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Create and Dance – unlocking literacy and the wider curriculum

Written by: Helen Moors and Hayley Ryan
4 min read

Designed with teachers, the Royal Opera House’s Create and Dance programme seeks to develop students’ understanding of dance, unlocking their imagination and creativity to promote learning across the curriculum. Creativity can be understood as having original ideas that have value, and imagination is the root of this process (Robinson and Aronica, 2015). Research suggests that structured arts activity can lead to increases in transferable skills of 10 to 17 per cent, and potentially support attainment in other subject areas (Cultural Learning Alliance, 2017). By employing embodied thinking – in which our cognitive processes, including experiences related to perception, memory, imagination, belief and judgement, are shaped by practical exploration with the body (Gallagher, 2006) – Create and Dance aims to develop students’ capacity for curiosity and their ability to reflect upon ideas (QCA, 2004), with relevance for cross-curricular work and literacy.

In 2018/19, the programme worked with 202 schools, trained 353 teachers and engaged 16,162 students in activity. The programme is completely open-access and schools can engage with the schemes of work via our online learning platform. We select a location to host at least one INSET in each region of the country, targeting areas of high deprivation, low cultural engagement or strategic need.

How does it work?

Teachers start the process with a full day of practical training, starting with the ‘building blocks’ of dance: the notions of ‘actions’ (verbs), ‘body’ (nouns), ‘space’ (prepositions), ‘dynamics’ (adjectives) and ‘relationships’ (conjunctions). This gives a clear language and structure for generating and structuring movement in choreography (Blunkett, 2000). Teachers then use a 10-week scheme of work with their students, including lesson plans and a series of short films from The Royal Ballet.


Using The Royal Ballet’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as a stimulus for literacy and creative writing exercises, 20 schools in Stoke-on-Trent, recruited by the oPen Network, are seeing accelerated progress in these subjects. The training explored the 12 strands of the National Curriculum for Literacy, providing examples of how particular parts of the ballet can be used to inspire creative writing tasks. For example, to enhance the ‘speaking,’ ‘listening and responding’ and ‘creating and shaping texts’ strands, teachers could ask students to explore the characters of the Knave or the Queen of Hearts in the trial of ‘who stole the jam tarts?’ Teachers could ask the dancers to find different ways of communicating the characters through actions and dynamics, consider how to show the relationship between the characters and develop a script to complement the dance. Early indications from schools’ progress data in writing suggest that accelerated progress was made by a large number of the children (78 per cent) during the time in which they studied the Alice texts.

For example, Table 1 shows progress data in writing (60 children in Year 1) from St Gregory’s Catholic Academy, produced by Year 1 teacher Patricia Goodwin.

Progress – autumn term Progress – spring term
0–1 points progress 32 14
2 points progress 25 42
3 points progress 3 5
Table 1: Progress data in writing from St Gregory’s Catholic Academy

The school uses DCPro to record data. The progress is teacher-assessed against the National Curriculum statutory requirements for Year 1 children (Department for Education, 2014). Usually, two points progress would be expected each term. The table shows that far more children achieved this during the time in which the children studied Alice. A limitation of this study is the lack of a control group – we cannot attribute the progress above to the programme specifically, as it may be due to other factors. However, these results are encouraging, and it seems plausible that this approach, adopted by teachers as they see fit according to the particular context of their class and school, may have contributed to these improved outcomes.

Below are two examples of writing from a lower-attaining Year 1 child (spelling errors have been corrected – this example intends to illustrate the level of description used).

Character description at the end of November

On the farm was a rabbit

He had fluffy fur

Love to hop

Character description for the Queen of Hearts at the start of March

The Queen lives in a gigantic castle near a rosy red garden. She has card soldiers. She is tall with a huge body and light black hair. She wears a red dress and golden crown. She is always cross and cruel.

As per the National Curriculum (DfE, 2014), an end-of-year expectation for Year 3 children is that they are able to ‘Describe characters, settings and /or plot in a simple way, with some interesting details.’ A Year 2 teacher, Miss Jess Smithson from Our Lady’s Catholic Academy, noted that children in her class were writing in greater depth, using similes and alliteration, comparing characters, using predictions and incorporating speech marks.

Year 1 teachers comments

Starting with the dance and watching the clips provided by the ROH was invaluable – the children were able to ‘feel’ their writing.

The dance sessions were important as it helped the children to understand the characters – what type of character they were, how they felt, what they did, etc.

Children’s comments

I loved dancing and being the Mad Hatter. He saved Alice in my new story.

My writing is better because I know Alice. I watched her in the film and we danced lots in PE.

Parents comments

Child X has written and written and written all about the adventure and the Queen. It’s funny when she reads her writing out loud as she puts on the Queen’s voice. Its fab!

I now know the dance motifs. We’ve all had to join in and make one in the living room.

The success of combining dance with literacy has prompted primary and secondary schools to explore the new Romeo and Juliet scheme of work launching in September. Further examples of impact around the country (for example, in Exeter and East Sussex) are still in the data-collection and analysis stage, but these initial findings indicate the potential value of dance as a way to promote learning.


Blunkett D (2000) Government response to All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture & Education. Available at: (accessed 21 June 2019).

Cultural Learning Alliance (2017) The case for creative learning. Available at:  (accessed 21June 2019).

Department for Education (DfE) (2014) Statutory guidance: National Curriculum in England: English programmes of study. Available at:—year-1 (accessed 21 June 2019).

Gallagher S (2006) How the Body Shapes the Mind. USA: Oxford University Press.

Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) (2004) Creativity: Find it, Promote it. London: Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

Robinson K and Aronica L (2015) Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education. London: Viking.

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      Author(s): Bill Lucas