Water Dance: Integrating Science, Literacy, Art, and Movement

When we think of integrating science and literacy, most often we think of reading nonfiction text or writing expository paragraphs, lab reports, and science notebooks entries. And while these are all effective (and recommended) instructional strategies, it can be just as effective to incorporate the more creative aspects of literacy – poetry and art. Thomas Locker’s book Water Dance does just that, using full-page oil paintings and simple poems to depict water in its various forms along the water cycle. Informational text at the end of the book describes the water cycle and supplements the poems.
Water_Dance book cover image
Water Dance. Thomas Locker. 1997. Picture Book. Recommended ages: Grades K-5.

An example of Locker’s poetic language in Water Dance:

“I pass through a gateway

of high stone palisades,

leaving the land behind.

Cool silver moonlight

sparkles and dances

on my waves.

I am the sea.”


We’ve highlighted just a few ways to use Water Dance in an elementary classroom. If you have lessons, activities, or other ideas that have worked in your classroom, please share them with us and other readers by leaving a comment below.


In the November 2007 issue of Science and Children, Joanne Toft and Kathy Scoggin discuss how Water Dance engaged fifth-grade students and developed their knowledge of the water cycle. Toft and Scoggin describe three activities, all based on Water Dance, in their article “The Ripple Effect.”

Text Matching Game

To prepare for this activity, the teachers made copies of the poems and separated each poem from its one-sentence tag line. Students previewed the cover of Water Dance but did not read the book. Pairs or triads matched each poem to its tag line. As Toft and Scoggin report, listening to the group discourse during this activity proved to be an excellent formative assessment of students’ knowledge of the water cycle.

Sequencing and Sharing

Following the matching activity, student groups arranged the poems in an order of their own choosing. Once the students had organized the 13 poems, they planned a dramatic reading of the material. Sharing these presentations led to a class discussion and deeper understanding of the nature of the water cycle – and an appreciation of multiple perspectives.

Visual Matching

Students reflected on each image and responded to open-ended questions. These questions allowed students to draw on personal experience and made the ensuing reading of Water Dance much richer.

For more information on these activities, you can download the article, see below, in its entirety. Accessing this article is free for members of the National Science Teachers Association and $0.99 for nonmembers.

The Ripple Effect
Joanne Toft and Kathy Scoggin tell how they used poetry and art in teaching the water cycle. From the November 2007 issue of Science and Children.


If you use the 6+1 Traits of Writing in your class or school, you know that children’s literature is a great way to model the traits at their finest! Water Dance can be used to model and illustrate the traits of Ideas and Word Choice. (It is typically recommended that students focus on one trait at a time.)

The 6+1 Traits of Writing model gives students, teachers, and parents a common vocabulary for talking about writing. The model was developed in the 1980s and originally included six traits:

  • Ideas: the content of the piece
  • Organization: the internal structure of a piece of writing
  • Voice: the sense that a real person is speaking to us and cares about the message
  • Word Choice: the use of rich, colorful, precise language that communicates not just in a functional way, but in a way that moves and enlightens the reader
  • Sentence Fluency: the rhythm and flow of the language, the sound of word patterns, the way in which the writing plays to the ear, not just to the eye
  • Conventions: the mechanical correctness of the piece–spelling, grammar and usage, paragraphing, use of capitals, and punctuation

The model was later revised to include a seventh trait, Presentation. Rather than change an already familiar name, the developers modified the title to read “6+1 Traits.”

  • Presentation: the way an author “exhibits” his message on paper

These traits, or elements of writing, are common across all modes of writing – narrative, descriptive, expository, and persuasive. The manner in which the traits are used, however, will differ – the organization of expository writing (a textbook) is quite different from a narrative (story). Strong writers understand the ways in which the traits manifest themselves across the different modes of writing and can make appropriate choices in their own writing.

The resources highlighted below provide more information about the 6+1 Traits, strategies for use in the classroom, and rubrics to evaluate students’ work. As we mentioned earlier, using exemplary examples like Water Dance helps students understand a trait (in this case, Ideas or Word Choice) and improve their own work.

6+1 Trait Writing
The Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory’s web site includes an overview of the model, definitions of each trait, lesson plans, writing prompts, publications, scoring guides, and professional development workshops and institutes.

Writing: 6+1 Traits
A collection of resources related to the 6+1 Traits writing model.

6+1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide for the Primary Grades
This professional book, available for purchase from Scholastic, provides scoring guides, sample papers, and focus lessons for each trait, all framed to address K-2 teachers’ needs.

6+1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide: Grades 3 & Up: Everything You Need to Teach and Assess Student Writing with This Powerful Model
This professional book, available for purchase from Scholastic, includes scoring guides, focus lessons, and activities for teaching each trait.

Scholastic: 6+1 Traits
Scholastic’s web site includes many resources for teaching the traits, including video interviews with author Ruth Culham.


While glaciers and ice are mentioned in the explanation of the water cycle at the end of the book Water Dance, Locker does not include the solid form of water in his paintings and poems. Challenge your students to study one form of ice found in the polar regions (glaciers, ice sheets, ice shelves, sea ice, and icebergs) and write a poem following Locker’s model. (Teachers in primary grades may want to write a class poem using student input.) Use watercolors or tempera paints to create a corresponding picture!

Writing Water Dance-inspired poetry about the types of ice found in the polar regions could also allow students to apply their knowledge of Ideas or Word Choice (see 6+1 Traits of Writing for more information). It is typically recommended that students focus on one trait at a time.


We all know that elementary students like to move, and, after all, the book is titled Water Dance! Read the book as a class once, then re-read, asking students to pantomime each step of water’s “dance” through our world. In addition to being an enjoyable activity, this provides opportunities for students to appreciate Locker’s precise word choice and develop nonlinguistic representations of the concepts. Pantomime also engages kinesthetic learners in a way that most stories do not.

Have you used Water Dance in a creative way in your classroom? We’d love to hear all about it!

This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site.

Copyright August 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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