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  • Objectives
  • Estimated Time
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  • Teaching Procedure
  • Assessment Recommendations
  • Extension/Adaptation Ideas
  • Relevant National Standards
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  • Telling Stories Through Dance
    By Roberta Altman

    Grade Level: K-2

    Learning Background
    For young children, body language is their first language. Gestures, expressive movements and postures are well known to teachers as ways children communicate their feelings, thoughts, and ideas. Whether sullenly slumped down in the desk chair, jumping for joy, or twirling madly on the playground, the child's movements can convey meaning and tell a story. Movement activities provide a natural pathway for young children to integrate, communicate, and express learning.

    By combining picture book stories with movement stories, the teacher can provide a rich, integrated learning experience for young children. After reading the well known children's story, CAPS FOR SALE: A TALE OF A PEDDLER, SOME MONKEYS, AND THEIR MONKEY BUSINESS, by Esphyr Slobodkina, teachers will engage children in learning about certain elements of movement suggested in the story. Children can explore movements and techniques for balancing, replicating demonstrated movements, and retelling a story. The lesson includes two activity sessions: 1) developing balancing skills and creative movements for walking like the peddler and 2) developing observational skills and creatively imitating each other's movements like the monkeys. An extension activity suggests ways teachers can use movement to retell the CAPS FOR SALE story in words and dance.


    Students will:
    • Learn to think about how characters move in a story when they listen to or read CAPS FOR SALE.
    • Invent movements and gestures to explore some of the actions and events in the story.
    • Learn specific skills for developing balance and replicating demonstrated movements
    • Experience the process of retelling a story by using their own invented movements.

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    Estimated Time

    Teachers can select which aspects of the lesson best suit the class and age group of their students. Reading the story, exploring movement, and retelling the story in dance will require 3 to 5 sessions of about 30 minutes each.

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    Necessary Materials

    • CAPS FOR SALE by Esphyr Slobodkina. Harper Collins Juvenile Books, 1988.
    • Masking tape to designate a path for movement activities.
    • Bean bags (optional)
    • A variety of music with slow and smooth selections as well as lively ones.
    • Tape/CD player

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    Space Requirements

    These lessons are adaptable for both large and small spaces. Also, different parts of the activities can be done in a variety of spaces such as the classroom meeting area, a small space cleared by pushing furniture back, the hallway, cafeteria, gym, or auditorium.

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    Teaching Procedure

    Activity I: Picture Book Story

    1. Read the story, CAPS FOR SALE and hold a discussion about the movements of the peddler and the monkeys. Ask students to think about and discuss:

      • Why does the peddler need to walk so carefully? What would it be like to carry things on your head while moving without spilling them?

      • What strategies would you use to keep things on your head from falling off?

      • When the peddler scolds the monkeys, what do they do back to him?

    2. Next, ask students to look closely at the illustrations again. You can incorporate their responses to the previous questions, and select two or three of the illustrations to demonstrate how gestures and movements convey feelings or actions. For instance, the peddler is stomping and shaking his fist at the monkeys. Monkeys are making sounds and wagging their fingers back at the peddler. You can help students reinterpret what they know of the story by:

      • Asking students to point out other actions or gestures they see in the story.

      • Having students invent and demonstrate some of the motions of the peddler or the monkey. (one or two children at a time, while others observe)

      • Letting students try out the different facial expressions of the peddler and monkeys in connection with parts of the story.

    Activity II: Creating Movements for Walking and Developing Skills for Balancing

    Explain to children that they can take the things they know about the story and try out some movements to go with it.

    1. Walking Movements: Show illustrations of the peddler balancing his hats. Reread the sections on how he walked, "...slowly, slowly, so as not to upset his caps...". Tell children that they are going to have a chance to try some walking and balancing like the peddler, too. Explain that you are laying down the peddler's path through town with the masking tape. Put at least ten feet or more of masking tape in a line (or pathway with curves or angles) across the space you are using. Now the fun begins. Play music of various moods and speeds to accompany the activity. Experiment with ways to walk by:

      • Asking children to walk the tape path slowly and carefully, imagining they are carrying hats on their head.

      • Giving children suggestions to walk at different levels: high/on tip-toes, medium/stomping like the angry peddler, low/like a crab.

      • Trying out walking in different directions: front, backwards, sideways.

      • Suggesting combinations of different speeds and qualities: walking down the pathway quickly/stiffly, slowly/loosely, small steps with wiggles.

      Soon, the students will create a repertoire with many kinds and ways of walking which they can repeat and practice for use later on.

    2. Balancing Movements: Balance is an important skill for early childhood students to develop. Getting up and down like the peddler with an object on one's head is a great way to practice and develop these skills. Show the illustration where the peddler is slowly resting against the tree with all the hats still on his head. In the meantime, the monkeys are also balancing on branches in the trees and point out how they have to use their bodies differently to do this. Help children develop skills and generate challenges by:

      • Teaching students how to balance and walk with an object (a bean bag) on their head by bending their knees and spreading arms out to the side while slowly walking on the line of tape.

      • As children finish walking the tape path, have them practice sitting down without spilling the beanbag.

      • Having students try balancing with different parts of their body: stand on one leg, then the other; put two hands and one foot on the floor with the other leg in the air; balance with one hand and one foot on the floor, balance on two elbows and two knees.

    Activity III: Creating Movements for Imitation/Replication and Developing Observational Skills

    Working on movement activities with a partner helps children learn to collaborate and share creative work with classmates.

    1. Creating Movements for Imitation/Replication: MONKEY SEE, MONKEY DO is a favorite game with young children. There are many wonderful examples of this in the story when the monkeys imitate the peddler in so many different ways. The characters use gesture and facial expressions to convey what they want and feel. Show students some examples of this in the book. Notice how the peddler has an angry expression but the monkeys are smiling, a clue that its all a game. One of the important things about learning movement and dance is the ability to watch a motion being demonstrated and to copy it. You can help children learn to do this by:

      • Teaching children to replicate movements by leading a simple warm-up. Put on some music and ask students to copy your motions of making circles with different parts of your body. Begin with making circles 4 to 6 times with hands, feet, head, shoulders, arms, and knees. This is an activity that can be done sitting or standing.

      • Having students work in pairs as partners. One will create movements, gestures, or facial expressions as the peddler. The other will be the monkey and copy the peddler. Lead the children through the lesson by having the 'peddler' show motions to the monkey one at a time, starting with shaking fists, then stomping, and finally, by angrily throwing down an imaginary hat. The monkey will copy each movement. Have the students switch roles and repeat the activity.

    2. Learning Observational Skills Through Movement: In the story, the monkeys are imitating the peddler's movements to his chagrin and our enjoyment. Ask children to notice how carefully the monkeys are watching the peddler and copy his every movement. Perhaps, they need a lot of practice to see and copy so well. Encourage children to be good observers when they try a movement game called: "Mirroring". Students should sit or stand in front of a partner and try to follow each other's movements. Here are some ways to do this:

      • Designate one child as leader and the other as follower (later on they will switch roles). Ask students to put their hands together palm to palm. Put on some slow, calm music and have the leader move their hands up and down, in circles, and one at a time to each side while their partner follows, matching movements.

      • After the partners switch, vary the game by asking students to continue trying the matching movements elbow to elbow, foot to foot, and knee to knee.

      • Ask some of the partner pairs to demonstrate and have other children try out these different versions.

      In order to participate successfully, children trying this activity need to be careful observers of their partner and to follow their lead. Taking turns, collaborating and cooperating closely with others are important social skills developed through movement activities such as this one.

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    Assessment Recommendations

    The movement activities in this lesson are based on creating and replicating motions in relation to a story. The abilities of students to focus on an activity and cooperate with a partner are also important work skills. Here are some ways to assess movement activities:

    • To what extent are students able to create inventive ways of walking?

    • To what extent can students hold their balance in different positions, or balance a bean bag while walking and sitting?

    • In what ways are students able to carry out their work: to stay focused with partners, to take turns demonstrating movements, to exchange roles in leading or following?

    • How are students using what they know about the characters in the story to create movements and gestures?

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    Extension/Adaptation Ideas

    Telling Stories Through Dance: Now that the children know the CAPS FOR SALE story well and have investigated movements associated with the characters, they can retell the story incorporating movement with words. You can read the story aloud or ask students to read. Assign students to the various roles (there can be more than one peddler) and designate where the action will take place in the room. Ask students to use the movements they have been practicing to represent the peddler and monkeys. As the story is read, students can act out the parts using their movement ideas or older children can recite the lines by memory, "You monkeys, you! You give me back my hats!" to go along with their motions. Suggestion: This activity can be turned into a performance for other classes, parents, or for an assembly.

    Adaptation for Older Students: A team of older students (3rd/4th grade) can recreate the whole story with movement and memorized lines and present it to the younger students in the school. Students may like to end the presentation with a lively circle dance including the peddler and monkeys.

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    Relevant National Standards

    These lessons address the following national curriculum standards for dance according to the NATIONAL STANDARDS FOR ARTS EDUCATION: WHAT EVERY YOUNG AMERICAN SHOULD KNOW, developed by The Consortium of National Arts Education Associations.

    Content Standard #1: Identifying and demonstrating movement elements and skills in performing dance.

    Content Standard #3: Understanding dance as a way to create and communicate meaning.

    Content Standard #4: Applying and demonstrating critical and creative thinking skills in dance.

    Content Standard #7: Making connections between dance and other disciplines.

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    Dance and Dance Education

    The National Dance Association
    Information and Research articles on dance education

    The Dance Collection
    Catalogue and resources on dance and dance history

    The Kennedy Center
    Dance resources and lesson plans

    Arts Education
    Comprehensive site for lesson plans, arts standards, arts links

    Transforming Ideas for the Arts
    New ideas and information on the arts

    National Reports on the Arts and Arts in Education

    CHAMPIONS OF CHANGE: THE IMPACT OF THE ARTS ON LEARNING. (1999) Edited by Edward B. Fiske. A Report supported by The Arts Education Partnership and The President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. See Web sites: and

    YOUNG CHILDREN AND THE ARTS: MAKING CREATIVE CONNECTIONS. (1998) Edited by Carol Bruce. Written by: The Task Force on Children's Learning and the Arts: Birth to Age Eight.

    PBS Resources

    In WHO'S DANCIN' NOW?, a THIRTEEN production, you can see how the students learn dances when they imitate Jacques d'Amboise's steps. To order the home video, call (800) 336-1917.

    CAPS FOR SALE is a Reading Rainbow Book and appears in the Reading Rainbow episodes.

    DANCING is a program set produced by THIRTEEN for the series, GREAT PERFORMANCES, that is a comprehensive look at dance around the world in the context of different cultures. To order call (800) 336-1917.

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    About the Author

    Since 1983, Roberta Altman has been the Creative Movement and Physical Education Specialist for the Bank Street School for Children in New York City. She also teaches courses in the Graduate School of Bank Street College in music and movement. With a special interest in curriculum development, she serves as the Learning Coordinator for the partnership between the American Museum of Natural History and The Afterschool Corporation (TASC) for offsite elementary afterschool programs in Bronx Districts 9 and 12. Roberta is currently enrolled in the doctoral program for Arts in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

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