Simple Machines

Author: Jana Shumway
Year: 2015
Artform: Dance
Subjects: Science
Grade: 3rd Grade
Duration: 45 minutes

Third grade students will dance about six simple machines: incline plane, wedge, wheel and axle, lever, screw and pulley. They will also choreograph dances that contain all six simple machines.


  • Visuals of all 6 simple machines with examples and definitions.


Download PDF Lesson Plan

Standards & Objectives

Fine Art Standards
Integrated Standards


The student will identify and demonstrate movement elements (time, space, energy and motion) in performing dance.


The student will improvise, create, perform, and respond to movement solutions in the art form of dance.



c. Investigate how forces applied through
simple machines affect the direction and/or
amount of resulting force.

Third grade students will understanding examples of simple machines and how they function, through dance improvisation and choreographic experiences.

Teaching and Timeline


Teach a simple folk dance (it is not traditional – I made it up) that includes movement that represents each of the following simple machines:

  • Incline Plane – lunges with arms extended out to create a long diagonal line
  • Wedge – feet together and arms up to a high V, slightly rock side to side maintaining the V
  • Wheel and Axle – put both arms out straight to the sides, put hands in fists and turn body
  • Lever – balance on one leg while lifting the other leg behind you which causes you to tilt your body forward until your back leg and body are horizontal. Then bring the body back up to vertical with legs together.
  • Screw – put both arms up straight above your head and turn the body around, letting the arms carve through the space as they spiral from high to low.
  • Pulley – have both hands travel up high above the head, then curve over and down in front of you

Dance the above movements in the following order to “Rakes of Mallow” – Rhythmically Moving 2, Phyllis Weikart.

Start in an open circle, facing line of dance (CCW). (Dance it without explaining the simple machines. That will come later).

  • Incline Plane Lunges – out R 1, 2, in 3, 4; out L 5, 6, in 7, 8 (traveling CCW). Repeat incline plane 1-8.
  • Wedge – rock side to side 1, 2, 3, 4,
  • Wheel and Axle – turn around one time 5, 6, 7, 8. Repeat wedge and wheel and axle 1-8.
  • Lever – tilt in to the center of the circle 1, 2, 3, 4, come up 5, 6, 7, 8.
  • Screw – turn body around, arms spiral high to low 1, 2, 3, 4,
  • Pulley – arms up over and down 5, 6, 7, 8.
  • Repeat Lever 1-8 and screw and pulley 1-8.
  • Repeat the whole dance.


Have the students walk through the space to the beat of the music or to the drum. Then start this pattern:

When the students are making the shapes with their partners, give them the following objectives to create: (Try each objective about 3-4 times with variations of the same idea before moving on to the next objective).

Incline Plane / Wedge / Wheel and axel / Lever / Screw / Pulley

As they start creating the shapes, they will need more information about the simple machines. Define and give examples for each. (Resource:


INCLINE PLANE A sloped surface Wheelchair ramp, playground slide, sloped road
WEDGE Two sloped sides positioned back to back Knife, ax, fork, nail, doorstop
WHEEL & AXLE Wheel with a rod attached to the center of it Doorknob, eggbeater, bicycle wheel, steering wheel
LEVER Bar that moves on a fulcrum Crowbar, broom, hammer, shovel, bottle opener
SCREW Inclined plane that is wrapped around a center rod Swivel chairs, base of jar lid, light bulb base
PULLEY Wheel with a rope around it for lifting things Flagpole, elevator, window blinds, crane

Work Period

Create a Dance

Now tell the students they need to get a big job done and they need simple machines to help them accomplish the task. Have them get into small groups of about 4-5 students and create a dance using simple machines. All 6 machines must be used at least one time in each dance. Remind the students that their bodies create the machines (don’t have them pantomime using the machine). The kids can either create the machines as group shapes or movements, individual shapes or movements, or a mixture of both.

Each group will be assigned to accomplish a different task. Let them choose from the following list:

Give an example of how this can be done. The more creative the better! You can try this first example with the whole class.

Your teacher gave you too much homework this weekend and you are overwhelmed.
You decide to create a homework machine!
First the worksheet goes through a slot that sends it down the incline plane into a basket.
A pulley then pulls the basket up to your dad’s desk.
Then a wheel and axle moves the paper into a special “homework helper machine”.
Screws covered in ink wind and turn to place all the correct answers on the paper.
When the answers are complete, a lever pops the paper out of the window and the wind blows the paper into your bedroom.
Then a wedge trims the he paper to perfection and your homework is complete!


Have each group perform their dance for the rest of the class.


Dance the folk dance again. This time explain which movement goes with which simple machine.

Review all 6 simple machines, their definitions and examples of each as you dance the folk dance.



Forces cause changes in the speed or direction of the motion of an object. The greater the force placed on an object, the greater the change in motion. The more massive an object is, the less effect a given force will have upon the motion of the object. Earth’s gravity pulls objects toward it without touching them.


Vocabulary is included in the lesson.


Adjust the dance as needed for individual student needs.



While the kids are dancing watch to see if they are understanding the concepts. If not, sidecoach them to help them understand.


You can have a discussion or quiz at the end of the lesson; or have the students share what they learned with a partner and then report to another group of students or to you as to what they learned.

They can also demonstrate their understanding through choreographic assignments (but be sure the objectives are clear for the assignment and then make sure they meet those objectives).

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