Language and dance

I decided to call this post ‘Using dance with young learners in the English-learning classroom’ instead of ‘‘Learning English through dance’.  Why? Because I think that’d be a pretty difficult thing to do!  That’s not to say that students can’t practise and learn lots of language items though dance, though.  They certainly can, from parts of the body to simple verbs of movement.

In fact, along with ‘Keep fit with Froggy’, using dance is one of my favourite classroom activities.

John dancing with the three-year-olds at the start of the class

A while ago I was about to do a warm-up activity myself before beginning the session. I was stretching, and shaking my arms, legs and shoulders in preparation. Suddenly one of the children asked excitedly ‘Are we going to dance?’ Year-1 students are very observant, and as most of the work I do is in English – not their native tongue – they watch me closely, to pick up non-verbal clues as to what’s happening. I hadn’t been planning on doing so, but I asked him ‘Why? Do you want to?’, knowing full well that he was going to say yes, as he was already starting to dance himself!

I think dance is a thing that teachers tend to avoid for various reasons. The first is probably that they they think they have to be great dancers themselves. But as anyone who has worked with younger learners knows, they can be very forgiving! (As long as you treat them all fairly, that is.) Another reason could be that it seems like too much trouble, but believe me, it’s the opposite! A good dance warmer or focus-changing activity burns up that excess energy. And the children are more likely to settle down to English class after some physical activity.


How to introduce dance into the EFL/ELT classroom

The key thing is to Keep It Super-Simple – KISS! (Here’s a list of EFL terms & acronyms used on the site.)

Choose music that has a solid beat, and do a simplified Zumba-type lesson. Check out YouTube. There are thousands of videos to give you ideas. To make them into a teaching tool, your instructions have to match your actions. You’ll have to prepare and practise too! If students demand that you do it again, they’ll get really frustrated if you do it differently the second time. So this isn’t the time for improvisation!

Here are some simple instructions that you can use (combining verbs and prepositions of movement):

clap, march, jump, turn around, walk forward, walk backward, turn around, jump again …

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