Enacting Life Cycles through Movement: The Frog and Butterfly

Grade Level: 1st
Unit Topic(s): Animals and Plants, Science
Art Subject(s): Creative Movement, Dance
Academic Subject(s): English-Language Arts, Science, Visual and Performing Arts


Students choreograph and perform dance sequences based on the life cycles of butterflies and frogs. With the accompaniment of narration and music, students use their bodies to illustrate birth, growth, and transformation.

CoTA Artist: Leonardo Francisco
Profile photo of Leonardo Francisco
Leonardo Francisco, CoTA Artist (BA Visual Arts, University of California, San Diego). Leonardo Francisco has worked in a multitude of disciplines, including printmaking, collage, drawing, digital painting, film, comics, samba, and creative movement. He utilizes creative movement within the human body as an innovative form of multidisciplinary exploration and education. Leonardo’s eclectic approach was instrumental in his former position as director of dance for the Super Sonic Samba School and in his current work as a lead artist with CoTA, and resident artist with Young Audiences San Diego.

Demonstration of Learning:

Dance Performance

Number of Sessions: 6 | Length of Each Session: 1 hour
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Learning Objectives


  • Students explore the concept of metamorphosis and life cycles in animals and plants.
  • Students understand that life cycles are different for various animals and plants.


  • Students create movements that reflect their environment.
  • Students imitate and practice a wide range of movements.
  • Students choreograph dances.

Social and Critical Thinking

  • Students practice nonverbal communication skills.
  • Students use multiple approaches to illustrate a single concept.
  • Students work together to create and perform dances.
  • Students evaluate various dance movements and identify the ones that best express a specific stage in an animal’s or plant’s life cycle.

Lesson Outline

Preliminary Preparation

Students look at examples of story-telling dance. Demonstrate how stories can be retold through movement.

Lesson Activities

  • Students create and perform dance based on The Cat in the Hat.
  • Lead students through series of exercises exploring the elements of dance. Students practice a variety of movements, including locomotor and axial movements.
  • Students study metamorphosis. Students describe physical changes that occur in the life cycles of apples, butterflies, and frogs. Students discuss how processes like stories can be illustrated through movements.
  • Students compose and rehearse metamorphosis dances.
  • Students discuss performances and revise movements and sequences for clarity, expressiveness, and simplicity.
  • Students write in journals about dance creation and performance.
  • Students perform frog metamorphosis dance for parents, students, and teachers at assembly.
  • Students write thank-you letter to artist, noting memorable experiences.

Alternative Applications

Create dance patterns and sequences for stories, mathematical equations, scientific concepts (gravity, force, vibration, magnetism, weather, changing states of matter, etc.), and historical events.

Classroom Narrative

Janet Booth’s first-grade class

Olympic View Elementary

In planning for our collaboration, first-grade teacher Janet Booth spoke of her class’ participation in a “Frog and Toad” themed grade-level assembly at the end of the season. To prepare for the show, Janet wished to work with me in creating a frog life-cycle dance for her students to perform.

For our first class together, we talked with students about how stories can be told in many ways: through written and spoken words, pictures, and dance. We began with students describing events and details from a scene in The Cat in the Hat, a recent classroom reading. They chose one with incredible kinetic energy: Thing 1 and 2 making a mess inside the children’s house. Students were asked to create shapes and moves to represent actions described in the story: jumping on couches, flying kites, destroying a house. In discussing how to portray such a riotous scene, students were wonderful in setting guidelines: No running or yelling. We can’t make a mess. We’re only pretending. No one gets hurt. Starting with arm/hand gestures and facial expressions, we progressed to full-body movements and traveling steps. Students enjoyed the imaginary trashing of their classroom.

Inspired by her students’ enthusiastic response to The Cat in the Hat activity, Janet saw potential in expanding our project focus to explore different life cycles through movement. We agreed that this would hold the students’ interest better than a narrow focus on frogs.

In weeks two and three, the students created and performed dances based, respectively, on butterflies and apples. Both classes started with a review of the subject’s life cycle (through posters and books), detailing the changes it makes as it progresses from one phase to the next. Students used their bodies to represent these different forms and to show the transformation from one to another. We experimented with a variety of movement possibilities: using only arms and hands, remaining seated, individual and group shapes. After each life cycle dance, students reflected on the movements.

In week four, we began choreography for the frog dance. After discussing the different phases in the frog life, we talked about the different roles needed to portray this story: narrators, eggs, tadpoles, and frogs. Though students would play specific parts in the performance, all could participate in the creation of the dance. We started our movement by designing an egg shape. Students volunteered a familiar position used in the butterfly dance. I asked the students to revise the shape: How can we make it different than the butterfly egg? How can the movement of the eggs reflect the frog’s habitat? Once the class decided on a new egg shape formed by three dancers, Janet assigned roles for each student.

The following week, each group worked on its specific parts. The narrators reviewed their lines. The eggs practiced their choreography and planned their entrance and exit. The tadpoles created a group shape that showed gills, the shortening of its tail, and the growth of limbs and a tongue. Towards the end of class, students composed an ending with all students acting as individual frogs. Once the choreography was set, we practiced the movements to music and narration.

In the remaining weeks, the class rehearsed the entire frog performance in the auditorium. While the students seemed to enjoy the process of creating and practicing the frog dance, repeated practices wore away at the students’ enthusiasm and focus.

At our collaboration wrap-up meeting, Janet expressed her appreciation of dance as a teaching and learning activity. Although we focused on the frog life cycle dance for the majority of our time together, she sees great potential in using the arts, not only for its application in a one-time performance, but also as a regular way to engage students in a variety of subjects. In her next CoTA collaboration, Janet plans to keep activities separate from her class’ participation in a school production.

Leonardo Francisco

Resource Links

  • Telling a Story through Dance

    A lesson plan provided by The Kennedy Center ArtsEdge program that introduces students to the idea of telling stories through dance. The lessons focus on the story of the Nutcracker as told through ballet.

  • Using Picture Books to Teach Characterization

    A lesson plan by Sharon Roth to support student exploration of character development through picture books. The lessons are geared towards third through fifth graders but can be adapted for younger students. Resources include a selection of books and graphic organizers for story mapping and characterization elements.

  • Life-Cycle Handouts

    Enchanted Learning has a selection of labeled and blank handouts that can help students identify and understand the stages of animal life cycles. This link will take you to the frog life-cycle handout.

  • Butterfly Life Cycle

    The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University provides beautiful photographs of the four stages of a butterfly life cycle and provides extensive descriptions of each stage.

Student Works

Coming Soon

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