As a Teaching Artist, I often had to generate dance ideas that connect with curriculum.
Here was my approach.
I would research the topic that the grade level was working on, and look for and jot down:
- Descriptive words (nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives)
- Sequence of events that create structure (such as science processes, words of a poem)
I might brainstorm and partially group-write a script or poem with the kids and clean it up later as needed.
Then, I’d seek to match my research with:
- Action (in place)
- Locomotion (traveling)
- Shapes (individual, group) that stay
- Shapes that move (e.g. water that sways, clams that open and shut)
- Quality of Movement (including expression, emotion)
I’d look for:
- Music selections
- Words that would guide the action.
(Words and music could be the score, at the same time or alternately.)
Many of my own creations have come out of this process.
Let’s look at some examples for working with younger students (grades K-2)
For 1st “Little Seed” and “Trees”
For mature 1st grade and 2nd “Snowflake Dance”
Here are some ideas from other resources for 2nd graders
For a dance about the Water Cycle, see “Water Dance” by Thomas Locker as a terrific point of departure. You can excerpt material for spoken word.
For music, I recommend the storm section of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and Marimba Dances – 1 from Light in Darkness by Evelyn Glennie.
For Habitats (Ocean, Desert, Rainforest):
I group-wrote, very often, an ocean dance with the students (use Aquarium from Carnival of the Animals as your soundtrack).
For desert, you can glean from Diane Siebert’s book Mojave.
I wrote my own poem and music for a rainforest dance. (It’s in the Oct/Nov 2010 Issue of Activate Magazine…see later part of this post)
Here’s a list of topics I’ve successfully explored with K-2 students:
- Alphabet Order
- Folk and Fairy Tales
- Verbs and Adverbs (more a 2nd grade and up thing)
For poetry, I particularly love The Random House Book of Poetry for Children edited by Jack Prelutzky as a resource
- Telling time
- Add – Subtract – Multiply
- The Seasons
- Insects: metamorphosis, life cycle
- Weather: water and weather, clouds
- States of Matter
- Animals: Adaptations, ways they move
- Folk Dance (Sanna Longden’s material is great, as are the New England Dancing Masters.)
- How societies work (try creating a dance using democratic process, with voting!)
- Rules and laws, and why we need them (making dances with rules)
A couple of other integration pieces (and this is just a small sampling)
A book/CD/DVD. Curriculum-integration lessons are divided into K-2 and 3-5th lessons
Rhythm of Math: Teaching Mathematics with Body Music (A Kinesthetic Approach)
A 3-5 focused-curriculum
This resource is very rhythm-centric but it’s a very cool blend with movement and VERY math strong.
Anne Green Gilbert and her Laban-based, concept-based approach is great for fundamentals
Including Brain-Compatible Dance Education
and Creative Dance for All Ages, 2nd edition (which came out last year, and includes some video and additional resources as downloads).
Some of my documented integration lessons are in issues of Activate! Magazine.
This is mainly for music teachers, but also includes some movement. You can back-order some issues of Volume 5 that include science-integrated activities for K-2 and companion strategies that go with them.
No. 2: Oct/Nov 2010 – Crazy Locomotion Relays (a great strategy for generating lots of locomotor movement ideas) and Rainforest Dance (Done to an original poem and includes music)
No. 3: Dec/Jan 2010/11 – Animal Tracks
No. 5: April/May 2011 – Water and Weather: Exploring Science through Movement (includes music)
If you have ideas of your own, kid-tested favorites, please share!
This is the 5th post in my “Thoughts on Teaching” Series.
I just completed a two-week residency with a group of 4th graders at a public elementary school in my town. This was a large (28) and diverse group. There were a lot of concentration problems. Some were ‘too cool for school’ and their self-consciousness distracted them. Here were a few issues that came up.
Issue 1: “I don’t want to work with my partner”
A former college student of mine shadowed me on the residency. One of her questions was, “what do you do when kids don’t want to work together?”
Boy, does this one come up in every day life!
It can be very frustrating when one of two children (paired by their classroom teacher rather than self-selected) digs in and says, “he won’t do anything” about his partner.
For us, patience is a virtue. Try several points of entry, and remember that tomorrow is a new day.
1) “Show me what you’ve got.” I just ask them to show me anything and use it as a catalyst to build.
2) “What’s your idea?” Hear from both parties, and model pulling different ideas together. This is a good solution to the problem of: “my partner won’t do anything I say.”
3) “Take a break.” One person may be unable to work that day. Let her sit out, while the compliant student creates. The next day, they may be able to work together and there will be material to start from.
Issue 2: Listening
What’s the point of teaching if you cover the material but the material does not cover the child?
Some quick solutions:
1) “If you can hear me, put your hands on your __________” (head, shoulders, etc.) A quick scan around the room tells you who was tuned out.
2) Have them show (or tell) you. SHOW – When you review what you’ve just presented, have the group raise their hands when they hear the cue (or whatever the content is you are trying to impress upon them). TELL – If you call on the students who know, you’ll still have the space cadets floating out there. So ask the space cadets instead. Sometimes I will tell specific students that I will be calling on them immediately after I give the instruction, and they will have to repeat the key point.
3) Break it into chunks. Smaller bits are easier to digest.
Issue 2: Owning It
When students create and then perform their dances with no energy, apathetically, with small and cramped movements, and a sense of embarrassment, they need coaching.
1) Show 2 ways – Demonstrate the self-conscious, boring way and the energized, committed way.
Have students show, with their fingers indicating #1 or #2, which way was more interesting to watch. (They always pick the committed way). Then talk about why. “The audience doesn’t want to see your attitude about the thing you are doing. They want to see the content. Be committed to what you are doing. Let the audience see it.”
2) Make it bigger! Dances often ‘shrink’ in energy and size. Get everyone on his or her feet and have the students experience a big kinesphere of space, reaching in all directions. This gets the blood flowing and serves as a ‘reset’ too. Then, when they return to their dances, use the kinesphere image for overall size and energy.
3) It’s yours. Remind students that these are their creations. Own it!
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!)
Our lab program meets Saturday mornings. We run two rooms simultaneously. There are generally 12 children in a class, who have chosen to take this class (self-selected). After our first day with the children (ages 4-5, 6-7, 8-10) here were some remarks I made in response to my college students’ comments.
Building Trust and Emotional Safety
- Get on your students’ level, physically (particularly important with younger children). Go ahead, squat down!
- Give them something to do right away (we always have interesting props set out on yoga squares so everyone can go to a spot and find something as they come in the door)
- Be enthusiastic and supportive
- Be honest and caring
- Show interest
- Be loving
- Never be afraid of your students. You are the Alpha dog in the pack!
- Give freedom within structure, which conveys permission to be expressive
- Consider the “V” of freedom. Start narrow and gradually open out. (As with good parenting).
- Plan activities that help kids get comfortable with community (like sharing yoga squares with more than one person) and a get-together, welcome, name song
- Be flexible with the shy kids; the transition may be harder on them. But expect that by 3 days into the semester, they will have adjusted. (although our class rule is no parents in the room, I make an exception for the separation of that one child on that first day).
- Make sure all voices are heard (call on others besides the raised hands)
- “No” is a ‘wall’…..look for ‘window’ options instead. “No” is reserved for safety and boundaries (such as it’s not okay to hurt yourself or other people in class)
- Learn and use students’ names frequently. We take pictures of every child wearing a name tag the first day, then never have to use name tags again.
- On Day #1, the room should be creative, but structured enough not to be overwhelming. Otherwise, with too much freedom, issues would arise.
- Set boundaries and expectations the first day, and have an easier time thereafter. Example: Always give instructions while students are seated.
- Establish audio cues the first day that indicate “clean up, time to warm up”. My go-to instrument for the start of class is a recorder (block flute) upon which I play a series of 3 simple motifs based around the notes B-A-G. Each motif guides students to pick up, put away, find a spot for warm up.
With early childhood, in the school setting, when the children come to me, I use Down By the Station (from Songs for Dancing) as the transition to entering the gross motor space and forming a circle.
It sets the stage for imaginative play, reminds children that they have not come to ride the bikes or play on the climbing structure, and ends us in a desirable spatial formation.
From there, we either sit or stand for a welcome activity, followed by our warm up.
After doing this song/activity every week for many weeks, the children were no longer ‘transformed.’ Spirited children were getting into other people’s personal space, etc. It has become one more single file line, and we know there are already plenty of those in the school setting!
I DO know that children like to MOVE, and, once the newness wears off, walking on the beat just won’t cut it.
SO…I told the children we were going to do a special kind of train. First it was a JUMPING train. Then, after we’d pointed out all the different animals and plants we saw on our train trip and returned to the song, we were a HOPPING train.
This changed it up just enough to add interest, it was aerobic and exciting, and accomplished the activity objective (get into the space, end in a circle, sing, move, imagine).
Look for different locomotor movements (stomping, turning, tipping side to side), energy qualities (shaky, sharp), or levels (high and low) to spice things up in your own train….or when leading ANY SINGLE FILE LINE.
Think outside the box (car)!
Show Your Feelings! is found on AlphaBeat.
Use visual supports to frame the experience.
I recommend Lots of Feelings by Shelley Rotner. This book has photos of children making faces and covers almost all the feelings in the song.
Before you do the song, read the book. For non-readers, I replace the word ‘loving’ with ‘peaceful,’ since that vocabulary appears in the song. I usually skip the page with ‘serious’ and ‘silly.’
As you do the song, you can say, “Hmm, I wonder what’s next?” modeling the feeling of being ‘curious.’
After you’ve done the song, review the images again. You can ask them if the group was ‘curious’ about anything during the song….someone will likely chime in “We wondered what was next!”
You can also create your own visual supports by taking pictures of your students (individual or group) as they perform the song. Print the pictures and caption them with the emotions. Make an emotion word wall, and use these as a reference to help children verbally identify and express their emotions.
Thanks to Rachel at the Savoy Head Start for the emotion word wall idea!
Question: I would want to know how one would go about planning a lesson plan for children with physical or behavioral disabilities. Would it have more “easy” activities?
Physical disabilities and behavior disorder are two different issues.
Physical disabilities require modification based on the disability. First of all, don’t be afraid. Treat the child as a member of the group. Be matter of fact. Be empathetic without being sympathetic.
Hearing – Position the child close to you so they can read your expression. Use a microphone (head set is best). Some schools provide you with a clip on microphone that goes directly to the child’s hearing device.
Sight – Use touch. Sing. Emphasize rhythm. Use imaginative play.
Mobility – Use touch. Encourage children to move the parts that are mobile. Engage with facial expression. Put a child with lower body mobility issues where they can participate as fully as possible, rather than off to the side.
Children act out for different reasons. Some children are ‘low’ (low intelligence). Some have focus issues. Some don’t like to be touched. Some have boundary issues, where they will invade your space. Some want attention at any cost. Some are insecure. (This is by no means the whole gamut of reasons!)
Some are very intelligent and disengage when there isn’t enough stimulation. These are children who will likely be among your best students because they want to move and learn simultaneously.
The teaching skill is to honor this variety within a group and address their differing needs. Sometimes you just can’t win. I once had a student who deliberately did the opposite of everything I was teaching, and talked aloud at the same time. Challenging!
Strategies that work
- Teach 2 of the Four Tools right away (Concentration, Body Control). Add imagination and memory, so they don’t think you are only there to discipline them, but to honor their creativity and intelligence as well.
- Remember that The Sequence (Braindance) helps wire the brain for concentration and focus. Do it regularly!
Exercise released ‘feel- good’ chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin which indirectly influences self-efficacy.
Studies suggest that student behavioral problems may be reduced when non-competitve, nonaggressive physical activities are introduced in school curriculum. (pp. 78 -80, Learning with the Body in Mind, Eric Jensen)
Low intelligence – Applaud and compliment what the child CAN do. Make the rules of the activity for that child simpler. Partner with that child to guide, or have another adult partner. In a room where there is a one-on-one aide with the child, actively engage the help of the aide; don’t let him/her just stand next to the child or stand and speak to the child but not move with him/her. (This can be hard, but you have to take the lead on that.) Pair low children together to do a simplified and modified version of the activity. Pair a low child with a compassionate child of typical intelligence, but don’t make that child be the partner all the time. Not fair to him/her. Stand near the low child to offer guidance.
Focus issues – Teach ‘concentration’ and ‘body control’ and ask for it by name. Create a special signal with the child that means ‘eyes on me.’ Call the child by name, and pause to use the special signal. Compliment the child frequently for using the tools. “Catch them being good.” Do a ‘shake your sillies’ out activity after a challenging one, to help with reset. Use Mountain Breathing. Use Resting in the lesson, but expect to keep it shorter, as that child may wiggle. Adjust that child towards the beginning of resting, then remind them to respect the group by being quiet and still for a few more moments so that you can give other children an adjustment.
Good prompts during Resting:
“Do two things that begin with R: rest and relax.”
“Remember the two S’s: stillness and silence.”
“Remember the three Ps: be patient, peaceful and polite.”
Doesn’t like touch – Ask “may I touch you?” Smile at the child and say something nice…..allow them to come to YOU.
Space invaders – Establish a class rule. “You may stand next to me, but not ON me.” “When you push me I feel hurt because that’s not respecting my body.”
If you must stop a child and sit him/her out, preface that with: “If you can not keep your hands and feet to yourself, I invite you to watch this next activity.” Return to the child after they’ve had time to watch the activity with: “Did you see how the children used their hands and feet? …….. You may come back in to the group and use your hands and feet appropriately …… Good job! Etc.”
Bright but ADHD – Brisk pace. Compliment good choices. Don’t be afraid to stop the activity to ask how they can do something better behaviorally. Have them define the problem “Oops, we have a problem! What is it? Talking? Running? Right! What can we do better? Not run? Good idea! Let’s do it again.”
Use the body shapes for learning frequently (sit ready position, etc.), even during an activity as a reset.
Autism Spectrum – Transitions are hard for these children. Let them in on the lesson flow so they know what’s coming next. Make a private plan with this child. Ex: Agree on ‘reset’ cues: a shoulder squeeze or subtle visual signal that indicates ‘time to watch and listen.’ Be aware that touch, loud sounds and bright light may be an irritant. Be patient, kind and flexible.
For more good ideas….. see work by Eve Kodiak who had developed movement exercises that help children with mind-body integration.
I suggest “Rappin’ on the Reflexes” from her work – a CD/book combination. Read more about it on her website and order the material.
Doing something you’ve never done before can be intimidating.
A couple of years ago, I decided to audit a hip hop class. Most of the students were college freshman. Then there was me, a senior……citizen.
The first day I had to make myself be okay with moving across the floor. That’s the part of class when it’s you and three other dancers and the rest of the class is either waiting to start or waiting and watching on the other side. I had to dig down into my ego place and let go of my fears about public risk-taking.
It was hard to come back to the next class, but I made myself do it.
By the third day, I got into the groove. During the semester I learned to loosen up, get more grounded, and expand my identity beyond “modern dancer.”
Not only was it a pivotal experience for me, but I also earned the respect of the freshman class.
Similarly, our students may start by being intimidated or slow to embrace the new things we are teaching. This creates chaos, such as acting out, laughter, or non-compliance. In classes with youngest children, some may sit out, be reluctant to enter the room, cling or cry.
However, by Day 3 this dynamic has shifted. The little girl who wouldn’t enter the room without Mom is now pushing Mom out the door. The little boy who wouldn’t take off his shoes and socks is now relishing the feeling of bare feet on the floor.
For us, the teachers, the Rule of 3 also applies. The first time I teach a new activity, my delivery may be a little clunky. I haven’t yet figured out the fewest, best words and movements to demonstrate the skills. By the third time I teach that activity, the flow is better and I have clearer expectations for the outcome.
How does the Rule of 3 apply to becoming a creative dance teacher?
The first time I taught Anne Green Gilbert’s concept-based approach and lesson plan structure – and this was after 20 years of following my own methodology – I felt like I was wearing borrowed clothes. Having children say the concepts aloud was new to me, as was including a time for constructive resting. I had to trust the act of leaving my comfort zone so that I could grow as a teacher.
The upshot is this: be patient with yourself, your students and the process. It takes a while to get comfortable with “the new.” But the courage and perseverance is worth the reward, for students and teachers alike.
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.
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.
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)
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?
This is the third and final post in this Lesson Plan Series.
Notice these things:
- Simplify more complex activities to make them age appropriate.
- Teach a skill, then apply it in the following activity.
- Use visual supports to teach, empower and improve memory.
Simplify more complex activities to make them age appropriate.
For Here We Go Round and Round, I adapted a circle dance that is usually done holding hands, traveling around the circle line.
Since the concept was ‘Body Parts.’ I made the circling into ‘circle one body part, one way and the other.’ The sequence of the dance remained the same except for that. I posted the downloadable visual support for this dance, found on the Songs for Dancing CD, so we could use it as a visual reference. See my post called What to do with…. Here We Go Round and Round for more details on that.
Teach a skill, then apply it in the following activity.
See my post called Using Galloping Song to teach Apples and Oranges for more details on that!
Use visual supports to teach, empower and improve memory.
Use the letter “S” to teach qualities: smooth, sharp, shaky and swinging. You can even use letter blends – sh, and sw – if you want to up the challenge level. Use the “S” visual for review, to check for understanding.
See my post called What to do with….Imaginary Journey to download the visuals for that activity. Use the visuals before you teach, while you are teaching, and when you review. Very powerful and empowering for the children.
Finally, use your collection of visuals as an archive.
When it’s free choice time, I place three pictures in front of a child and ask him/her to choose which activity we will do. If there’s time, pick another child to choose another activity after you’ve done the first one. There are all kinds of methods you can use to select and sequence free choice activities when the visual supports are available. I keep my visual supports in page protectors in a binder. I either put the ones I’m offering for free choice on a 1″ book ring for ease of flipping pages, post them on the board, or lay them out on the floor.
Here are the last 5 lessons in this series.
Enjoy your time with the children!