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Song, dance and games – an adult educator’s toolkit


Three adult educators share their holistic methods using dance, music and games.

Movement, singing and games are a gateway to holistic learning. Three adult educators from Finland open up their toolkit of bodily pedagogy.

“The body loves verbs”

Perspiration and inspiration in a language class with Gabriela Aldana-Kekoni (center).

Photo: Gabriela Aldana-Kekoni 



Lesson of the day at Gabriela Aldana-Kekoni’s Spanish class: vocabulary. The teacher pronounces the Spanish word for left, izquierda, and the group of students move left. Derecho, and it’s off to the right. Soon the class moves on to learning verbs, and they might as well because, as the teacher says “The body loves verbs because the body itself is a doer.”

Professional dancer Aldana-Kekoni gave teaching a try some years ago. Now her calendar is gradually filling up entirely with teaching engagements: she specialises in Spanish and French classes that utilize movement as the main method.

The pedagogy of Chilean-born Aldana-Kekoni focuses on two concepts: movement and relaxation. She always teaches vocabulary through a movement assignment, like the one described above. Grammar is taught orally to the students, sitting in a circle.

All lessons, however, start with relaxation exercises. The Helsinki-based dancer-teacher believes that a relaxed body sensitizes a person to learning. She has succeeded in getting even the shyest of students to participate through relaxation.

-Relaxation and subsequent movement help you let go of your social roles. Then you will also have the courage to speak a foreign language.

Aldana-Kekoni consciously uses the word movement: speaking of dance might deter those who proclaim themselves too stiff for dance. The method, however, is suitable for all as the students are encouraged to move respecting the limitations of their bodies.

Her lessons are adaptable to the needs of a particular group. Once Aldana-Kekoni was about to give a French class to a group of busy students at the Helsinki Culinary School. There was clearly little time for a usual movement-based lesson so the teacher improvised a session while cooking in the kitchen, complete with assigning the students roles as French chefs in Paris.

-It was learning by doing at its best!

“The words don’t get stuck in your throat”


Getting into Christmas mood with the help of a Finnish carol at Johanna Lehtinen-Schnabel’s (left) class.

Photo: Anni Ojala



“Finnish is a tough language, no prepositions and over fifteen cases!” So goes an old lament. Another kind of melody emanates from the Espoo adult education center where a group of immigrants conquer the seemingly difficult tongue armed with music.

The ”Learn Finnish through Song”- group has been active for over a year under the guidance of Johanna Lehtinen-Schnabel.

-The students are excited: they say that you learn Finnish almost by accident, she smiles.

Lehtinen-Schnabel, a music teacher at the center, knows that singing speeds up language learning because music and language are made up of the same building blocks: rhythm, melody, intonation and expression of emotion. Music sensitizes the ear to hear the typical characteristics of a given language.

-When you sing, the words don’t get stuck in your throat. You can sing difficult syllables in a slower tempo or with the time afforded by long notes, Lehtinen-Schnabel explains.

Her pedagogic palette is broad. For example, the group practices Finnish pronunciation with vocal exercises and sings versatile repertoire ranging from rock to folk songs, experimenting with different emotional phrasings and interpretations. Another learning tool is to practice the rhythmic flow of words through body percussion exercises – using one’s body as the “drum”.

Johanna Lehtinen-Schnabel has created these methods herself,”through trial and error”. She would gladly share them with colleagues:

-It takes a lot of work since there are no existing materials. The teacher must compile the material herself and arrange it to suit a teaching context. And a lot of curiosity towards new pedagogy is needed!

”Emotional involvement, playing, exploring”

Even a simple idea, like collecting virtual stars, can add an element of game into teaching.




Games are a form of storytelling. Gamification in teaching means transferring the addictive elements of games into the classroom. These elements include emotional involvelment, a sense of adventure and social interaction.

These are the theses Helka Mäki lives by. She teaches handicrafts at the Helsinki adult education center and virtually to the pupils of the Kulkuri School of Distance Education.

Her virtual course is divided into four parts. Each part features basic assignments that are compulsory to all and an optional advanced assignment. A very simple game-like solution is to reward the student with virtual stars that appear on the pupils’ own personal pages. A silver star is the reward for basic assignments, an advanced task earns you a golden one.

– The whole group witnesses how the stars start piling up: it turns into a common goal as the students see each others’ stars.

The teacher also makes use of pure narrative. She has created stories around clothes design assignments where the student assumes the role of trainee designer of a second hand clothes line.

For Mäki, however, the game element is always just an aid of learning, never an end in itself.

-The studied topic must be the most interesting thing!

Try for yourself!

Bodily vocabulary

• Write 5-10 verbs on a piece of paper in a foreign language.
• Make yourself comfortable, lie down on your back for example.
• Take 10 deep breaths.
• Think of a movement to go with each verb. Say the verb out loud and do the movement. Repeat the word and the movement until you feel a rhythm emerge. Proceed like this to the end of your verb list.
• Check what you learned with the help of your notes.

Exercise by Gabriela Aldana-Kekoni


Sing the alphabet

• Go through the alphabet in a foreign language you have studied. Speak them first, verse by verse. Verses are formed this way: A-B-C-D-E-F-G (verse) H-I-J-K-L-M-N (verse) and so on.
• Accentuate the speech rhythm with a body percussion, for example drum on your chest or walk in pace with the verse.
• Finally, sing the verses to the melody of Twinkle, twinkle little star. Experiment with different tempi and emotions.

Exercise by Johanna Lehtinen-Schnabel


Quiz your class

• The next time you are about to list facts on the board or overhead projector, do a quiz instead!
• Present 10 questions with multiple choice answers to your students.
• Divide the group into pairs. give each pair an answer slip and a pen and tell them to discuss possible answers. This usually triggers debates and further questions, so as you reveal the right answers you may have to really give good arguments to justify the right answer.
• Count the point score in the end!

Exercise by Helka Mäki.

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