The Name Dance
At the beginning of the school year, it is fun (and quite helpful) to have activities reinforcing student names. I have a terrible memory for names and love to have something to trigger my memory. Especially, when trying to learn (or reacquaint myself with) the names of 600 children. Enter the Name Dance. This activity is a great way to utilize syllabication, get the class moving in a structured way, practice axial or non-locomotor movement. All while, reinforcing student names at once! Ultimately, the goal is to co-create a name dance for the whole class containing a movement contributed by each child. The end results are definitely fun, but may even be quite beautiful.
The Name Game
To begin, have students sit in a circle. Simultaneously, say your name and clap the syllables so students hear the distinct syllables. Have students echo your name and claps. Going around the circle have each child say her/his name and clap the syllables. (Some students may clap their names with a steady beat. Others may choose to clap rhythmically clapping their names as they might really pronounce them. You could use this opportunity to point out that contrast or you may choose to have them stay with a steady beat.) Once they are clear on how many syllables they have in their names, they are ready for step 2!
Using your own name, create a movement for each syllable of your name saying the syllables as you demonstrate the movement. Just as in the clapping activity, have the students repeat your name and movements. Some guidelines I find to be helpful are to keep the movements “safe, simple and staying in place.” Give the students some time (30 seconds is usually enough) to create their own personal movements. You may want to play the music in the background you will be using for the final product to inspire their movements and get them acquainted with the music. For reluctant movers, I often suggest they just use the clapping for their movement.
Depending on the size and attention span of the group, you can approach this next step any number of ways. Have each student say her/his name and simultaneously perform the corresponding movement(s) with the other students repeating the name and the movement. You may choose to go around the whole circle a few times with each child modeling their name/movement(s) until everyone seems comfortable and then try to take out the repetition, try stopping every five children and performing the movements with no model or, with each new name/movement(s), practice stringing the movements together a la “I went on a picnic” cumulative memory game.
You can see which works best for your group. (Students may wish to change their movement. As a general rule I don’t allow that since the students have already started learning the “choreography” and changing the movements once demonstrated is confusing for the other dancers.) If your group is really large this can be long process. Older students may be able to break up into smaller groups and create a shorter “Name Dance” that can be performed for the whole class after it has been rehearsed.
Only the Movements
Finally, you can put on the music and perform only the movements without saying the names. This is an opportunity to talk about transition and encourage students to have each movement grow into the next. There may be some awkward transitions (one movement ends on the ground and the next is at a higher level) so the students can problem solve around those places (rearrange order to make it easier to go from one movement to another, add in some extra beats for specific transition movement, etc).
This can be a one shot deal or a name dance that you allow the students to revise and improve. If you decide to allow the students more time with it, you may want to use it as a physical break or a class unifying activity throughout the school year. Either way the students get to know one another better and have an opportunity to create art together.
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.