Teachers with no background in dance are often hesitant to try dance activities in their classrooms. Not to fear! Movement can be easily incorporated into a wide range of classroom activities—and your students may not even realize they’re dancing.
And there are plenty of good reasons to include movement in your day. Dance offers not only countless physical health benefits but also support for children’s cognitive, emotional, and social development. Dance is also great for engaging students who have trouble learning in more conventional, stationary ways.
Here are some easy tips to get your students up and moving:
Dance the moment.
This is a great exercise to start the day or transition back from breaks. Have students stand in a circle. Ask them to think of a movement that reflects their feelings or thoughts at that moment. Have the students share their movement individually and then have the whole group copy them. When each student has shared, have the whole group do each movement in turn, and see what kind of flow is created. You can extend this activity over time, having students create and record a new movement every day for a week or two and then asking them to create a dance by stringing these movements together.
Build vocabulary with movement.
Working on a list of vocabulary with your students? Have them create a specific movement for each word. Then have them use the movement each time the word comes up in class. Or quiz your students and let them answer in movement.
Use this exercise when you want to refocus your students or lower their energy level. Pair students and have them face each other (either seated or standing). One member of the pair should create slow movements that the second student tries to copy or mirror simultaneously. Encourage students to use their whole bodies, not just their hands and arms. After a few minutes, switch leaders. As students become more practiced at this activity, provide a theme or an image to inspire their movements.
Dance a poem.
Choose a poem that your students can relate to, preferably one full of active verbs or evocative imagery. If you like, also select music that relates to the poem or that simply will inspire your students to move. Divide the class into groups of three to five students and ask the groups to create a series of motions to accompany the poem. For longer poems, you may want each group to take only a portion of the poem. Designate a person to read the poem as the students perform. This activity not only reinforces your students’ language arts work, but also tends to inspire some remarkable choreography based on both the imagery and the rhythm of the poem.
Make a human machine.
People of all ages love this perennial favorite. Divide the class into groups of five to seven students and explain that each group will make its own human machine. Demonstrate the process with one group first. To begin, one student makes a movement and corresponding sound that repeat. The next student joins by making a different repetitive movement and sound that interact with the first student’s. One by one, the other students join in the same way.
Encourage students to use different levels (for example, standing, sitting, or lying down) and different qualities of movement (such as sharp, steady, flowing, or jerky). Remind them that their movements should in some way interact with or relate to the other students’ movements. You can do this activity with no specific theme or offer some ideas to inspire the students’ movement (such as a form of transportation, a friendship machine, or an ecosystem). Try it with different tempos and moods (for example, joyful, somber, dazed, or frenzied).
There really is no limit to the ways you can include movement in your day. Let this list inspire some creative ideas of your own. Have fun!