On The Origin of Species / During Reading / /

Dancing The Tree of Life

Bringing Darwin's metaphor to life through dance

Lesson length: 1 hour 0 minutes / 1 session

Lesson from On The Origin of Species series

Required reading: Whole book

Text potential

  • Inference opportunities: Elaborative inference
  • Background knowledge: Extinct and Endangered Animals
  • Literary features: Metaphor and simile
  • Background knowledge: Natural World



Teacher’s note: This lesson follows on from ‘The Tree of Life lesson’. The children need to have explored the metaphor in order to understand it and therefore be able to express it through a different medium.

Metaphors in science are key to understanding complex scientific theories. This lesson provides the opportunity to deepen the children’s understanding of the metaphor of the Tree of Life through collaborating to create a dance. This collaborative process enables children to explore the metaphor further and express their understanding whilst clarifying and correcting misconception with their peers.


  • Have read the whole book
  • Have Darwin’s quote from page 29 to display on the IWB without the images 
  • Beethoven – ‘Pastorale’ Symphony Number 6 in F major; Op.68 (or another piece of appropriate music)
  • Book time in your school hall or large room.


Remind children of their learning from the ‘Drawing The Tree of Life’ lesson. Explain that you now want them to explore this metaphor further through expressing their understanding through dance.

Before you can choreograph a dance to represent the Tree of Life, you need to consider the key processes that you are going to portray. So ask the children to write a quick list of verbs that describe the process of evolution. The list may look something like this:

  • grow
  • change
  • evolve
  • connect
  • bud
  • bloom
  • die
  • fossilize
  • decompose
  • to go extinct (no single verb to describe extinction)

In pairs ask the children to choose a verb and with their partner create some movements to represent the verbs. At this point don’t guide them, see what they are able to understand and create. As they are creating their moves, play the music you have chosen. Watch carefully and when they have had time to create a move, choose some pairs to show the class.  Ask the other children to name the verb the movements are representing. If the movement doesn’t appear to match the verb, support the pair to refine the movement with help from the other children. Introduce them to the vocabulary below to develop their understanding of how movement can be adapted and controlled:

dynamic, rising, falling, steady, repetitious, slow, rhythmic, extending, still, loose

Considering the processes of evolution, think with the children about what processes may require  dynamic movements to illustrate them (for example a flower bursting into bloom).  Discuss why more of the movements might need to be slow and steady when describing evolution.  What events might require rising movements (for example a plant or animal growing)?

Now ask the children to play around with some different movements that describe some of the other verbs. Move between pairs offering guidance to develop ideas. After a few minutes of practice, ask half of the class to perform some of their movements whilst the other half watch and then swap over.

Now the children should have a range of ideas of how to portray the different verbs. Split the class into 3 groups and explain that they are going to create a short dance to represent Darwin’s metaphor. Have the metaphor displayed for the children to read and refer to when creating the dance. 

Once the children have had time to choreograph their dance and practise, give them the opportunity to present their interpretation of the metaphor to one another. 

Ask other groups to give feedback in relation to the metaphor. Model for them first for  example ‘I thought the movement x worked well because the slow loose movement showed death’ or ‘The touching of hands from one person to the next showed the connection and evolution of a new species’

Final reflection

  • Has your understanding of Darwin’s metaphor changed or developed?
  • Has this exploration of Darwin’s metaphor raised any questions for you?

Key vocabulary

grow, change, evolve, connect, bud, bloom, die, fossilize, decompose

Subject-specific and technical vocabulary


choreograph, dynamic, rising, falling, steady, repetitious, slow, rhythmic, extending, still, loose

Academic process words

portray, illustrate