ARTSEDGE Lessons for Elementary School

Island Breezes: Exploring Hula Dance

How does hula dance tell a story?


Key Staff

Classroom Teacher

Key Skills

Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture
Making Art: Composing and Planning, Producing, Executing and Performing


A hula dance is a choreographed interpretation of a poetic text, or mele, that tells a story through hand and arm gestures and rhythmic patterns. In this lesson, students will learn about the history of hula, the gestures and movements of hula, and the meaning of this Hawaiian dance. They will use graphic organizers to organize information they learn and will create and perform a hula dance that tells a story.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • locate Hawaii on a world map
  • listen to and take notes on a podcast
  • conduct Internet research on Hawaii and the hula dance
  • create a “Hula Garland” graphic representation of facts about Hawaii and the hula dance
  • learn the gestures used in hula dance
  • learn a hula dance
  • create an original hula dance that tells a story
  • perform a hula dance

Teaching Approach

Comprehensive Arts Education

Teaching Methods

  • Brainstorming
  • Guided Listening
  • Discussion
  • Visual Instruction
  • Information Organization

Assessment Type

Informal Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
  • Internet Access
  • Projector
  • 1 Computer per Small Group
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teacher should become familiar with the hula dance movements and gestures before teaching this lesson.

Prior Student Knowledge

Students should be able to identify the United States on a map.

Physical Space



  • Large Group Instruction
  • Small Group Instruction


Cue up the videos.

Accessibility Notes

Students with limited mobility should know that hula dance is also sometimes performed seated (“hula noho”).


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. As a class, find Hawaii on a world map. Make sure students understand that Hawaii is a state of the U.S.

2. Ask students to brainstorm about what they know about hula dance. Create a KWL chart (what we Know, what we Want to know, what we Learned) and fill out the K section.

3. Introduce the idea that hula movements have meanings, if students haven’t already mentioned this. Visit the PBS Great Performances website and explore the index of hula movements. The website contains a series of video clips that highlight hula gestures.

4. As you watch the video clips, have students imitate the gestures.

5. Fill out the W section of the KWL chart. Ask students to list things they’d like to know about hula dance and about Hawaii.

Build Knowledge

1. Review the items in the W section of the KWL chart, and brainstorm how the class might learn the answers to their questions.

2. Model note taking for students. Give each student a copy of the Hula Fact Garland handout located within the Resource Carousel. As a class, listen to the National Public Radio broadcast that describes the history of hula. Listen to a brief segment, and then pause the broadcast. Take notes on the board. As you take notes, tell your students why you choose to record specific information. For example, you might say, “I’m writing that modern hula dancing is softer and more graceful than ancient hula. That seems like an important thing, and I didn’t know it before. I’m going to write that in my own words.” When you feel they are clear on how you are taking notes, invite them to make suggestions after you pause the broadcast. Write main ideas and details, and be sure to record at least a dozen items.

3. Invite the class to create a Hula Fact Garland featuring information about the hula. Divide the students into groups of three students. Instruct the students to take notes as they research the hula using the resources on the handout.

4. Review the Hula Fact Garland Rubric handout with students located within the Resource Carousel. Review each item on the rubric so the students will know how they will be assessed on this task.

5. Give students time to find information and fill out their Hula Fact Garlands. Regroup and fill in the L section of the chart. Encourage students to use their notes to remind themselves of the interesting things they learned.


1. Watch the Howcast giving basic hula dancing instructions. This site includes male and female dancers, and clearly demonstrates basic steps. Encourage students to join in with the dancers on the video.

2. Allow sufficient time for students to practice the steps. Return to the Hula Gestures video and encourage students to incorporate the gestures with the basic steps. You may wish to do this on successive days until students feel comfortable.

3. Invite students to create an original hula dance that tells a story. Divide the class into small groups and give each group a copy of the Hula Story Map handout. Review each step on the handout with your class, and clarify any questions they may have.

4. Explain how to use the story map as a guide to plan the hula dance. Students should brainstorm ideas using the hula dance gestures. The next step is for students to write down their ideas. Encourage the students to discuss their ideas and work collaboratively to write their story.

5. Have students to create a story map. Tell the students to include a drawing of the hula gesture, and the words to the story that each gesture depicts.

6. Give the students a copy of the Hula Dance Rubric handout, found within the Resource Carousel, so they will know how their dance will be assessed. Answer any questions.

7. Provide time for the students to practice their dances using their story maps to assist them.


1. Allow each group to stage a performance of their hula dance. Have watching students take notes during the dance about the story they see. Allow students to narrate their dances if they like. After the performances, allow students to ask questions about the story.

2. Discuss how the dancers communicated their stories. The watchers might not have gotten the entire literal story, but may have understood the feeling of the story and enjoyed the dance. Ask whether knowing the story (if, for example, the group chose to narrate their dance) was important to enjoyment of the dance.


Assess the student's work using the 'Assessment Rubric' handed out earlier under the step, 'Build Knowledge'.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education

Grade K-4 Dance Standard 1: Identifying and demonstrating movement elements and skills in performing dance

Grade K-4 Dance Standard 3: Understanding dance as a way to create and communicate meaning


Grade K-4 Dance Standard 7: Making connections between dance and other disciplines

National Standards in Other Subjects

Geography Standard 1: Understands the characteristics and uses of maps, globes, and other geographic tools and technologies

Grades K-4 History

Grades K-4 History Standard 6: Understands the folklore and other cultural contributions from various regions of the United States and how they helped to form a national heritage



Rebecca Haden

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