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Mission Possible! Voyage 1: Movement in the Elementary Music Classroom

For this series, I’m starting with movement because I think it presents the most barriers to those who are new to this way of teaching music. Using movement in my elementary classroom was very, very uncomfortable for me when I first began. It quite literally seemed like this completely different content area I had to teach in addition to all of my rhythmic and melodic elements. It was as I began to realize how inextricably tied movement is to other forms of music making that it became very natural in my teaching.

Way back in the day, (okay, just two years ago) I wrote this blog post about how to begin with movement in your classroom. This is quite literally for those of us who have felt so overwhelmed by the concept of using movement that they have no idea where to start. But today, we’re going to dive a little bit deeper into what movement in the elementary music classroom could look and most importantly feel like.

When considering how movement can be used in the music room, I’ve developed four different categories. This is how I decide what I am going to use movement for and why. Movement can be inspired by curricular content, used for vocabulary building, for overt music making, or to facilitate a holistically creative experience in and of itself. These categories do not always exist in isolation of one another, but rather can be combined and used in conjunction with one another depending on the experience you are facilitating for your students.

Vocabulary Building

When I think about vocabulary building within the context of a movement setting, I’m not necessarily referring to names and definitions. Although that is naturally part of the process, definitions have little to do with actual words to describe movement, but rather the actual movement experience in and of itself. Meaning, rather than having students describe what something is, they show and experience their own interpretation of the movement.

When I do a song like Frosty Weather, that already has a movement game built in, I think about different ways that I can alter or extend that game to include more vocabulary building. In this particular case, I’ll have students give me examples of different types of weather and a movement that go together (i.e. “sunny” & skipping) and then we’ll write a new verse as a class to go along with that student generated response.

This type of experience building and banking is all about taking student generated responses and using them as a jumping off point for vocabulary building through movement. If you’d like to see more of how I use Frosty Weather specifically for this purpose, check out the complete activity here.

Inspired by Curricular Content

As I look through my list of concepts within my entire scope and sequence, I am continuously looking for new ways to explore or extend any given element. Movement is such a wonderful way to deepen the scope of students’ experience, because it creates a broader scope of kinesthetic experience beyond clapping or using hand signs.

When thinking about rhythm concepts, I love to use locomotor movement as an additional reinforcer for sounds on a beat. That is, finding different motions through time and space that parallel what we might do within a rhythmic context. Particularly, “walk,” “tiptoe,” and “stretch” work incredibly well for quarter note, two eighth notes, and half note respectively. I love to do this just echoing patterns (I.e. walk, walk, tiptoe, walk for “ta, ta, ti-ti ta”) or to have students read rhythms in the extension phase.

Another great way to link movement to curricular content is having students create their own vocal pathways, and then turn them into movement pathways. You can have students set up different stations and create aural cues for moving from one pathway to the next. Comparative practice can also be very easily translated into movement terms— have students show high or low statues, move fast or slow, etc. Most of these work wonderfully as classroom warmups.

Check out how I use walk and tiptoe patterns with my kids in this activity.

Overt Music Making

What is so cool about using body percussion in the elementary music classroom is that It is aural, visual, and kinesthetic. That is, you can hear the rhythms and timbres, see the different levels, and feel it as a participant. It is also very easy to draw from speech and to other instruments. While Orff-Schulwerk is most commonly associated with body percussion, you don’t need to choreograph a piece of music from the Orff & Keetman volumes in order to effectively use it in your classroom. You can easily add an ostinato to an existing folk song or designate different rhythm elements as certain body percussion patterns while reading patterns (i.e. quarter notes = clapping, eighth notes = patting).

Taking on larger pieces are activities are much more accessible as you begin to add tiny pieces here and there in your normal music lessons. Body percussion is a great tool to add interest to known folk songs or simple octavos, as well as rounds and canons. This is a really cool example of different ways body percussion can be used.

Holistically Creative

Movement can be a musical experience in and of itself. Dalcroze Eurhythmics perhaps facilitates the most overt examples of how choreography can be inspired by or an inspiration for music. I truly believe that by exploring the other three categories of movement in the elementary music classroom, students can be led to experiences much like the example below.

I hope some of these ideas for using movement in the elementary general music classroom have inspired you to get out of your comfort zone and try something different in your classroom. It may surprise you and some of your students to find that they can be incredibly musical through movement.

Here’s what’s coming up next! This series is all about giving you not only motivation, but tools and concrete steps to begin slowly releasing control and giving your students more agency in the elementary music classroom. Here’s a peek at what’s coming:

Get ready to activate your music classroom and stop simply covering concepts. We’re about to level up, friends!


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