Grades/Level: High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts, Dance
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
Five 50-minute class periods
Author: Jocelyn Lofton, Dance Teacher
Maywood Academy High School, Los Angeles Unified School District

For the Classroom

Curriculum Home
Lesson Plans

Lesson Overview

Students will engage in visual and written activities that will support their creative process of choreographing a solo dance composition. The lesson includes motifs and the movement components—body, effort, shape, and space (BESS elements from Laban Movement Analysis).

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• respond in written and/or visual form to photographic stimuli.
• create a movement theme (phrase) based on elements perceived in a photograph.
• choreograph a solo composition based on chosen photographic stimulus.


• Reproduction of Cotton-Mill Worker, North Carolina by Lewis Wickes Hine
• Reproduction of Daughter of the Dancers/Muchachita! by Manuel lvarez Bravo
• Reproduction of Human Erosion in California (Migrant Mother) by Dorothea Lange
• Reproduction of Memphis by William Eggleston
• Reproduction of Self-Portrait in the Garden by Hippolyte Bayard
• Reproduction of Self-Portrait by Nadar (Gaspard Félix Tournachon)
• Multiple copies of each reproduction (include title, photographer, and short description of photograph on back; found via the links noted above)
• Scrap paper or newsprint (at least 6" x 6")
• Markers (various colors, thick and fine point)
• Tracing paper (at least 6" x 6") (up to 10 pieces per student)
• Post-it® notes (3" x 3") (6 or more)
• Scissors
• Glue
• Paper (for writing)
• Pencils
• CD player, mp3, or iPod® with speakers
• Choice of music

Lesson Steps


1. Place a reproduction of each photograph in a large circle on the floor. Place scrap paper under each reproduction and leave thick-tip markers next to each pile (station).

2. Place several copies of each reproduction in a separate location so that students can choose one after the "Musical Chairs Activity."

Part 1: Musical Chairs Activity

1. Have students form up to five groups consisting of five to six students per group.

2. Tell the groups they will move around the circle, stopping at each photograph (either clockwise or counterclockwise). Each group will have three minutes at each photograph to discuss what they see, feel, or think. Ask students to consider body, effort, shape, and space in each photograph by prompting them with the following questions:
• What is the body doing or representing? (body)
• What effort is the body expending? (effort)
• What shapes do you see? (shape)
• Is the focused figure still, advancing, or retreating? (space)

3. Tell students that after they discuss a photograph, they will write a symbol, action word, or descriptive word in response to the photograph on up to 10 pieces of the scrap paper. They must write one symbol or word per piece of paper.

4. After explaining the activity, have the groups begin the "Musical Chairs Activity" as you play soft music in the background. Inform groups that when the music stops, it is time to move to the next photograph in the circle. It might be helpful to give a half-time warning so that students will have time to mark the papers.

5. After all groups have circled back to their first photograph (completing one cycle), have a class discussion comparing the photographs. Ask students to consider how each of the photographs reflects a larger social, sociopolitical, or economic concern.

Part 2: Image and Text

1. Pass out paper and pencils.

2. Have each individual student choose one photograph in the circle. Direct students to the separate location where each will pick up a copy of his or her chosen photograph.

3. Instruct students to write freely for three minutes in response to their chosen photograph. Students can refer to the symbols, words, and descriptions on the scrap papers associated with their photograph as well as their peers' responses.

4. Ask students to read the information on the back of their photograph. Ask them to consider whether the information changes their original feelings or interpretation about the photograph.

5. Next tell students to use a fine-tip marker to draw squares around the action words and circles around the descriptive words on the scrap papers associated with their photograph. If there is time, pass out tracing paper and ask students to trace the obvious or attractive shapes in the photograph.

6. Place a pad of Post-it® notes next to each reproduction in the circle of photographs. (Provide more pads if needed.) Instruct each student to copy the action words, descriptive words, and symbols from the last step onto the Post-its®. Students should copy one word or symbol per note. If students traced shapes, tell them to cut out each shape and glue it to a Post-it®.

7. Tell students to randomly arrange their Post-it® symbols and words as a grid. Allow ample time for arranging this composition.

8. Ask each student to use his or her free writing, the copy of the chosen photograph, and the most salient symbols, words, and descriptions to write a few sentences about how his or her experience with the photograph reflects a larger social, sociopolitical, or economic concern.

9. Have students memorize their short prose.

Part 3: Creating a Dance

1. Ask students to create dance movements that reflect the order of the Post-it® notes they placed on their grid.

2. Give students the following guidelines for the dance. The completed dance must be in one or all three choreographic forms:
• Collage
• AB
(For definitions of dance terms, download the "Dance Glossary" from the Maryland State Department of Education [PDF, 23KB].)

The completed dance must have the following dance elements:
• Repetition
• Variation
• Literal and/or abstract movements
• Transitions

3. Once students decide on their basic order of movements in dance, ask them to make choices that will enhance their ideas and interpretation of the essence of the original photograph. Students can use these strategies for developing or manipulating movement:
• Change levels.
• Expand or shrink size of movement.
• Embellish or exaggerate movement.
• Travel through space.
• Travel in specific pathway.
• Change tempos.
• Use floor patterns.
• Use focal point.
• Use silence/stillness.

4. Allow students plenty of time to create their dance. At some point in the process, ask students to integrate their memorized prose (from Step 9 in Part 2: Image and Text) with their dance. Give them the following suggestions:
• Speak the words at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a movement phrase.
• Separate the words.
• Repeat the words.
• Use different vocal techniques.
• Whisper the words.
• Yell the words.
• Spit the words out quickly and angrily.
• Chant the words.
• Say the words rhythmically.
• Stretch out the words slowly.
• Speak the words like a robot.

5. Organize a student performance in which all students are able to present their creative work.

Cotton-Mill Worker / Hine
Cotton-Mill Worker, North Carolina, Lewis Wickes Hine, 1908


Students will be assessed on:
• written and/or visual response to photographic stimuli in the "Musical Chairs Activity."
• creation of a movement theme (phrase) based on elements perceived in one of the photographs.
• choreography of a solo composition based on chosen photographic stimulus.


Allow students to comment and critique each other's work after the performances. Students should be able to defend the choices they made in the creation of their solo composition.

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 9–12

Comprehension and Collaboration
1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Visual Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grades 9–12
3.0 Historical and Cultural Context
3.1 Identify contemporary styles and discuss the diverse social, economic, and political developments reflected in the works of art examined.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.1 Articulate how personal beliefs, cultural traditions, and current social, economic, and political contexts influence the interpretation of the meaning or message in a work of art.

Dance Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grades 9–12 (Proficient)
2.0 Creative Expression
2.1 Create a body of works of dance demonstrating originality, unity, and clarity of intent.
2.4 Perform original works that employ personal artistic intent and communicate effectively.