Making It Work: Structuring Creative Movement

Structuring Creative Movement in Orff Inspired Lessons

When I took level one I joyously folk danced through the movement segments and really understood that I could use folk dance with my students and how it would fit into the types of lessons I was designing. Then we began the creative movement portion.  I loved the end products we created as adults, and I didn’t think my diverse groups of public school students would be into it. Besides, how would I get to such an amazing end product with MY classes? I let those ideas stew in my head for a long while and took levels two and three. The process did not come together for me until almost five years after my first creative movement experience. Now creative movement lessons and projects have become a favorite for me and for my students.

I use creative movement in a few ways. It can be used as a starting point for another musical goal. For example, using movement to “feel” a concept or rhythm before using it in an instrumental or vocal product. We create movement to complement and enhance other musical products, and finally as a whole group interpretation and internalization of a musical selection.

I was a bit mystified as to how to get my students moving in controlled, interesting, and focused ways. My previous attempts at “adding movement” had fallen flat with rigid and unappealing two-dimensional  “dances” created by the children. Laura Webster, the movement instructor throughout my levels training offered practical solutions to focus students when working on creative movement that I have adapted to my own teaching situations and student groups.

To get started, I chose an inspiration. It could be a student-generated musical product, a theme, recorded music, a picture book, poem or artwork.  I choose the inspiration as a way to point the children in the general direction of the end product. Next we become familiar with the inspiration. If we are working from recorded music we engage in guided listening, we may write poetry inspired by a topic or picture, read a story and discuss the meaning. We find authentic ways to internalize the inspiration before we start moving.

More often than not, all of the children will participate in the creative movement and the children decide who will be “movers” in the final product. The only exception is when the music is student generated, in that case we choose the “players” first so the music can be played while the “movers” work.

I usually choose a dance concept or element (from “Creative Dance for All Ages” Anne Green Gilbert) like “shape” or “relationship.” The first step is for the children; in carefully chosen groups of three to five to create a short movement segment that serves as a starting point for the creative process.  One student has the job of “head choreographer” for the day. The job rotates from class to class so everyone’s ideas are included.  We share our work with the class and use “I noticed” statements to highlight ideas students found appealing. I video-document their work as a reminder for the next class.

When we meet again we review the video clips and begin the movement triangle. In the top of the triangle, we write in the most important element of the creative movement project. That is usually the element that I choose as the focus, and I am always open to changes students may want to make as we work. I then ask them to add something new to the movement they have created. Maybe add levels, or change the shape. They can do the same movement with legs instead of arms or reverse the action.

Each group makes their own choices of what to add to the product. I may limit or expand the list of choices based on the children and their comfort level. I repeat this process adding layers of complexity until we reach the desired product.  Sometimes we add one layer, sometimes three. The children may decide to perform sections as a whole group, or have an ending that is homogenous. I let the children lead, offing choices when they are stuck. Depending on the complexity, a creative movement “lesson” may last from one to eight or nine class periods. In the instance of a more detailed end product, I will spend only a portion of each class period on the project until we near its’ completion.

When I started working with creative movement lessons, the most difficult part was letting go of controlling the final product. I had no idea what it was going to look like and the children came up with so many more ideas and more beautiful movements than I could have ever imagined. The children take ownership of the work. I was worried about the boys not wanting to participate, and because I was not dictating the movement they jumped right in.

Share Your Ideas

What ways have you structured creative movement in your teaching situation? Have you wanted to try and still have questions? What tips can you share to help someone else make creative movement work in their classroom? Please share your ideas and questions in the comments so we can all Make it Work!

Creative Movement Lessons

Haiku Inspired Creative Movement by Marjie Van Gunten

Shaping Up Creative Movement by LeslieAnne Bird

Leaf Children by Marjie Van Gunten

LeslieAnne Bird

LeslieAnne Bird is a music and movement educator at University Schools in Shaker, Ohio. She teaches general music and choir to fifth through seventh grade young men and is an adjunct Professor at the University of Akron. She has previously taught in North Olmsted & Cleveland Ohio as well as in Prince George’s County, Maryland. LeslieAnne is a national presenter. She has served as vice president and membership chair for the Greater Cleveland Orff Chapter and is currently serving as the content curator for the Teaching With Orff community. In addition, she is the owner and CEO of Three Little Birds Music Education Services LLC where she offers teacher training, coaching and musical experiences for children and adults. She earned Orff Certification from Baldwin Wallace University in 2014, and has completed Music Learning Theory General Music Level One, Level One World Music Drumming training, Level One Google Certification and has earned the Ohio Master Teacher designation.

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  1. Russell on October 5, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    Thank you for your reflections and your clear and interesting process ideas! Could you please describe in more detail how you use the “Movement Triangle” you provided?

    • LeslieAnne Bird on October 8, 2016 at 4:08 pm

      Hi Russell, thank you for your kind words. The top of the triangle is where we record the “most important” movement element. It could be an element that I choose, or the class chooses collectively. This will be the main focus or direction of the movement the children create. All of the groups will have this common element. The bottom sections of the triangle are where the children choose additional elements to make their movement creation interesting and unique. For example, in the Keys of Canterbury lesson all groups have the element “shape” at the top. They begin in groups creating shapes. Each group chooses two more elements; a loco motor element to move from shape to shape, and a second to make the end product more visually interesting. Each group selected different elements for the bottom of the triangle to compliment the focus element of “shape”. Hope this helps.

  2. Jennifer L Johnson Fritz on October 6, 2016 at 7:30 am

    I’m very much where you are with movement. I still need to find room in my schedule for folk dance. It’s fun and students really seem to like it. I like to start songs that we are going to learn, (specifically concert songs), while in their spaces and moving/listening to them. I find that when they are active and listening, it is much more effective in their attention and retention. Keep moving everyone!!

  3. Clarissa on October 8, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    I love using poetry and books. Some books I really enjoy that inspire creative movement are “Nighttime Ninja” and “Piggies in the Pumpkin Patch.”. When introducing creative movement to older children, I usually make it “we’re going to go for a walk” and change it up from there as variations of a walk – very much a pull from a Anne Green Gilbert lesson or a Dalcroze thinking. At least, this is what I do until I feel they are more comfortable with me.

    I recently did mirror motions with a new group of 4th graders to some Japanese Gagaku music and talked how slow is better then we applied this style to a Haiku where we chose poses or motions for a word or small group of words. Poses can be a great entry way to think out of the box and then think how we get to the pose. They seemed very comfortable doing this and enjoyed the process.

    Lastly, have movement terms and resources on the walls. If students need ideas, allow them to have a place to look for ideas.

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