Talking Without Words: a Creative Movement Lesson Plan Designed for Inclusive Classrooms

By Portia Abernathy

Lesson Title: Talking Without Words: Using Our Bodies and Movement to Show Our Feelings
Designed for: Youth (8-12 years old), Inclusive
Length: 1 hour


Learning Standards

Responding: Respond to movement to match the emotional content, mood, or rhythm of music.

Creating: Use guided improvisation to explore, invent movement, and apply movement concepts.

Performing: Demonstrate movements in straight and curved pathways. Use movement to demonstrate various emotions (happy, sad, scared, surprised, angry).

Connecting: Move in different groups (pairs and duets). Make movement choices based on preferences.



Images of people demonstrating different emotions
Rubber floor markers
Music and speaker OR live musician


Preview concepts: using movement and our bodies to show emotions and feelings

  • Students begin seated in assigned chairs set up in a circle.
  • For attendance/check in, ask students (when their name is called) to freeze their face and body (while remaining seated) in a way that can show the group how they are feeling today.

Warm Up
Review concepts: personal and general space, level, shape, and size (large and small)

  • Lead students (with musical accompaniment) through the 8-step Brain Dance movement series. (The Brain Dance was developed and created by Anne Green Gilbert)
  • Incorporate movements that promote body isolations and highlight the previous weeks’ learning concepts; this can also include seasonal imagery (falling leaves or snow, flowers growing, wind, apple picking).

Concept Introduction
New concept: using movement and our bodies to show emotions and feelings

  • One by one, show students five different images of people demonstrating different emotions.
  • Ask students to silently observe the faces, bodies, movement, posture, etc. of the people in the images.
  • Ask students:
    • What do you see that made you choose that?
    • What is their body doing/what is their face doing/etc.
  • After each emotion, have students freeze their own body to demonstrate the feeling.


Review concepts: Traveling on straight pathways, practicing locomotor movements

  • Have students travel across the floor in straight and curved pathways, from one floor marker to the other.
  • For each round of movement have students (alone or in pairs):
    • March
    • Tip toe
    • Chasse
    • Skip
    • Jump (over another floor marker along the pathway)
  • At the end of each movement round, have students turn and talk to a partner and share which emotion the movement made them feel.
  • Demonstrate (or have students demonstrate) two different responses/emotions to the same movement.
  • Ask students
    • What was different?
    • What did you see or notice?
    • What makes you say that?
  • Ask for 2-3 students to demonstrate their emotion with a locomotor movement, like a gallop or hop, and see if students can guess the emotion.
    • Note that students can share and we can understand how people are feeling without using any words.



  • Return to seated circle.
  • Play a clip of music and allow students to listen and think about how it makes them feel.
  • In pairs or trios, have students go into the middle of the circle and free dance (structured improvisation), matching their emotion and movement to the music.
    • Remind students to use various body parts, levels, shapes, and qualities of movement.
  • Other students should demonstrate audience behavior expectations while observing.



  • Close class with group reverence:
    • Bow to thank teacher
    • Bow to thank musician
    • Bow to thank peers
    • Bow to thank self


A picture of Portia Abernathy, a smiling woman with long blonde hair and a blue jacket

Portia Abernathy, M.A., M.Ed., is Assistant Director of Education and Community Initiatives at Boston Ballet, where she oversees accessible and inclusive dance education and professional development programs.


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