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Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Lessons to Celebrate Dancing

For Music In Our Schools Month (MIOSM®), I thought I would share some of my favorite lessons for celebrating different forms of musicking. These are the lessons where we just bask in the joy of music-making- what's better than that? And (because I can never help myself) there are always musical skills and concepts students get more practice with in the process. Today I'm sharing some of my favorite lesson activities that celebrate dancing! 

1. Follow the Leader

I use this activity all the time with Kindergarten and 1st grade to practice steady beat. This is such a simple concept but really gets students to build their "movement vocabulary", be creative, and have fun dancing in a low pressure way. I start a piece of music (I try to have lots of options of upbeat music from different genres on hand for this) and tell them to copy me as I move on the beat. I do lots of different simple movements on the beat, changing every few measures, to give them some ideas to start. Then I tell them that if I call their name, they are the new leader and they should pick a move and everyone will copy them! I usually do this in a circle and just go around the circle taking turns being the leader, so everyone can see each other easily.

A few tips to make this successful: 
  • Keep it moving! Switch leaders every couple of measures and go around the room quickly. At these younger ages we all know their attention spans are short anyway, but I've found if I let any one student lead for too long things tend to get out of hand!
  • For shy students who freeze when it's their turn, I don't let them off the hook but I do give them suggestions. I try to wait a minute and prompt them again to pick something to do, and sometimes that's enough. If not, I ask them to pick from a few super easy options I suggest, like clapping, patting their heads, or patting their shoulders. 
2. Four Square

This activity is similar to Follow the Leader but is a bit more complicated and gives each student more turns- I use this one mostly with 2nd and 3rd grade. Students get into groups of 4 (this can be modified to be done with 3 or 5 as needed) and stand in a diamond shape, everyone facing the same direction with one student at the front as the tip of the diamond, 2 students slightly behind and to either side, and one student further back and directly behind. The person at the front is the first leader- when the music starts they do a dance move and everyone else in their group copies them. The trick of course is the leader cannot see the others in their group, and the others are copying from behind. When they're done with their move, the leader turns to their right and everyone copies them, making a new person the leader at the front with everyone else behind them. The game continues with leaders turning to the side to switch leaders until the music stops.

3. Going Downtown

This activity requires locomotor movement, unlike the first two activities, and is perfect for upper elementary. To set up the game, separate students into two lines facing each other, with at least 5 feet between the two lines. Try to make the lines even but if there is an odd number of students it will still work. The students are the sidewalks, and the space between them is the street. I tell students to imagine they are on their way to a really awesome party. They are walking down the street with their friend to get to the party. If they're really excited about the party, they aren't just going to be walking calmly down the street- they would be skipping, jumping, doing cartwheels, dancing... One person from the front of each row will be going from the front of the line, down the middle, and joining the back of the line, but they won't be just walking. One person, whose name I call, will be coming up with a fun way to go down the street. The other person (from the other row) will copy them. But they are going to the party together, so they will be going down the street at the same time- not watching the first person and then copying after. Everyone else on the sidewalk moves forward as soon as someone leaves their row to make space at the back of each row. Keep taking turns until the end of the song (I used to have a CD with a song called "Going Downtown"- hence the name- but now I use "Walking On Sunshine", which is equally appropriate!).

These are the rules I give my students when we play: wait until I call one of your names to go, keep the street wide, only do things your partner can physically do, and if you can physically do something you should go for it. I remind them that we don't want any traffic jams, so I make sure the next pair doesn't start going until the previous one has gotten to the end of the row. Often the people waiting get busy watching the others walking past them and they start to move in, making the space too small. To avoid injuries, make sure the space stays wide! For the person picking the movement, I give the example of someone who can do back flips and another cannot. If the leader chooses something that their partner can't do, they are disqualified from the game. If the person copying can do something (like maybe a somersault) and chooses not to, they are disqualified. Obviously you as the teacher will have to be the judge of whether something is truly too difficult or not, or if someone is trying to embarrass someone out of spite rather than fun (I've never had that happen, even in my most challenging groups, but it is theoretically something that I am prepared for).

Of course there are many others that come to mind, but these are my highlights for each age group. I hope you can use them to enjoy dancing with your students! If you have other favorite activities and games that your students love to play over and over again, I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments below. 

Want to catch up on the other posts in this series? Click below for my posts on lessons celebrating:

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