Activities that support Literacy are an important part of the Primary teacher’s tool kit. Whether it in in the STEM, the arts, or the humanities classroom literacy is an essential part of Primary education.
Most subject areas, other than Mathematics, are judged on a child’s ability to use oral or written language.
The teaching of literacy should be responsive to the diversity of cultures and communities and be agile in how it adapts to the use of other languages within the classroom. Using a variety of text forms and communication vehicles make children better able to engage with information and multimedia technologies.
Using dance in the literacy classroom or using literacy as a part of the dance classroom, offers children who speak English as an additional language a wide range of ways to make meaning and explore how they communicate. It may also be useful when the teacher is a non-native English speaker.
Making a dance can involve listening, speaking, reading, and writing as well as the creative use of the body.
The Multiliteracies and Multimodal Classroom
Multimodality, the interrelationship between two or more communication modes, enables children to identify preferences in modes of representation. These may include linguistic, auditory, and gestural and can be linked to different cultures and contexts.
Communicating through gesture, dance, and holistic expressions of movement have been a part of most cultures and have been integral to religious worship and celebration around the world. In many cases, dance has enabled communities to tell their stories in ways richer than linguistics.
In the arts, children integrate mind and body, using a range of representational resources which merge and interact through multimodal thinking.
The multiliteracies classroom, although complex and at times challenging, is rewarding. It better prepares students for living in an increasingly digitalised and multicultural world as the children explore different ways of understanding and communicating their ideas.
Perhaps even more importantly making dance activates children’s creativity and develops their skills as producers not just consumers.
The language of dance: create a dance using Metaphors
Metaphors are often said to be an artistic way to describe things. They can evoke a mood or emphasis the expressive qualities of an object, person, or place.
They can be a comparison between two things that are not related. In this way they resemble how we abstract movement, taking a realistic movement or gesture and manipulating it using the Elements of Dance to evoke a mood, story, or idea.
A favourite example of a metaphor is “The children in my class are a dream”. Here we are not insinuating that we are asleep and dreaming, but that the mood in the classroom is easy and dream-like.
Warm up activity
These are idioms that are a type of metaphor that could be used as a part of a whole group warm up activity.
Use contrasting dance elements (eg. high and low levels, fast and slow, large and small shapes, centred and balanced weight, zigzag and circular pathways through space) as the students improvise movements to represent the following idioms.
A step in the right direction
When push comes to shove
Touch and go
Out on a limb
By leaps and bounds
In good hands
Not a leg to stand on
Using a poem rich with metaphors, the students identify metaphors within the poem and establish the mood that is created by the metaphors. For younger students Tara Kunesh, children’s book author has some suggestions.
A good example for older students would be Going Down a Hill on a Bicycle by Henry Charles Beeching.
A Boy’s Song
With lifted feet, hands still,
I am poised, and down the hill
Dart, with heedful mind;
The air goes by in a wind.
Swifter and yet more swift,
Till the heart with a mighty lift
Makes the lungs laugh, the throat cry:—
“O bird, see; see, bird, I fly.
“Is this, is this your joy?
O bird, then I, though a boy,
For a golden moment share
Your feathery life in air!”
Say, heart, is there aught like this
In a world that is full of bliss?
‘Tis more than skating, bound
Steel-shod to the level ground.
Speed slackens now, I float
Awhile in my airy boat;
Till, when the wheels scarce crawl,
My feet to the treadles fall.
Alas, that the longest hill
Must end in a vale; but still,
Who climbs with toil, wheresoe’er,
Shall find wings waiting there.
In small groups or pairs create a short movement sequence that represents the mood created by the poem.
To create the final dance sequence the students need to match the metaphor with the movement.
As a class create a Word Wall of metaphors, choosing 5 metaphors they use to make a phrase of movement for each one.
Students choose from these metaphors and create a poem.
They then create movement phrases for each of the metaphors in the poem.
Join the movement phrases together using transitions in the same order as they use them in the poem.
Write down five things about yourself as metaphors and then create a sequence of movement that represents you.
For example, I am a lion attacking my food (always hungry), a cloud brushed by the rain (crying).
The students could then address these questions and use the answers to review and improve their movement sequences. Which ideas worked best? Why did you think that?
Dance and literacy
These dance activities offer children ways to explore communication, shifting from the written to the embodied and back again.
For students who may struggle with poetry, and particularly with writing poems, this dance lesson shows them an alternative way of exploring figurative writing.
From a dance perspective it shows yet another way to choreograph dance and to explore using some of the structural elements such as transitions and movement phrases. For more ideas about writing poetry using dance see the Create You Own Country resource.