Articles > In A Story > Dancing Hands by Margarita Engles
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Story Activities for 

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreno Played The Piano For President Lincoln

Written by Margarita Engle and Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Teresa Carreno, a prodigy pianist from Venezuela, began playing and composing her own music by the age of 6! The author Margarita Engles exquisitly details how Teresa developed her talent, immigrated to the United States, and plays for the president to soothe so much trouble with her dancing hands.  Engles utilizes poetic language and rich imagery in conjuction with Rafael Lopez's stunning colorful mixed media illustrations. Together they evoke the beauty and power of her "musical courage" as well as the despair of war, loss, and grief. 

Here are some ideas and visuals to support this beautiful story: 


Story Vocabulary

Engles uses an incredible amount of rich vocabulary. For younger children focus on the larger concepts vocabulary such as concert, struggle, waltz, and courage. Here are some word-wall words of vocabulary to find in the story. 




Prior to reading, make a predictions chart. This can be a KWL about a unit about musicians or a semantic map about instruments. Here we made a prediction chart of  See (what do you see on the cover?), Think (What do you think this book will be about?), and Wonder (What questions do you think the book will answer?). After reading, go back to see if your predictions were correct and if you answered your questions. 



Comprehension Questions

Typically I print some or all of the question cards (usually 2 per page) and place them in the story. Sometimes I just ask the question and other times I show the multiple choice answers for students who need added support. Use in powerpoint for remote learning. 15 Multiple Choice Questions: 



This story elicits fascinating discussions regarding many topics:

Feelings: How did Teresa overcome feelings of sadness and discouragement? Have you ever felt bold like Teresa? What advice would you have to help someone feel brave? 

Music: How did Teresa become an amazing pianist? Describe the steps she took. The author uses words like, "happy hands", "strong hands", and "dancing hands"; what does this tell you about Teresa's piano skills? What does music mean to you? What type of music do you like? 

War: How did the revolution in Venezuela affect Theresa's life? How did the American Civil War affect her? How does the author describe what Teresa saw of war? 

History: Imagine how Teresa felt meeting the president. What did Teresa hope she could do to help the president?  

Literary Structures: What are some examples of similies in the story? Give examples of internal rhyme. What are some of your favorite descriptive words or strong verbs the author uses. 

Here are some simple task cards with open-ended questions for discussion. 


Descriptive Words

Engles' use of literary strategies develops a rich story full of imagery. Make a list of the descriptive words in the story. 

Match the descriptive words to the picture that best matches. 


Discuss the difference between passive verbs or common verb with the strong verbs throughout the story.

Roll a die and see if you can read all of the words under the matching die roll. For more fun, describe or act out the words. 

Act out in a game of charades. Classmates try to guess the word from the story. 

Play bingo to practice reading these strong words. For older students, have them write a story that includes 4-5 words in a bingo!



Learn more about Teresa Carreno. Students can write a biography of her life. 


What are your talents? Write and illustrate how you feel when you share your talents with others. 



Listen to different types and rythms of music. Describe how they make you feel. Can music change your mood? 

As you listen to music, use mixed media such as watercolor, crayons, chalk, and tissue paper to create an illustration that matches the mood of the music. 

Here is a sample page to illustrate. Write the title of the song at the top and write and /or illustrate the feeling of the music. 

Invite students to show their talents. Put on a talent show!


More Music - Themed Actvities and history from the Sharing Center




Have fun learning and growing together.