ARTSEDGE Lessons for Elementary School

Jazz Music, Dance, and Poetry

Exploring basic movements, melodies and poetic methods


Key Staff

Primary instructor. If you are not a dancer yourself, it is strongly suggested that you collaborate with a dance instructor or even with a student who has studied jazz dance.

Key Skills

Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres, Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique
Making Art: Producing, Executing and Performing


In this lesson, students will be introduced to basic jazz dance movements, and will create a cinquain poem inspired by jazz music.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Be introduced to and explore jazz dance and jazz music.
  • Learn basic jazz dance movements.
  • Create a cinquain poem inspired by jazz.

Teaching Approach

  • Thematic
  • Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Discussion
  • Experiential Learning
  • Reflection

Assessment Type



What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • Television
  • VCR
  • DVD Player
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teachers should familiarize themselves with jazz music and dance using the following resources:


  • Cohan, Robert. The Dance Workshop, A Guide to the Fundamentals of Movement. Simon and Schuster, 1986.


  • "An Evening with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater." (1986). A Danmarks Radio/ZDF/RM Arts co-production in association with ORF. Licensed worldwide by NVC Arts International
  • "The Great Jazz Legends." (1995). Four-CD compilation by Javelin Promotions, Inc. Suite 600, 39 Music Square West, Nashville, TN 37203.
  • Various compilations by Capitol Records. 1750 N Vine, Hollywood, CA 90028 (including Rodgers and Hart, Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, and Irving Berlin).


Teachers should be familiar with the structure of a cinquain poem.

Prior Student Knowledge

Students should:

  • Be familiar with the genre of jazz
  • Have basic knowledge of poetry
  • Be familiar with the parts of speech (noun, verb, etc.)

Physical Space

  • Classroom
  • Auditorium


Small Group Instruction

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

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



1. Have jazz music playing as students come in the room. Ask them the following questions (you may want to have them written on the board for visual learners).

  • What kind of music is this? (jazz)
  • What are the basic elements of jazz? (Melody, harmony, rhythm, timbre, and expression in jazz, instruments)

2. Ask students the following questions:

  • How is jazz alike or different from some other kinds of music?
  • What are some of the specific instruments used in jazz?
  • Jazz is also a form of dance. What do you know about the jazz dance form?

3. Tell students that jazz dance and jazz music both utilize improvisation. Ask them:

  • What is improvisation? (Improvisation is composing or choreographing on the spot and coming up with melodies and movements in your head).
  • Where else is improvisation used? (Theater, art, life)

Build Knowledge

1. Have students review the Kennedy Center Cuesheet resource, Jazz in Time.

2. Discuss the history of jazz dance. Jazz dance is more popular in the United States than in Europe. It started with African-American dancers in the U.S. and it combines elements of tap and show dancing. Some important people in jazz dance were Katherine Dunham and Jack Cole. Jazz dance is based on Afro-Caribbean dance, with a theatrical flair. It was influenced by dance forms from Indian, Brazilian, and Cuban sources. Jazz dance has rules like ballet, but the form arose from a need to be more free and flexible than ballet. You need to be able to isolate parts of the body as well, and keep a rhythm. Think of the body as a jazz instrument. There are many styles: clean and cool, abstract, sensuous, and energetic. Jazz dance may be fast, or slow and lyrical. As a form, it is often associated with musicals.


1. Lead a class in the basics of jazz dance, as abbreviated and appropriate for your class and grade level. You can also use elements from instructional videos, including some aerobic dance routines in order to aid you in demonstrating the following movements. Demonstrate each movement and have students follow/mimic you.

2. Begin by demonstrating floor stretches. Stretches could include: pelvis rocks, alignment check (lying on the back), as well as sitting, butterfly, parallel, and 2nd position stretches.

3. Move on to center floor. Demonstrate plies (use jazz hands, use parallel and turn-out foot positions during plies) foot articulations, tondues, isolations. Add more movements to the center floor repertoire, such as three-step turns, slides, chassés. The jazz dance video may be helpful here.

4. Demonstrate across the floor movements. Movements could include: walking patterns, jazz walk. The jazz dance video may be helpful here.

5. Listen with students to several recordings of jazz music. Explain to students that jazz dance and music both developed around the same time in the early 1900's. After listening to the first song, have students offer descriptive words for the music. Write these descriptors on the board, and follow the same process as students listen to each song. Students will use their words for their independent activity.


1. Have students create a poem inspired by jazz. Explain that students will write a cinquain. Explain and write the structure of the cinquain on the board:

  • Noun (for this activity, have students use “jazz” as the first noun)
  • Two adjectives, describing the noun
  • Three verbs or adverbs
  • Phrase that tells about the noun
  • Repeat the noun

2. Distribute paper and pencils and allow students to work on their cinquains. Encourage them to incorporate the descriptive words about jazz on the board.

3. After all the students are finished, have them read their poems to the class.


Assess your student's work using the Assessment Rubric located within the Resource Carousel.


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 4: Applying and demonstrating critical and creative thinking skills in dance

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


Grade K-4 Music Standard 6: Listening to, analyzing, and describing music

Grade K-4 Music Standard 7: Evaluating music and music performances

Grade K-4 Music Standard 8: Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts

National Standards in Other Subjects
Language Arts

Language Arts Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process

Language Arts Standard 2: Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing



Brian Ziegler
Original Writer

Jen Westmoreland Bouchard

Email Print Share


- +
Email a link to this page
Share This Page


Related Resources


Use this collection of resources and articles to devise an approach for supporting individual needs in the classroom: from English Language Learners or students with disabilities, to conflict resolution and giving feedback.



© 1996-2019 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  

ArtsEdge is an education program of

The Kennedy Center 

with the support of

The US Department of Education 

ARTSEDGE, part of the Rubenstein Arts Access Program, is generously funded by David Rubenstein.

Additional support is provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

Kennedy Center education and related artistic programming is made possible through the generosity of the National Committee
for the Performing Arts and the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts.

The contents of this Web site were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. However, those contents do not
necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal government.
Unless otherwise stated, ArtsEdge materials may be copied, modified and otherwise utilized for non-commercial educational purposes
provided that ArtsEdge and any authors listed in the materials are credited and provided that you permit others to use them in the same manner.

Change Background:

Connect with us!    EMAIL US | YouTube | Facebook | iTunes | MORE!

© 1996-2019 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  
    Privacy Policy
| Terms and Conditions


You are now leaving the ArtsEdge website. Thank you for visiting!

If you are not automatically transferred, please click the link below:

ArtsEdge and The Kennedy Center are in no way responsible for the content of the destination site, its ongoing availability, links to other site or the legality or accuracy of information on the site or its resources.