Moving with the Music

Art, Language Arts, and Social Studies Activity

Students work cooperatively to recreate the rhythms of different modes of transportation.

For this activity, you may want to enlist the aid of the music and physical education teachers. The music teacher will be able to help you locate the music and perhaps provide instrumental accompaniment as students sing and move. The physical education teacher can offer suggestions for rhythmic movements to complement the music.



  1. Discuss with students the various modes of transportation that have been part of American history. On the chalkboard write students' suggestions in approximate chronological order; for example: sailing ships, horseback riding, coaches, railroads, and so forth.

  2. Have students think about the rhythm of the various modes of transportation, asking such questions as these: Which might have the fastest tempo? Which would have a gentler rhythm? What kind of rhythm would you experience if you rode on a stagecoach? on a horse? on a motorcycle? in a trailer truck?

  3. Point out that many songs have been written and sung about the various ways of traveling and these songs reflect the rhythm of the movement. Some have been work songs, sung to help the workers stay alert on their jobs. Ask students if they can think of examples of such songs. Share with the class any of the following traditional songs:

    "Casey Jones" (railroad)
    "Funiculi, Funicula" (funicular: cable railroad on mountain)
    "I've Been Working on the Railroad" (railroad)
    "One More Day" (sea)
    "Rock Island Line" (railroad)
    "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain" (railroad)
    "Skye Boat Song" (sea)
    "The Coasts of High Barbary" (sea)
    "The Erie Canal" (canal boat)
    "The Wabash Cannonball" (railroad)
    "Yeo, Heave Ho!" (sea)
    "Route 66" (car)

  4. Divide the class into teams. Have each team work with one song to plan movements that recreate the rhythm of that particular mode of transportation. An example might be a steam locomotive to the music of "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain." Students form a line, with each child holding the elbow of the person in front, then moving in rhythm to the music. To demonstrate the rhythm of hoisting a sail, students might pantomime pulling on the line to the music of "Yeo, Heave Ho!"

  5. Have students work out additional movements and then practice combining them.

  6. As the a group, or under the direction of a chosen "choreographer," students should then work with the music to create an entire dance piece that has a beginning, middle, and an end.


Have each group add an oral commentary based on research into the background of the music. Encourage the class to comment on how each mode of transportation has changed since the music was written and speculate on how it might change in the future.

Have students locate contemporary music about transportation and share it with the class. Elicit comments on how this music compares with the older, more traditional pieces. Invite students to explain what the differences tell them about changes in lifestyle over they years.

Have students research other machinery that has been significant in American history and use body movement to recreate its shape and rhythm. Examples might include a weaving loom, plow, crane, and earth mover.

You might also invite a local dancer or choreographer to visit your class and explain how dances are created or show a dance video, such as "Invitation to the Dance."

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