Here are some ideas for creating dance education activities and lesson plans that are useful in the primary/elementary school classroom. These dance ideas are great for home schooling parents as well and may be done by teachers with a lot of dance experience or no experience at all.
There are many different ways to create school dance education activities but all physical activities with children require some understanding of dance classroom management and safe dance practice . These are just a few ideas but you will find many more dance activity ideas as well as useful links to dance and music teaching resources on Dance Teaching Ideas.
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.
When creating dance activities you are only limited by your imagination. Narratives, science phenomenon, character exploration, mathematical concepts, history, and social investigation are all appropriate vehicles for learning through and about dance. Visit this page for free dance lesson plans for many age groups.
The Elements of Dance provide an extremely flexible framework to explore many abstract concepts and ideas.
5 Favourite starting points for creating 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 the students 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 9:00 am 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.
There are many science resources that will assist in the science learning for this dance activity. Use them in conjunction with your dance activities to support both science and dance learning.
Exploring 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. Telling narratives through dance allows the children to ask questions and find the answers for themselves, supported by creative solutions to their own movement investigations.
For example, an observation of a caterpillar in the playground can lead to a dance exploration of the life cycle of a butterfly. While teaching children about the life cycle of a butterfly you can be practicing structuring movement through the Elements of Dance.
For older students this could be a class dance activity about the spiraling helix of DNA. Seeing it unfold through their physical modelling helps them to imagine many concepts as 3D images.
Progressing through the phases of a dance activity, through orientation, engagement, exploration and reflection, children have creative opportunities to learn how to find the answers to their own questions.
Linking dance to a book.
When basing a dance activity on a book that the students may be studying, it is always a good idea to have a conversation about the theme or part of the book that the dance will explore. The dance activity may only be linked to one single element in the book, exploring a character or one part of the narrative.
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.