How to teach literacy in your dance classroom

dance teaching literacyPromoting Literacy, in curriculums around the world, is a focus for most teachers. Whether this is the process of writing and reading or emotional or social literacy it is an important part of life skills needed for prospering in the 21st Century.

Dance and the creative arts are a useful tool for developing writing skills, as students explore their own and others creative works and use language to make sense of the world around them. Movement can act as a conduit to children finding ways to express themselves through language.

Writing skills are the top of the literacy list as they incorporate reading, spelling and building student vocabulary.

Reluctant writers are common in many classrooms across most year levels. Sometimes it’s a matter of not knowing what to write. Giving them opportunities to talk to others in brainstorming activities can start the creative process. They can get ideas, find new language and run ideas past others before committing to the page.


Dancing is a way of children drawing pictures with their bodies and we know how they love to illustrate their own stories. Students who enjoy writing are much more likely to improve as writers.

Here are a few activities that may be useful in linking meaningful movement creation to language arts development. Most of the written part of these activities are short which is helpful when trying to encourage reluctant writers.

The six word story – Flash Fiction

The story goes that Ernest Hemmingway, as a bet, wrote a story of only six words that was so profound it made his audience cry.

The headline was “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”.

Whether this is legend or truth it makes a great activity when you are trying to get children to write effectively and efficiently. Particularly for writing headlines.

It is also useful when showing the power of movement and trying to encourage older Primary students to be subtle in their movements. When creating dance children need opportunities to express emotions in genuine and sincere ways rather than emoting all over the stage. It also supports using abstraction rather than highly literal movement to build emotion in a dance.

Dance Activity:

• Write a story of 6 words that will, not only tell a story, but connect with the audience on an emotional level.

• Then write down all the synonyms you can think of for each of the words in the story. Highlight the six you think are most emotional.

• Next to each synonym write a dance element that you could use to represent that word.

• Using the words from the list, create a dance of six movements that tells the story.

fun dancing for children

Start with a question

How many times have you sat down to write something and struggled to just make a start? The first sentence can be the hardest!

Many students struggle to begin writing, particularly if it is a creative writing activity. The breadth of possibilities makes it difficult to make choices and leaves many students feeling overwhelmed. By using movement to start the process, students can crystallise ideas in their body before having to commit it to the page.

Using word lists provides scaffolding for the writing and enables them to add, replace and rearrange various elements of the story. It can form an organising function in the prewriting phase.

This activity can use any question that you like. What’s something you’ve always regretted saying? Why does Sally love the ocean? What is the purpose of a robot? What would you do if you found a dragon in your garden?

You’ll also find some great story starters on Scholastic.

Dance Activity:

• It begins with the question: What would it feel like to visit the moon? In pairs the children write down as many ideas as they can about the answers to this.

• Then as a group they create a locomotor movement to show how they would move in the setting? Write down all the words to describe these movements.

• Individually they create two contrasting movements for two characters who are in this setting. Write down all the words to describe these movements for each character.

• Show, by creating a still shape, using levels and facial expression, the conflict that one character is experiencing in the story and write a description. Do the same for the other character.

• Through the dynamics of your movements show the emotions of each character at the beginning of the story and then at the end. Write a description of these movements.

• Using all the words and descriptions write the ‘Visit to the Moon’ story.

dance intergrated with literacyMake sure you allow plenty of time for both the physical exploration and the written component of these activities. Being patient and allowing children time to self-correct and expand on ideas is important.

Allow the students to write where they choose whether that is on the floor where they are dancing or at a desk. Improving handwriting is not the goal of these activities.

During the creative process try not to look too close at the mechanics of the writing. It becomes the draft that can be reviewed and corrected later. It gives their imagination a chance to move at a faster pace than the actual skills they have at that moment.

Using Mentor Texts can really assist in showing students what a good example looks like. It can give students ideas or spark their imagination by stretching their image of what their writing could be. It also acts as a reference if they are stuck through the process.

Writing using dance can be fun and taking time to develop your students’ writing skills can set up a lifetime love of literature.