One of the hardest things about teaching the Arts in Primary schools is balancing the ‘tried and true’ lesson plans with exploring something risky and new. As most teachers will attest to, the first time you do a lesson with a class has the potential to go really wrong.
Some of the anxiety in delivering a new learning approach, lesson plan or even single activity, can be reduced by the use of creativity in the planning stage of the lesson.
I know I’ve written about dance lesson planning many times, but it is a crucial part of effective and creative lesson implementation. Beginning and experienced teachers alike, will be continually reflecting on how they plan lessons to find inspiring, valuable and more time efficient ways of delivering lessons.
Planning a dance lesson definitely gets easier over time. But it’s useful to think of it as an ongoing process rather than something set in stone.
Ideas for creating a Primary dance lesson
Using The Dance Lesson Formula, is a good place to start. This lays solid foundations and ensures you are covering the most valuable elements of the lesson.
But how do you keep coming up with strategies, themes and the many different ways of presenting movement ideas in your classroom?
Here are some ways to stay fresh and keep adding value to your lesson planning.
To keep modelling creative practice in your classrooms, you need to stay creative in your own bodies. Keep improvising movement yourself to uncover new ways to feel and experience dance.
As you improvise, challenge your own movement language. Try contrasting movements that may not be comfortable for you and then decide if they can be linked to an appropriate theme, concept or used to teach about an element or choreographic device.
Be inspired by the movements of your students. Watching your class as they explore movement in other dance activities, may be a starting point for a new way to present or engage with dance learning. Encourage them to improvise within a framework that supports trying new things.
Also be open to improvising within your lesson plan. Including a list of important questions, as a part of your written lesson plan, will help you to keep in mind the learning focus of these improvisations.
Keep adding the words listed below to every activity that you lead with your students. Their investigations, answers and subsequent questions may lead you to using a new teaching strategy or to exploring a different aspect of movement.
‘what if we?’
‘what happens when…?’
By delving into new ideas with your students, you become even more passionate about the subject. This could also lead to further artistic development in your own practice.
Take an activity you’ve done previously and see if you can extend it in another direction. Asking the students to come up with ideas about what else you could do is a valuable tool to extending your ideas and seeing things from other perspectives.
It also acts to engage the students and empowers them to lead their own inquiries. The teacher encourages children to be investigators and researchers by acknowledging that they do not know everything.
Collect everything. You never know when an object from a cheap shop, a piece of music heard in the background, a piece of fabric or a children’s book will be the catalyst for a creative dance activity, lesson, or unit of work.
When you are reading online, save snippets of information, phrases, expressions, and interesting perspectives in a journal. These can be inspirational.
Find an element of the curriculum; a dance element, a choreographic device, or theme and try to think of everything you could do around that topic. Treat this as an improvisation or a creative writing ‘quick write’activity.
All the information and ideas may not be fully formed, but it helps you to sort through what you already know. Having these ideas on hand supports the necessary Backup Plan if Plan A doesn’t quite go the way you expected.
For example if you were going to create a series of lessons that explore ‘unison’ for a Year 5/6 class.
Firstly, write down everything you know about dancing in unison. Remember to include the contexts of Performing, Choreographing and Responding.
A ‘quick write’ about Unison in dance.
Unison is two or more dancers performing a movement at the same time.
Unison does not have to be facing the same way or on the same level.
You can use unison to purposely change the focus, if one person is not dancing in time with someone else.
Unison means the choreographer can change the meaning by the use of contrast. The contrast between the uniformity of moving in unison, to being unbound and performing individual movements.
Unison makes the dance look neat, precise, and organised.
An example of the use of unison is Jerome Robbins work, Antique Epigraphs or Antony Hamilton’s, Forever and Ever.
Performing in unison requires dancers to have a heightened sense of awareness. They need to use their peripheral vision and spatial awareness.
When rehearsing performances in unison you need to concentrate on timing, counting, and spend time really listening to the music.
Breaking a movement down by counts, as in ‘1 and a’, will mean that all dancers know what they should be doing on each count.
Performing in unison means that you develop skills in teamwork. It is important to perform every rehearsal with 100% concentration. What one person does in the dance, affects the whole group.
Unison can mean performing in line and in sync. For it be most effective every arm line, every head movement and every angle of the body needs to be in time and the same.
Rehearsing for dancing in unison highlights the importance of not always practicing in a mirror. The dancers need to be aware of each other without being able to see each other.
Unison needs energy so that it has life and is not just robotic.
Then decide what the focus of the learning will be. What are your most important questions? Then you can choose the most suitable vehicle to explore these ideas. In dance, this may start with choosing between using Performing, Choreographing and Responding or a combination of all of these.
In this example of learning about unison, the focus could be on using unison as a performance skill. This warm up would begin to have the students thinking about how they respond to each other and how they change the rhythm of their bodies to synchronize and respond to each dancer.
Improvised Unison Dance Activity
Start the warm up with a simple mirroring activity, in pairs, where each dancer takes turns in following their partner.
When they are concentrating and focused, do a ‘schooling activity’, that requires the dancers to move together like a school of fish. Begin the warm up with a leader who changes the direction of the locomotor movement.
The teacher can change that leader at any time and the other dancers must follow. It is best to start this warm up by walking, then pick up the pace. You can then change to any loco motor movement.
Finally repeat with no designated leader. They must feel someone change the direction and go with them.
This warm up requires a sense of relaxation in the body rather than tension. Being ready to move in any direction, by transferring the weight.
In this next activity, the dancers are exploring how using unison as a choreographic device may be used to manipulate movements. The complications introduced as a part of the movement problem, demonstrate how unison, as a choreographic device, may be layered within a dance composition.
Choreographic Unison Dance Activity
In this lesson, two groups develop two separate unison movement phrases. Begin the activity by getting each group to explore non locomotor body isolations to a set count.
Using a techno piece of music will help to keep a strong focus on timing and ensure that both groups have the same amount of movement material. It also encourages the dynamic to be more percussive, which is easier to rehearse in unison.
These movements are then developed to travel to the other side of the space. Ensure that each group is traveling in the opposite direction.
The students then decide how they may make these two separate movement phrases happen at the same time. They will need to organise themselves within the space to cross over to the other side of the room.
The use of techno music to perform this will also create opportunities to compare their choreography to that of Antony Hamilton’s ForEver and Ever.
I have been obsessed with unison for my whole career. Not just unison as a thing but unison as an idea. What do we mean by unison? What could be a version of unison that we don’t normally call unison? Antony Hamilton
Lesson planning is crucial to effective teaching. After each lesson, reflect, and evaluate how you may improve the lesson for future students.
Creating Primary dance lessons can be a continuation of your artistic practice. Think of lesson planning as a way to nurture your own creativity. By keeping these simple things in mind, this process will become easier over time.