Improv is a tool you probably haven’t thought of using in the classroom, but you should. Improv and teaching have more in common than you might think. Teachers improvise frequently, and no, this doesn’t mean they don’t prepare. It means that despite thorough preparation, nothing ever goes exactly as planned. Any teacher can tell you that one of the most difficult, yet enjoyable, parts of their job is that it is never the same. Children are unpredictable, and no two lessons are ever the same.
Educators have to think on their feet. In fact, Teachers make more than 1500 decisions per day, or 4 per minute We are continually observing students, trying to draw out their background knowledge, monitoring their reactions, and using what they know to make meaning of something new. See, teaching does have a lot in common with improv!
Many of the skills we use as teachers are skills our students lack. Especially students with autism, ADHD, Asperger’s, anxiety, etc. The integration of improv activities into the classroom helps us impart some of the skills we use as teachers to our students. Here we share some activity ideas to incorporate improv into your classroom.
Listening Skills: Listening is a crucial skill in improv. When waiting to respond, you must listen carefully to the other person before responding. Otherwise, your response won’t make sense. All too often our students don’t really listen. Instead, they think only about what they want to say, waiting for a break in speech when they can jump in with their opinion. Using improv in the classroom teaches them to listen more effectively.
• Dr. Know It All: An improv game to help improve listening skills. In this game, students answer questions about a topic (pretending to be the expert on the topic), but they only say one word at a time. An example of this game is found here.
Acceptance of Different Ideas and Opinions: Improv uses the technique ‘Yes, and….’ when responding to someone, which means you accept their idea, whatever it is and build on it rather than rejecting it. This technique is a practical way for students to practice accepting others’ ideas and is far more efficient than a lesson or lecture will ever be.
• Actor Switch: An improv game to practice accepting different viewpoints. In this game, students are given a scenario to act out. At some point during the game, the teacher (or another designated student) yells out ‘Actor Switch!’ They switch places in the game and continue with the scenario. An example of this game is found here.
Teamwork: Improv is all about teamwork. Unlike stand-up comedy, improv is built on interactions between a pair or group of people. Students need to learn to work together to create something greater. They learn ways to incorporate a variety of ideas into what they are doing.
• Words on Your Back: Each student in this game has a word on their back (that others can see, but they can’t). They act out a scenario all the while giving clues to each other about their word. The goal is to get all students to guess their word, so they have to help each other. You can view an example here.
Social Skills: We can tell kids all day long to make eye contact, speak assertively, use polite language, and listen to others, but what most students need more of is guided practice with these skills. This is the real gem of improv. It gives students a safe space to practice using social skills, a difficult feat for many students who lack social skills, are shy, have social anxiety, or have simply had bad experiences in the past with social situations. Improv games make learning and help kids break out of their shells when they might struggle to do so in other situations.
• Party Quirks: Theaterish, a blog on drama activities, suggests several improv games that can be used with students of all levels. Party Quirks works well for social skills especially. “Directions: Always a favorite! Party quirks involves 3 characters attending a party invited by a host. Each character has a particular “quirk” that the host doesn’t know. Throughout the scene, the host must try to figure out what each party goers quirk is by interacting and playing in the scene with them. “
Accepting Failure: For some students, ‘failure’ is the real F-word. They want to be perfect at everything and when they aren’t their world starts to fall apart. In improv everyone fails sometimes. Sometimes things turn out strange, and everyone has a good laugh. A little failure is ok, and experience with failure teaches kids to embrace failure as a part of learning.
• Alphabet: This game is one of the trickier ones. It will get students thinking and is probably best for students with good reading skills. Students have a conversation going back and forth starting their sentence with a word from each letter of the alphabet. You can modify this to be just a word in a category (such as animals, foods, etc.) for lower-level students. See an example here.
You’ll find that humor improv will enhance your lessons and make them far more engaging for students. Plus, any humor from the activities is a bonus. We all love a dollop of humor here and there – that’s why we incorporate humor (and improv) into our VideoModeling programs at the James Stanfield Company! Check out the LifeSmart Curriculum to see humorous vignettes on various life lessons, or head over to our First Job Survival Skills page to learn about how we incorporate humor into teaching essential job skills.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.