Here are some ideas for dance education activities and lesson plans that are useful in the primary school classroom. All dance ideas are great for home schoolers as well!
The activities throughout Dance Teaching Ideas are for one child or many and cater to a range of age groups and are appropriate for a variety of spaces that including indoor and outdoor dance lessons. Some of these lessons teach about dance and some use dance to teach about other subject areas.
5 Favourite starting points for a dance lesson
• Solving a dance problem.
This requires the students to solve a movement problem that has specific parameters. With younger children this may include spatial directions or the use of a range of body parts to create different shapes.
For example, in pairs, students pretend to be astronauts in space. They create four floating movements together. One for each of the following words: under, over, around and through. This teaches them about the nuances of this vocabulary as well as requiring them to use a range of movement within a critical thinking framework. Have them draw a picture and put one of the direction words in a sentence eg. “going around”.
Or in groups of three they explore casting a shadow. One dancer is the sun, one is an object and one is the shadow. As the sun moves the shadow changes shape and position in the space. The object can change at any time and become something else.
Children create a movement sequence that starts at 9:00am on a sunny day and changes throughout the day until 6:00 at night. The shapes will change from long stretched out shapes, to short and squashed, and back to stretched out on the other side of the object.
For teachers, there is a support science resource on Skootle that will assist in the science learning in this dance activity. I suggest you use them together.
• Explore a theme.
Using a topic that is current in your classroom, brainstorm the key ideas and use each of the most important ones to become the sections or movement phrases of your dance. As you choreograph you need to decide on the most logical order for these to occur.
Themes may link to conceptual thinking that is being explored in the classroom such as climate change or sustainability. For example, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is an island of rubbish made up of plastic, chemical sludge and other debris.
The dance work may ask students to explore the effects of these plastics in the ocean on animal life. This gives students the opportunity to research the theme, discuss the implications and create a dance that reflects the ideas they have explored through this process.
• Using a single image or collection of images.
These kinds of stimulus for dance movement may link to a theme such as the one described above or may support the development of a section or movement phrase in a dance. When choosing an image try to find one that will provoke discussion between the dancers. I often get students to create their own images in response to class discussions.
Collages and computer images are popular with the students and can be useful to go back to in rehearsal to enhance performance.
• Listening to student questions
Younger students ask many questions and it can be a good time to incorporate a dance activity as a way of explanation or expansion of knowledge.
For example, an observation of a caterpillar in the playground can lead to a three-part dance exploration of the lifecycle of a butterfly. For older students this could be a class dance activity about the spiralling helix of DNA.
• Linking to a book
When basing a dance activity on a book that the students maybe studying, it is always a good idea to have a conversation about the theme or part of the book that the dance will explore.
For example, Birrung, the Secret Friend, by Jackie French investigates several themes. It looks at Australian Indigenous history and culture, racism and prejudice in colonial times, women’s rights, farming self sufficiency and friendship and love among others.
For the younger students the theme of friendship and love can be a good starting place for a dance.
In the story there are some jealousies in the friendship which lend themselves to contrasting movements and naturally divide the dance into three parts; the beginning of the friendship, the jealousy and the coming together of friends.
These are just a few ideas for starting to create dance in your primary classroom. There many additional ways that dance can be linked to learning in literacy, numeracy, science and the environment. Dance is a fantastic way to build curiosity and wonder in your classroom.