Differentiation: Dance Edition

Students performing a dance routine as Mr. Allen observes their progress.
Students performing a dance routine as Mr. Allen observes their progress.

I’ve struggled to write some type of witty preamble for this post for a few days now, so I’ll forgo it this time.  We are nearly finished our dance unit for the year, and with that, I wanted to share some of the things that we’ve done to differentiate instruction for our students in this particular unit.

1.  Student choice

This can vary depending on not only the age of the students you are teaching, but on the specifics of the summative assessment task as well.  This year, student choice looks like this in our grades:

  • Grade 1: Students choose warm-up and cool down dances
  • Grade 2 & 3: Students choose which choreographed dance they would like to learn and perform
  • Grade 5: Students choose groups, songs and create their own choreography.

In the past, the Grade 2s and 3s have had some say in their groups, but we decided to go in a different direction due to some of the interpersonal relationships in the classes.  The Grade 4s have also historically had the option of choosing their own groups, songs and choreography, but this year’s group humoured their dear old teacher and let me indulge in a bit of nostalgia by performing a mash-up of Late 90s Boy Band/Girl Band hits (we’re talking Backstreet Boys, N’Sync and Spice Girls).  Truth be told, many of them are newfound fans of these most ridiculous music groups.  But I digress…

2. Changing the amount of choreography

This goes hand-in-hand with giving students the choice of songs.  We have used several of the “Just Dance” videos from YouTube (I quite enjoy the work of “Average Asian Dude“) as well as some of the dance routines that Chad Triolet has created as the basis for our choreography over the past few years.  The songs and their accompanying choreography range from simple sequences consisting of a limited number of different moves, repeated constantly throughout the song (i.e. Down South Shuffle), to several complex sequences repeated at different points in a song.

3.  Changing the complexity of the choreography

This one is one of my favourites.  Have a group of hardcore dance competition dancers in your class? Give them a (ridiculously) difficult and complex routine to learn and perform (for the life of me, I can’t remember the video that gave everyone in Grade 4 and 5 grief).  Have a group of students who staunchly admit that they are non-dancers?  Give them something a little more playful and simple, like YMCA (we had kids dress up as each of the characters last year…it was awesome). Which brings me to a very important sidebar…


The previous two means of differentiating dance tasks for students are irrelevant if you do not assess students using the same criteria or penalize those who choose the “easy” choreography over the more challenging routines.

PSA Over.

Students working independently in groups on different routines.


4.  Incorporating instructors and instructional aids into the learning process 

We’ve taught our students dance routines in a variety of ways, including:

  • breaking down the choreography and demonstrating it to students
  • writing out the steps of the routine and giving it to the students
  • analyzing a video and deciphering the choreography independently

Some groups are going to get the routine down relatively quickly, and just need to practice it independently to polish it off.  Others, however, will need a bit more support, and may need to keep the instructor or video around for a bit longer than the others.  And that’s okay.

5.  Incorporating instructors and instructional aids (videos) into the final performance

This one is a bit trickier if part of your assessment criteria is to be able to perform a routine from memory.  That being said, if that isn’t part of your assessment, why not have an instructor or video playing to help out those students who need it.  Maybe the instructor is there to help count beats or bars, or to give students a cue about what they are supposed to be doing at a certain time of the routine.  Maybe having the video playing is the only way that certain students will perform the routine.

6. Breaking down the structure of a song for students

This is more relevant if the task is to create original choreography.  I’ve provided students with the overall structure of a song (introduction, verse, chorus, etc.), the number of bars in each section of the song and helped them determine for how many beats they’d like a particular move or series of moves to last.  I’ve found that this has helped some of the students that struggle with creating their own routines get down to the nitty gritty of planning a routine.

7. Create a bank of dance moves

This is a strategy that I use for students who struggle to create original choreography.  By giving students access to a bank of moves, it takes the guesswork out of creating a routine, and turns it into a bit of a drag-and-drop exercise.  I’ve found that this, when used in conjunction with #6, is especially helpful for those students who need a lot of time to practice their routines, as it makes the creative process a lot less daunting and arduous.

So, there you have just some of the ways that we’ve differentiated dance in our classes.  How do you do this?

Until next time…


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