Mapas Bailados: Creating Visual Representations of Dances Using Maps

Ana Inés Rubinstein, PS 89—The Cypress Hills Community School


Program Background Unit Plan Lesson Plan Teaching the Lesson


The Cypress Hills Community School supports dance instruction in all grades of the dual language program, not only to encourage cultural literacy in the arts, but also because dance offers the opportunity to experience vocabulary through Total Physical Response ( TPR). This unit, like many of the other units I have prepared for the school’s dual language program, was designed to support second language comprehension and production in Spanish, while simultaneously teaching higher level concepts in dance notation and analysis. This unit scaffolds learning across content areas. It is tied specifically to the third grade social studies curriculum.


During the part of the lesson in which the children and the teacher together create the symbols and the key for their dance maps, each action verb is heard, spoken, performed, and represented graphically. Students might first hear, “¿Cómo podemos mostrar en nuestros mapas que hay que caminar?” (How can we show in our maps that it is necessary to walk?). Then, they see a child or the teacher create a symbol (for example,  --------->) that conveys the sense of the word, accompanied by the written word in Spanish. The symbol is then copied not only onto a large map of the classroom, but also onto the floor of the classroom, where children can experience that symbol directly by walking on it. Children then transfer that knowledge back to maps and apply it to their own choreography. The sequence of activities moves back and forth between the physical experience of dancing, and hearing and using the words and symbols representing an action.


Because this lesson is multimodal, it allows for a broad range of student abilities to be addressed. For emergent speakers or students still in the silent phase of second language acquisition, TPR makes the concepts comprehensible. Students are also supported through the read-aloud of an illustrated book. More advanced Spanish speakers are engaging with content-area concepts relating to dance, social studies (mapping), and math (sequencing and symbols). In addition, open-ended questions are posed throughout the lesson to encourage the development of expressive verbal skills for more advanced learners or native speakers of Spanish.


This unit scaffolds learning by connecting to what students already know and what they are learning in the content areas. This is particularly important to do when working with second language learners. For this reason, instruction can never be delivered in isolation. Rather, it is supported by third-grade thematic units and by a continuous dance program beginning in kindergarten that prepares children for the spatial and language elements presented here. Over the prior three years, students have built up vocabulary about basic body parts, emotions, and movement elements. They have learned to link words in Spanish with their corresponding actions through a series of games and songs that are repeated during the early childhood grades. They have learned the concept of sequencing, and by the end of the second grade, they have created visual representations for non-locomotor dance sequences.


Meanwhile, the mapping concepts in this lesson support and are supported by an in-depth study of mapping in Grades 2-5. In second grade, simple maps are introduced. In third grade, students’ social studies curriculum involves extensive map-making of local environments such as the classroom, home, and school. In fourth grade, students begin to study political maps; and in fifth grade, they do in-depth project work with topographical maps. The dance maps reinforce the idea that a map represents a physical space and (in some cases) the uses of a physical space. It also reinforces the concept that there are many different kinds of maps and that each type supports a different purpose or need.


It should also be noted that this lesson was implemented in the context of a school that suffers from the limitations of being temporarily housed within an overcrowded host school. As such, we are not always able to provide dance classes in the gym, auditorium, or cafeteria. This lesson can be, and has been, implemented in a small classroom without compromising the material too badly. Of course it would be more pleasant for the children to perform bigger movement, but by the same token, this is one dance lesson that teachers should not shy away from delivering for lack of space. However, if the lesson is taught in a small space, special attention should be given to streamlining the map and the number of children dancing at one time in order to avoid collisions.


Finally, it should also be noted that this lesson, as is the case with all of my most successful dance lessons, was created in collaboration with a classroom teacher (in this instance, Amy Cohen, the third grade classroom teacher at the time). In order for an out-of-classroom teacher to work effectively in second-language instruction, collaboration with classroom teachers is essential. Because she spent all day with the children, and understood intimately their cognitive, emotional, and linguistic development, Amy was able to help me reshape my original lesson plan to better support the students with the least fluency in Spanish. She was the one who developed the idea of superimposing the dance map onto the rug with chalk and also supported me throughout the year to keep explicitly linking oral language production (as opposed to only receptive language) to dance activities.


These efforts paid off. By the end of the year, Amy credited my dance class with her second language learners’ success in learning action words and adverbs that describe movement. We also recognized that, with its emphasis on TPR, the dance class was a space in which students had opportunities to practice hearing and using concrete language, which is especially important for students who still have difficulties in Spanish in third grade, when academic language generally becomes more abstract. Connections between the tangible and the abstract were also made possible as students talked about the emotions being conveyed through movement.