What are some tips to avoid behavior problems and ensure the joy of movement in class? You might want to use a backward and forward thought process.


First imagine the kinds of behaviors and abilities you would like your children to achieve. What concepts and skills are desirable? You will want them to move with confidence and in ways that are safe. You will want them to be musical in their movement and to be able to encompass the 21st Century goals of communication, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration. You will want them to increasingly gain higher levels of movement facility.

Before you begin teaching, ask the question: “What do my students need to know to do this?” I call this backward teaching. Curriculum people call this “Start with the end in mind.” We want children to improvise with movement meaningfully, as well as, progress in a logical sequence of traditional dance steps and movement vocabulary. Children need to figuratively crawl, before they can walk or run. Creativity does not happen in a void.

Try thinking backward to what is needed to arrive at your end goal. For example, your end goal may be for children to move – in small groups – to create an ABA dance, demonstrating their understanding of different effort actions to a selected piece of music. What do they need to know to be able to do this? The answer is partially in the goal. They need to be able to: 1) work in small groups, 2) have experience with ABA form, and 3) know the effort actions kinesthetically. Knowing the group of children in your school community, look at each one of those areas carefully. Have they learned to work in small groups and move in the space you have available? Can they respect personal and classroom space? Are they able to support a safe environment in which all ideas are acceptable, listen and watch with focus, be encouraging to others, and be positive in their suggestions for more clarity or improvement? If these skills are not working to a high degree, then they are not yet ready for a big project while working in groups. Instead, thinking backward, they need smaller projects and activities to reinforce specific identified behaviors and models.

Create Games

Create games to teach skills and build toward future activities. For example, use a freeze and move game to teach the boundaries of space in the room and to introduce movement vocabulary. If students have difficulty behaving in acceptable ways for your environment, it may be wise to allow only a few students to move while others are active observers. Later discuss what went well and what might make it even better. I have always found challenge games helpful particularly when there is a personal or a class challenge involved: Can you move super slow with every body part in full range? How fast can you move without touching? Can you focus on one object and not let any funny face or sound disturb your concentration? Can this game be played with no talking? Let’s find a small group of children who can make a circle and keep its shape as we move to the right.

Assess Your Situation

Backward teaching also involves making your best effort to assess your school community and what is possible. If you are able to remain at a school year after year, you have greater ability to build a music room culture. If you see your children two to three times a week, you are able to accomplish more than those who see their children once a week, on a six to nine-day cycle or who teach on a cart. If you are moved from school to school every year, your expectations must be adjusted, but know that in your efforts you are the best teacher for that situation. If you teach in a school where the culture is for children to blend in rather than stand out, your lessons may be very different than a community culture that encourages standing out. Most importantly, grasp your situation with an attitude of positivity and be proud of your work. Look for the best in your children.

Be Realistic

Going to workshops, conferences and courses where you see wonderful lessons is inspiring. Often the tendency is to want to recreate that lovely time you had in your classroom; but hold off. You may want to think backward. How was the presenter able to accomplish that? What would the children need in order to arrive at a good outcome? What can I do to reinforce those positive learning experiences in smaller increments? It may mean abandoning parts of what you experienced, yet looking for what can be used, incorporated or changed.

Imitation – Exploration – Creation

As a young “Orffan,” I found myself in love with this concept. Yet, in the classroom, it was not easy. More was needed to help me – and the children – jump from imitation to exploration and then creation. With the gift of experience, I suggest that imitation of good, artful models is needed in the beginning whether the children are young, or starting a concept at any age. Giving students windows of creativity within those examples opens the door for their ownership and lets them know that their ideas matter. Games facilitate exploration of the concepts and skills you are teaching; defining those concepts and labeling them comes next. This is followed by lots of practice, including setting up situations where children can create their own structures using the knowledge they have…with reminders and nudges from the teacher. Finally, armed with experience and practice in communication, critical thinking and collaboration, they are ready to improvise, create and compose larger projects with meaning.

A Few Additional Tips

  • When asking your class to be creative, always introduce several different ideas of ways the goal can be accomplished. If you only give one example, they will try to copy what you have done. Use open-ended questions where the children are requested to find a solution with no model.
  • The pacing of your class activities takes thought. It is important to keep the children moving (from one activity to another, as well through the movement itself) and engaged.
  • The more their concentration improves through activities and developmental age, the more you can expect them to go deeper in their exploration, improvisation, creation and thought process; thus less and less number of activities per session. Here the teacher works to assess where they are and what they need.


If you have done a good amount of backward planning in preparation for milestones you want to achieve with your students, forward teaching is really fun! You will be able to silently commend yourself because you figured out what the children need and they accomplished it! Now, what’s next? But wait, you already have the next goal in mind because you went backward from there. Sometimes you find the children are way ahead of you and you need to be ready to challenge them further. Take their ideas and allow them to help form the next process. Sometimes you jumped too fast and must back up asking, “What did they need to know to make this lesson work?”

This article began as a movement article, but in thinking about tips to teach movement, I know that the thought process is no different than teaching any other part of the Orff curriculum. The only difference is the medium. In order to teach movement, you need facility in the movement area. You can only teach what you know. Beyond taking classes in folk dance, yoga, fitness programs, ballet, tap or other dance classes; reading about dance; or even viewing YouTube examples of movement/dance possibilities, consider keeping your own movement abilities as facile as possible. You are the artful model.

In closing, Orff has been at my core because of the philosophy and the never endless ways to “catch” the kid though music, dance, speech and drama. As a young teacher, I spent most of my time trying to figure out what to do. When the thought process of backward teaching was discovered, it became extremely helpful in planning how to go forward.