Literacy Through Dance
2nd Grade 2022
Second Graders at Manning Elementary School are dancing through stories and learning more about literature as they gain an appreciation of classical dance and ballet. The Literacy Through Dance Program is a partnership between Salt Creek Ballet and JT Manning School that dates back to 2008 and focuses on building literacy skills through movement. Karen Johnson; the Library Educator at Manning shares, “In 2nd Grade we are building a tool box to allow them to have different skills in comprehension and this program provides yet another tool in their tool box and helps expose them to dance.” Kelly Stokes; the Community Engagement Coordinator and Teacher Educator at Salt Creek Ballet loves this partnership because “(the program) provides a unique opportunity for students to creatively express themselves through movement—an opportunity that might not otherwise be available and focuses on helping students make connections between literature and movement, assisting in creating the mental imaging needed to be a good reader.”
Kelly Stokes wears a colorful lion costume and leads the students through reenacting The Lonely Lioness Story in the gym at Manning on a Wednesday morning in January. Students are asked “How do we know what the characters and thinking and feeling?” and “How would you feel in this moment?” Students take turns answering based on the book text and pictures sharing insights, “he looks very Hangry!” or “she looks sneaky” or “I think he is exhilarated!” Each lesson actively engages students in developing and embodying the main characters of each story by imitating how they express emotions and feelings through facial expressions (poses, gestures, pantomime), and movement qualities (i.e., scared, sneaky, happy). Other topics that may be integrated into the lesson include a discussion of the country of origin of each folk or fairy tale and its customs (geography and social studies), animal characteristics (science), music terminology, as well as pronunciation, vocabulary, and spelling (language arts). They act out a final story at the end of each lesson to classical music such as “Swan Lake” or “Carnival of the Animals.”
The focus is on folk and fairy tales such as The Ugly Duckling, Little Red Riding Hood, and The Lonely Lioness and throughout the 3-week program students are invited each week to build on their knowledge. The lessons are structured to reinforce specific reading comprehension strategies already utilized in the classroom. These strategies include “visualizing” and “making connections to oneself, to others and to the world.” Research has shown that proficient readers spontaneously and purposefully “visualize,” or create mental images while and after they read. Activities such as drama and dance require students to engage all five senses, as well as their emotions, to create distinct and tangible visual images of a character’s actions and emotions.
Kelly Stokes hopes this program also continues to deepen ties to the Westmont community and provide opportunities for students to be introduced and invited to participate in the arts more broadly. Karen Johnson also sees the program “helping us focus on literacy and also build artistic literacy as well.” In the gym you see boys and girls actively acting out and dancing their way through well beloved stories and building literacy skills as they do.