Improv in the Classroom: Yes, and. . . .

We are soon to have another actor in the family! My husband has worked in theater for many years so much of our life has revolved around the show-of-the-moment. We can recite dialog from one show or another for almost any occasion. Now we are becoming enmeshed in a different theatrical form, as our nephew is soon to be married to a lovely young woman who works in an improv company. She is talented, creative, and enormous fun to watch. And, needless to say, any visit to family now includes a visit to Mopco as well.

Watching the energy and imagination that flow so freely in the Mopco productions has reminded me, yet again, of the links between improvisation and teaching. It is easy to make a case for good teaching as day-long improvisation, but improv can also be a powerful teaching strategy. The Second City offers ten reasons for teachers to use improv in the classroom, which can be pretty persuasive. Improv can build public speaking skills, encourage team building, help students excel in new ways and support flexible thinking.

“But,” I can just hear you say, “I’m no actor. If I work with improv, I’m going to feel foolish—and probably look foolish as well. And besides, who has time for theater games when there is a curriculum mountain to manage?”

Good points. But what if improv can help you and your students manage the curriculum mountain in new ways? Improv does not have to be separate from the content you are teaching; it can support it. And you don’t have to be Robin Williams. Just be a teacher. You improvise every day of your teaching life!

And the truth is, improv incorporates some of the most important supports for teaching and learning. Improv allows students to use content in novel ways using multiple perspectives—basics for learning for understanding. Improv can build relationships in the classroom, using a playful attitude and acceptance of missteps—basics for creativity. And, of course, improv can help students become engaged with content—what more could we want?

If you are intrigued, here are a few ways to start.

Lauren Brown West-Rosenthal offers “5 Brilliant Ways Anyone Can Use Improv in the Classroom.” Give the site a moment. I had to try a couple times to get it to load.

You can find some basic improvisation games in this brochure.

Or you might try some of the techniques for integrating content with improve offered by Ronald Berk and Rosalind Treiber in their article on improvisation in college teaching. Many of their strategies can be used beginning in elementary grades. For example, they suggest having students build a “story” around course content, one word or sentence at a time. In their example, students started by listing vocabulary around five categories of wellness (physical health, social health, etc.) A group of student volunteers builds the story based on a theme devised by the group—in this case “Stressed Out College Students.” You can then debrief the experience, both about the process and about how the story reflected the content being studied. After some experience with the process, a similar activity could be done with multiple small groups.

If you’d like to introduce principles of improvisation to older (teenage) students, here’s a lesson plan.

If you’d like to know more, crank up your favorite search engine and explore. You might look for suggestions using the “Yes, and….” technique. It is an improvisation basic, and a good attitude adjuster for a working toward a growth mindset culture. Want to try improv in your classroom? Yes, and…..

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