giving.

During reflection – if younger students are getting stuck, time is short, or the concept is challenging – give choices to select from among.
Examples: Which movement was smooth: punching or swaying? Which was the low level movement: crawling, leaping or walking?



December 17, 2014. Tags: , , , , , , . Kate Kuper on Teaching Creative Dance, Studio Teaching, Teaching Tips. 1 comment.

Foot Song

Once in a while I get an inspiration while the children are standing in line waiting to leave at the end of class.  If there are dawdlers, why penalize the ones who are in line? That’s how Foot Song came into being.

Foot Song is a way to keep children engaged during transitions such as the one I just described.  It’s also a fun song to use at the start of a lesson on teaching parts of the body or to shake sillies out. You can be in any group formation to do it.

Here it is, with notation.

Foot Song
(to the tune of Old MacDonald) – key of F

F                  C               D             C       A               G             F
I see feet that are standing on the floor, what can those feet do?

A     A#         C                      A    C           A#                   A#        A

Can they jump, jump, jump? Can they jump and jump? Can they jump, jump,


G                   F        (spoken or sung)

jump, jump, jump?          STOP!


Repeat with tap, tip/toe/turn. Open it up to children’s suggestions: kick, hop, swing, etc.

(Note: The more more kinds of movement the children know, the more ideas they will suggest.)

April 2, 2014. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Favorite Music, Kate Kuper on Teaching Creative Dance, Transition Magic. Leave a comment.

Zipper Songs (and Dances)

Zipper songs (and dances) allow for variation within structure.  For example, zipper songs change one element of the lyric, “zippered” in, while the rest remains the same.

I like to sing zipper songs with the children while we are waiting (by the door, in the circle, by the bus, by the bathroom, etc.) The need for this came up in my teaching because I ask children to remove their shoes to dance.  It takes a while for shoes and socks to come off (and on). Because ‘down time’ can only lead to ‘off task’ behavior, we always want to have plenty of creative transition ideas at the ready.

In the following Weather Song, weather and body part are zippered in.
Use gestures, too.  And modulate your voice to reflect the quality of the words and actions.

Weather Song

(To the tune of Frere Jacques)

Snow is falling, snow is falling,

On my head, on my head.

Snow is falling, snow is falling,

On my head, on my head.


Other verses:

Rain…on my knees….

Meatballs…on my shoulders…


Good weather ideas:

Sun is shining…on my __________.


Weather: Fog, drizzle, hail…
Funny things: Cats, Frisbees, Basketballs…

Ask the children for ideas, too.

Find A Spot zipper song

This one is for finding a spot in the room to dance. I use yoga mats cut into 10 equal pieces as ‘yoga dots.’  As I’m tossing them out, students move from the circle to their spot as I tap them on shoulder, knee, etc.
I sing the intro, then touch 3 – 5 children.
As I’m singing the intro, I’m tossing out spots.
This fun transition moves quickly, gets everyone to a spot, and gives me the control to tap the most self-regulated students first.

After I’ve sung the pattern once, students get the hang of it and suggest other body parts.

I often pause by the next child I’m going to tap, look at them, and wait for that child to name a new part to use.

I might change the part for every line of the song.  I sing until everyone has a spot!


(To the tune of If You’re Happy and You Know It)

When I touch you on the _______________ find a spot (tap, tap, tap, tap)

When I touch you on the _______________ find a spot. (tap, tap, tap, tap)

When I touch you on the _______________ find a spot, find a spot. (tap, tap, tap, tap)

When I touch you on the _______________ find a spot. (tap, tap, tap, tap)


Options: shoulder, knee, back, head, wrist, elbow…



January 15, 2014. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Favorite Music, Transition Magic. Leave a comment.

Controlling the Creative Chaos Part II: Traveling within structure

Here are two methods for controlling the environment while allowing children to move through the space.

One is moving around in a circular formation, starting and ending in a place in the circle.  The other is traveling from a single file line, one by one, as when we do an obstacle course.

Circular Formation

To give children an opportunity to move freely, instead of following precisely in a single file around the circle line, try an activity that has a clear beginning and ending and does not go on for too long.   Little Birdies (Songs for Dancing #19) is a great activity for this.  It is a story dance about birds that sleep, wake up, fly and go back to sleep. It begins with children on the floor, kneeling and with heads down, like they are in an egg, sleeping. An image they can relate to is the size and shape of a rock. One by one, wake them up.  Indicate the direction for flying by using gesture (this challenges their focus and concentration) and then have them follow you as we fly around.  When it’s time to come back to the nest,  come to the center of the circle and use “come here” hand gestures.
The objective at the end is for the birds to use body control to fly in from right where they are, and flutter down to the sleeping bird shape.
To disaster-proof this activity, I make sure the children watch for three things when I model how to fly: stretched out arms, brushing back feet, light and buoyant movement quality.  Then we practice, flying once around, as I sing or rhythmically say: “Our feet brush back, our arms are wide, our bodies are light.”  The other disaster-proofing is to demonstrate the “come here” hands from the middle of the circle, ask the children what it means, and emphasize flying in from right where you are.

What can go wrong?

Problem: Children fly in the wrong direction, against the flow of traffic.
Solution: Swoop down on the child and steers them in the right direction.

Problem: Children don’t look down as they fly in, and trip over a child who has already arrived.
Solution: Keep your eyes open as you fly in.

Problem: Children runs flat out and don’t fly.
Solution: Stop the music.  Ask the ‘runner’ to demonstrate ‘flying.’  Compliment them on their body control.  Start the activity again.

Problem:  Too many children flying.
Solution: Split the group in half.  Half are watchers with ‘binoculars’ (use your hands for these).  The other half are birds.  How to trade at the end? Stand up, walk to trade places, sit to watch or to make sleeping birdie shapes.

Line Formation

Traveling from a single file line involves:

  1. Keeping the line moving up to a starting point
  2. Signaling (cuing) children to move one by one, and…
  3. Making sure they add in to the end of the line

Place a poly spot, yoga square or a tape mark to indicate “start from here.”

Initially, oversight works really well with three adults.
One adult is the ‘gate keeper.’ ‘Open the gate’ to let the child at the head of the line start moving.
Another adult is at the end of the line to keep children moving up to the starting point as they feed in at the end of line.
The third adult stands at the mid-point of the obstacle course, cheering on the movers, overseeing the flow of the activity.

As you get better at this, you can tell the children to ‘start when the first child gets to (a specific point in the course).’ This empowers them to ‘open the gate’ by using their concentration instead of leaving that up to an adult.

What does an obstacle course look like?
Set it up like an arc, from the starting point to near the end of the line.  Have a couple of special stopping places, something to go over, under or around, and a final stopping place (make a shape!) before going to the end of the line.

What will you need? place spots (yoga squares, etc), small traffic cones.
Also fun to use: chairs, mats, hula hoops, piano bench, etc.


Concept: Body Parts

  1. Side slide to the first spot.  Make a shape with three parts on the ground.
  2. Side slide to the next spot.  Make a shape with two parts on the ground.
  3. Run and leap over the cones, stretching your legs and arms.
  4. Make a shape with one part on the ground at the last spot.

Concept: Relationship (over/under, around, through, between, on/off, connected…..)

  1. Gallop to the first spot.  Jump off and on the spot.
  2. Crawl under the bench to the next spot.  Jump off and on the spot.
  3. Leap over the cones.
  4. End on the last spot and make a shape with your arms and legs connected to your body.

Concept: Pathway (straight, curved, zig zag)

  1. Skip straight to the first spot.  Make a shape.
  2. Skip in a curved pathway around the cones.
  3. Run to the chair and sit in it.  Go backwards to the next chair.  You are making a zig zag pathway to run and sit in the chairs.
  4. Skip straight to the last spot.  Make a shape.

To Teach: 

  1. Form the single file line by asking children to stand ‘between your arms.’ (Children line up so you can see them when you hold your arms forward.)
  2. Children pivot to face the space and sit ‘ready position’ in the single line, watching with concentration.
  3. Model the journey.  Then start again and ask the children to tell you what you should do as you repeat the sequence.
  4. As they go one by one,  verbally repeat the key concepts of the sequence.  Cheer them on.
  5. Let each one go all the way through before you start the next one, or start the next one when the previous dancer is halfway through the sequence.

Suggested Music: Free Dance (Songs for Dancing #18)

April 29, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , , . Creative Dance Lesson Plans, Developing Skills, Kate Kuper on Teaching Creative Dance, Working with Kate's Material. Leave a comment.