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Exercise 2.1: Trees

This is an excerpt from Elementary Dance Education With HKPropel Access by Janice E. Pomer.

This exercise helps build physical skills, including core strength and balancing. It provides opportunities for students to work alone and with others, to move to a prescribed number of beats, and to improvise shapes and traveling patterns.

Lesson Plan Suggestions

Kindergarten Through Grade 3
First lesson: Teach steps 1, 2, and 3 (follow the grade-appropriate variation)
Second lesson: Review steps 2 and 3; learn the simplest form of step 4; do step 5; journal entry

Grades 4 Through 6
First lesson: Teach steps 1, 2, and 3 and introduce step 4 (follow the grade-appropriate variation)
Second lesson: Review step 4, and do step 5; journal entry

Step 1: What We Know About Trees

Recommended Music
Track 3


  • Set aside 2 to 3 minutes for students to share their knowledge of trees.
  • With your class, compile a list of words and phrases about trees. The words might relate to shapes (fan, conical, triangular), benefits (shelter, food, clean air), types of trees (flowering, fruit-bearing, deciduous, evergreen), names of tree species (maple, oak, cedar, spruce), the way to determine the age of a tree, the relationship between the crown and the roots, or local areas of concern or interest (old-growth conservation, clear cutting).
  • Ask students to apply the information they have shared in the following introductory movement exercise.
  • Using track 3, introduce the movement pattern to students. Model the pattern yourself or ask for a volunteer.
    1. Stand in parallel position as described and practiced in exercise 1.1 and other foundation exercises.
    2. On beat 1, create a tree shape.
    3. Hold the tree shape and maintain the shape for 4 beats.
    4. Return to parallel position and hold for 4 beats.
    5. Create a new tree shape and hold for 4 beats.
    6. Return to parallel position and hold for 4 beats.
  • Prepare the class.
    1. Ask students to spread throughout the room, standing arm’s-length apart in parallel position.
    2. Students work on-the-spot as they create a variety of tree shapes inspired by their brainstorming session.
    3. Play the music and clearly count 4 beats to introduce the tempo.
    4. When doing the pattern for the first time, call out “Tree shape 1, 2, 3, 4; parallel for 4 beats; tree 1, 2, 3, 4; parallel for 4 beats.”
    5. Primary teachers may want to continue counting aloud throughout the exercise.
    6. Call out prompts to help your students explore new tree shapes. “Can you bend your torso like a willow tree?” “How wide can you make your tree trunk?” “Are your arms covered in leaves or pine needles?”
  • Repeat the pattern 5 or 6 cycles, creating new tree shapes each time.
  • Afterward, sit down and discuss the experience.

  • “Was it easy to make different tree shapes each time?” If yes, ask students how they made each of their shapes unique. (Balancing on one foot, twisting the torso, asymmetrical arms, bending the torso to make mid-level tree shapes.)
  • “Did thinking of specific trees help you find new shapes?” (Willow trees bend, elms are fan shaped, pines have needles.)
  • “What similarities did most of the shapes have?” (Torso tall, in upright position, arms reaching.)
  • Some of your students may be familiar with the yoga tree pose (as shown in figure 2.1). The Sanskrit name for tree pose is Vriksasana. Vriksa means tree and asana means pose.
    • Did anyone use this pose when they were making their tree shapes? Ask those who did to demonstrate. Then ask everyone to stand up and try it.
    • Did anyone make a shape similar to this one? Ask those who created a similar shape to demonstrate theirs. Then invite everyone to stand up and try those variations.

Figure 2.1 Tree pose with hands at heart center.
Figure 2.1 Tree pose with hands at heart center.

    Step 2: Tree Poses

    Learn and practice the reaching tree and bending tree pose variations as shown in the two photos. The position of the lifted foot does not need to be high up on the inner thigh. It can be placed at mid-calf or just above the ankle. The primary focus of the tree pose is balance and to feel rooted and calm. The height of the lifted foot and openness of the hips are secondary.

    1. Reaching tree pose. The lifted foot can be placed wherever students feel most stable (above the ankle, mid-calf, or mid-thigh). The arms are diagonally upward in a wide V. The wider arms help with balance and create a fan or elm tree silhouette. For an extra challenge, try looking up.
    2. Bending tree pose. Place the left foot on the right leg (at ankle, mid-calf, or mid-thigh). Instead of maintaining a straight spine, gently curve the spine to the left as the right arm curves overhead, reaching toward the left wall. Keep the left arm low and curving, reaching across the hips toward the right. Repeat on the second side.

    Solo reaching tree.
    Solo reaching tree.

    Try these poses with a partner and small groups.

    1. Reaching tree pose with partner. Stand beside your partner, shoulder to shoulder (without touching). Lift the outside leg, extend the outside arm diagonally, and reach the inside arm straight up. With your partner, your outside arms create a wide V. Repeat on the second side.
    2. Bending tree pose with partner. Stand back-to-back, beside, or slightly behind your partner (without touching) as shown in the accompanying photograph. Lift one leg and place that foot on the standing leg at a comfortable position. Reach the arms and bend the torso over the bent leg. Try back-to-back and side-to-side variations. Repeat them on both sides.
    3. Reaching tree pose with three or more students. Stand in a small circle, facing outward (without touching). Reach both arms up and diagonally.
    4. Bending tree pose with three or more students. Stand in a small circle with the right shoulder inward. Everyone will face the back of the person in front of them. Lift the outside (left) leg to a comfortable height, bend the torso outward to the left, and reach the inside (right) arm overhead, curving outward. Repeat on the second side.

    Bending tree with partner.
    Bending tree with partner.

      After the class has completed exploring the tree pose variations, take a moment to discuss the challenges and strategies students discovered.

      • “Which solo pose was the most challenging?” Identify the reasons it was difficult. (It’s hard to hold the balance while bending the torso, losing balance when looking up.) Ask students to suggest solutions.
      • “Which group pose was the most challenging?” Identify the reasons it was difficult. (Getting distracted when working near others, confused with directions when standing in a circle.) Ask students to suggest solutions.

      Step 3: Combining Stillness and Motion

      All Grades

      Use the music to signal when to move and freeze. You should use a mixture of short and long intervals between traveling actions and tree shapes.

      1. Ask your class to spread out throughout the room, arm’s-width apart and standing in parallel position.
      2. Start the music and invite your students to travel silently throughout the room.
      3. Younger students enjoy pretending they are walking through a forest (creeping carefully, stepping over rocks and roots, watching birds and other wildlife). Older students may prefer to walk in neutral.
      4. Turn off the music. Students freeze and listen for instruction.
      5. Call out which pose you want students to make. It can be any of the following:
        • Reaching pose
        • Bending pose
        • Their own original tree shapes
      6. Students freeze in the tree pose or shape until the music resumes.
      7. Increase the length of the freeze as students become stronger and more confident.
      8. After working on solo shapes 2 or 3 times, ask your students to do poses with a partner or in groups of three, four, or more. When you turn off the music, call out a number and which type of tree shape they should do.
      9. Forming the group tree shapes should be done as quickly and quietly as possible.
      10. Original trees are improvised. There’s no time for students to talk.
      11. Students should work with the people nearest them and not run across the room to be with a friend.
      12. If there is an extra person (when the class cannot be evenly divided by two or three), the teacher can join in.
      13. Play the music for different lengths of time so students can’t anticipate when the freeze will come.
      14. Try large groupings of seven, eight, or nine to create huge, old-growth trees.
      15. If the class is very large, have half the class perform the exercise while the others watch. Then switch.

      Afterward, discuss the exercise.


      • “What was challenging about the exercise?” (Holding the poses, creating original tree shapes, finding the right number of people to work without talking.)
      • “When going into the yoga poses, were you always lifting the same leg and standing on the same foot?” It’s common for people to have a dominant side. Encourage students to use this exercise to help them strengthen their weaker side.
      • “Was it challenging to create original tree shapes when you were working in groups? How did you manage without talking?”
      • “Did you try to convey the idea that you were walking through a forest?” If yes, what actions did they use? (Looking up at trees, being nervous or lost.)

      Kindergarten Through Grade 3 Variation

      Ask half the class to be trees and half to travel through the forest without talking or touching the trees.

      1. Assign roles: Group A will be trees, and group B will be travelers.
      2. Let group A randomly space themselves throughout the room.
      3. Group B stands spread out along the perimeter.
      4. Before the music starts, ask group A to create their tree shapes. (The shapes can be any of the solo yoga poses or original tree poses.)
      5. Start the music and signal group B to enter the forest and move through the trees without touching them.
      6. Call out prompts to support those who are traveling (“Are you lost, frightened, or confident walking through the forest?” “Do you hear animal sounds?” “Are you looking for something? Do you find it?”)
      7. After 12 to 16 beats, call out, “Change.”
      8. Those who were traveling become trees, and those who were trees become travelers.
      9. After 12 to 16 beats, call out, “Change.” Group A becomes trees, and group B returns to traveling.
      10. Let students cycle through the changes 4 or 5 times, then sit down and discuss.


      • How did they feel when they were traveling through the forest?
      • How did they feel when they were trees watching people wander through the forest while they stayed rooted on-the-spot?

      Step 4: Creating a Choreographic Phrase—All Grades

      This choreographic phrase is inspired by maple trees and their seedling keys (see figure 2.2) that flutter like little helicopters off the mother tree in search of a place where they can take root and grow.


      Take a moment for students to share what they know about maple keys: what the maple key is, its shape, its flight pattern, and what happens to the key once it’s on the ground.

      This choreographic phrase combines tree shapes with improvised on-the-spot motion and traveling phrases. Use the same music as the previous exercise to support the following choreographic exploration:

      1. Create a tree pose or original tree shape and hold (8 beats).
      2. Slowly move your hands and arms to illustrate the action of maple keys falling to the ground. This is an on-the-spot improvisational section. Hands and arms can twist and turn, moving from high to low. Students in yoga poses can put the lifted foot down to maintain balance as they move their arms around and down (8 beats).
      3. Now the wind is blowing the maple keys throughout the room. Students gently turn, swirl, roll, and glide to a new spot (8 beats).
      4. Create a new tree pose or shape to start the choreographic phrase again.
      5. Repeat the choreographic phrase 3 or 4 times without stopping. Encourage students to try different ways to represent maple keys falling and the wind blowing them with each repetition.
      6. Divide your class into two groups. Invite one group to watch while the other performs the choreography twice, then ask those who were presenting to watch while the others perform.

      Figure 2.2 Maple keys.
      Figure 2.2 Maple keys.


        • “The phrase contained specific timings and transitions: from still tree to falling maple keys and from being blown by the wind to becoming a still tree. Which was the hardest? Which was the easiest?”
        • “The phrase was repeated several times. Did you find ways to make each repetition unique?” If yes, ask your students to explain how. (Worked fingers, wrists, and elbows differently at every falling maple key section; used the tree pose variations and created original tree shapes; used different tempo, direction, and level changes when moving with the wind.)

        Grades 4 Through 6 Variation

        Instead of asking everyone to perform the same actions at the same time, try the choreographic phrase in three groups, with each group performing a different action.

        • Group 1 starts the phrase as originally practiced: tree, maple keys, and wind.
        • Group 2 starts the phrase with the maple key section, then does wind and tree.
        • Group 3 starts the phrase with the wind section, then does the tree and maple keys.


        1. Divide the class into three groups. Name them Trees, Maple Keys, and Wind to identify which section of the dance they do first.
        2. Let the class practice in their groups 3 or 4 times with the music, then ask half of each of the groups to stay in the performance area while the others sit and watch.
        3. Invite those presenting to perform the sequence 2 or 3 times. Then ask those students to sit down and invite those who were watching to perform.

        After everyone has seen and performed the choreography, discuss and reflect.


        • “Was the choreography more interesting to watch in this format than when everyone was moving in unison?” If yes, ask students to explain why. (The choreography had multiple levels and movement qualities, like a real forest where leaves and maple keys fall at different times.)
        • “Does the choreography show what happens to trees and how tree seeds spread and grow?”

        Step 5: Original Tree Dances

        Kindergarten Through Grade 3 Variation

        Ask your class if they have additional ideas to add to the Maple Key dance or if they have ideas for a new tree dance. Compile a list of student ideas, collectively explore the ideas, and create an order for the actions to be performed in. Practice the new Tree dance.

        Grades 4 Through 6 Variation

        Ask students if they have additional ideas to add to the Maple Key dance or if they have ideas for new choreography inspired by trees (boreal forests, rain forests, evergreens, what trees have witnessed over the centuries, historical or mythical trees).

        1. Compile a list of student suggestions for new tree choreography.
        2. Divide the class into working groups of four or five.
        3. Ask groups to create an original 16- or 24-beat Tree dance or devise a new variation of the Maple Key dance.
        4. Bring the groups together for presentation and discussion.


        Ask each group to briefly explain what aspect of trees inspired the dance or variation.

        Journal Entry

        Kindergarten Through Grade 3

        “What would it be like to be a tree?” Invite your class to draw or write a response.

        Grades 4 Through 6

        Ask your class to write from the perspective of a maple key (or pinecone or acorn) after you have shared these questions:

        • “How would you feel if you were hanging from your parent tree then suddenly fell to the ground? Would you be frightened? Excited? Surprised?”
        • “What happens after you land? Are you looking up at your siblings, who are still hanging from the tree? Does the wind blow you away? Does a squirrel carry you off to its nest?”
        • “What happens next? Will you be one of the lucky ones and become a tree?”
        More Excerpts From Elementary Dance Education With HKPropel Access