Boost the Working Memory with dance activities

Using dance to support a good working memory helps children stay focused and retain more information.  Developing the working memory in Primary school will help children to nurture skills that they may use throughout their school years.

What is the working memory?

dance activities for the Working MemoryThe Working Memory is using memory that is stored for a short- term. It’s part of executive function skills that include Cognitive Flexibility and Inhibitory Control, as well as the Working Memory.

Executive functions include important skills like paying attention, planning and organization, staying focused on tasks, managing and keeping a track of what you are doing.

Working memory enables us to store information and use it in some way.  This is important for children engaging in multi step directions, task completion and even effects the ability to problem solve.

As children develop, they are expected to carry out processes that involve increasingly more complex sets of instructions.  Some children may have difficulties remembering Step 2 and 3, as they have forgotten what they were asked to do while completing Step 1.

Working memory not only retains information but manipulates it.

Working memory difficulties result in missed learning opportunities for children.  Remembering what was said during a class discussion and applying it later in an activity, may have long term consequences to learning.

A good working memory assists children in developing independence and is critical for successful knowledge retention and application.

Things to help develop Working Memory

  • dance activitiesVisualization skills
  • Teaching someone how to do something
  • Games for visual memory (like Concentration)
  • Games with rules
  • Talking out loud, asking questions, active reading strategies
  • Breaking down tasks into small parts
  • Multisensory remembering strategies
  • Making connections between different details to help them remember

How can we use dance to support the Working Memory?

Most of these strategies can be incorporated into dance activities.  It provides another way to integrate movement into your classroom.

Keep in mind that when you are using these strategies with dance, that you are teaching through dance not necessarily about dance.  Introducing new dance knowledge when trying to enhance working memory may be too much at one time.

It is, however, an opportunity to use dance language as you describe, encourage, and support children to create their own movement.  Using the Dance Elements to help children visualize movement possibilities, not only supports them being more creative, but gives them new vocabulary to describe and explain what they have created.

Memorizing facts and dance steps

Using dance to remember facts is a little like creating an acronym. You are using movements as the cue to remember the information in order.

The Solar System Dance

When learning about the Solar system, make up a dance where each step represents a planet.  You can do this as a class, individually or it can be teacher devised.

Perform the dance in the correct order, to help remember the planets from the Sun to Neptune.  Each movement could represent a key concept about the planet.

Dancing your Spelling

Memorize spelling words by using hand actions.  These gestures may relate directly to the word, letter or meaning.

You can see an example of this with the dance created for Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, from the Broadway Musical, Mary Poppins. These dance movements were created from signing and there are a number of YouTube videos that slow down the movements if you’d like to teach it as a fun example.

You can make the movements into a game where the teacher does the movements. The students have to say the word it matches. Then the students start to ‘read’ movement.

Make a sentence using the hand action and devise other movements for smaller words.

Or taking it to an extra step, use movements to memorize the acronyms.  For example, the colours in a rainbow, using the acronym, Roy G Biv. Each letter has a locomotor movement.  For example, ‘r’ running, ‘o’ ooze.

Dance activities for increasing Working Memory

The dance obstacle course

Safe DanceVerbally give a list of 4 separate instructions for completing a dance obstacle course.  For example, go under the…, behind the…, through a…, around the…

You may want to make these objects or props that they interact with, or they could be done with a partner using different body parts.  For example, go under your partners legs, gallop around your partner.

You can increase the number of instructions as the children get more proficient at remembering.  Include direction like travelling on a diagonal or making a zigzag pattern travel from the front to the back of the room.

What do I take on my dance picnic?

This dance is about taking items to a picnic.  The children collect the things, in movement form, to take with them on a picnic. The teacher tells them what to bring and then they move to a different part of the room and do the movements for the picnic.

The instructions may be given in pictures, written words, verbally, or by uncovering real picnic items.  Once again, the children can create the movements, or it can be teacher devised.  It is better for their memory if they create the movements themselves.

Remembering dance shapes

For younger children, in pairs, a partner shows a non locomotor shape and then returns to a standing position. The other partner puts their own body into same shape they have just been shown.

This can be done with older children using a sequence of simple movements.

The Shrinking Outline

This is an activity for older children that supports active reading practice.

Take a paragraph or two and have the children write keywords that represent the text in the margins.  Then use those words as a stimulus to create a phrase of movement that will prompt students to remember the main concept of each paragraph.

The next day have them repeat the movement and see if they remember the concepts that inspired them.  You may have to repeat this several times.

You can use any of these activities as a starting point to create a much longer dance lesson that links to the choreographic devices or teaches about manipulating the Elements of Dance.

If children are experiencing ongoing difficulties with working memory, they should consult a speech therapist or psychologist.

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