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Using Improv in the ELA Classroom

    using improv in the ela classroom

    Learn the many benefits of using improv with your students, including the essential skills it builds. Then, explore the list of my favorite games and choose a few to try in your classroom.

    While improv has been responsible for laughter for quite some time, it’s recently found its way into the classroom – And I could not be more excited. Improv is an effective and engaging teaching tool perfect for shaking things up when your lessons feel stale.

    If you’re considering using improv in the ELA classroom, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading to learn the whys and hows of bringing improv into the classroom. By the end, you’ll have some great improv ideas that your students will love.

    Thinking of Using Improv in the ELA Classroom? Here’s Why You Should.

    There are numerous ways to incorporate improv in the ELA classroom. Regardless of how you do it, you’re sure to experience great results, encourage deeper thought, and have a few laughs along the way. Overall, improv games encourage students to demonstrate, explore, and expand their comprehension of content by creating new (and often hilarious) material.

    Sure, it’s silly, but improv helps students build essential skills. It also fosters participation, motivation, and engagement from students who might feel intimidated or disengaged by more traditional academic tasks. Therefore, if you’re looking for a quick and easy activity that involves little planning on your part while still having a significant impact, improv is the way to go.

    The Benefits of Using Improv in the ELA Classroom

    There are more benefits to improv than you might think. For example, when engaging in improv as a review activity, students must tap into their prior knowledge to bring a scene to life. Additionally, the creative and critical thought involved in improv requires a deep understanding of everything from vocabulary to characters. Therefore, improv helps unlock new skills and levels of learning while engaging students in some good old fun.

    When it comes to the benefits of improv in the classroom, many people focus on the 4 ‘C’s:

    • Creativity
    • Critical Thinking
    • Collaboration
    • Communication

    Additionally, improv is about listening and acceptance. It builds community and sparks inspiration. It boosts students’ confidence in public speaking and overall participation. And, thanks to the games’ shorter-length and low-stakes nature, students can engage in the activities without the stress they may associate with more formal or traditional activities.

    Fun Games for Using Improv in the ELA Classroom

    There are so many improv games out there. However, here are some innovative improv games to  help you engage students in a new, fun way:

    1. Character Bus

    This is an easy improv game perfect for beginners. To start, set up two rows of chairs (or desks) to simulate a bus. Starting with the driver, students get on the bus one by one, each with a particular (often exaggerated) character trait. Everyone else on the bus takes on that trait until the next character boards.

    This is a fun game for characterization. When you’re done reading a novel, have students choose a particular character to “take on” as they get on the bus. After you play, you can debrief by having students justify their choices for each character.

    2. Park Bench

    Similar to character bus, this game is all about characterization. Begin with one person sitting on the “bench.” A second person joins, engaging the other person in conversation. Eventually, the first person comes up with an excuse to leave, opening a seat on the bench for another person to join. While it only involves two students at a time, each round is quick, allowing several students to sit on the park bench.

    This game is fun for students to get into character and imagine how different characters would engage with one another. Try playing this game at the end of the year, inviting students to use characters they’ve encountered throughout the year. It’s always fun to see how they imagine characters from different stories interacting with one another.

    3. Around the Campfire

    This game makes for an entertaining vocabulary review. Have your students sit in a circle, each with a list of the vocabulary words you’re reviewing. Then, have them go around the circle, creating sentences that correctly incorporate the vocab words word by word. To make it more difficult, challenge your students to develop a story sentence by sentence. The twist? Each sentence must incorporate a vocab word.

    To add an element of text review, simply have students summarize or retell the story while incorporating the vocabulary words. I promise this is way more fun than your classic “ask and answer” style review.

    4. Count Your Words

    This is a quick game that is perfect for emphasizing word choice. It forces students to think on their feet while responding to prompts in a few words. Begin by setting the limit of words (I recommend anything from six to ten). Then, open the floor for discussion by asking students creative prompts. It can be anything from “What is the best superpower?” to “What’s your biggest fear?”

    If you’re in the middle of a persuasive or argumentative unit, challenge students to support or oppose an opposition while staying within the word count. However you go about it, this activity causes students to think on their feet and consider which words have the biggest impact on supporting their idea.

    5. Whose Line

    There are so many ways to incorporate this silly game into your classroom. However, they all require the same premise. Write a variety of lines from a text on little pieces of paper and toss them into a hat. Students begin a scene during which, at some point, you require them to pull out a line from the hat. Upon reading the line, the student must find a way to incorporate their new line into the scene.

    One fun way to have students participate is to have them choose lines from a novel to add to the hat. Then, invite two or three students to reenact a scene from the story. While the lines might be a perfect fit, it’s usually not the case, requiring students to think on their feet as they attempt to stay in character and keep the scene going.

    6. Dinner Party

    Students love this game, whether playing or watching from their seats. Begin by selecting a student to be the dinner party host before sending them out of the room as you select their party guests. Have students work together to assign each guest a unique character trait or persona. Upon bringing the host back in, have the guests arrive one by one, without directly revealing their identity. Instead, the host tries to figure out who is who as they mix and mingle with their guests.

    Like many of the other games, this is a great way to get students thinking about characterization. You can have each party guest take on the persona of a literary character you’ve read in a particular novel or over the course of a unit or year. Talk about a creative review!

    7. Advice Panel

    Challenge students’ understanding of characterization by engaging them in the advice panel activity. For this game, choose three students to take on the role of particular characters. Then, have students pose questions to those students in character. Each advisory panel member must give their best advice from their character’s perspective. This is a fun way to get students to transfer their knowledge of characterization away from a specific plotline.

    The best part about this game is that everyone can be involved. Students in the audience will have fun asking for everything from breakup advice to tips for success in school. It’s always fun to see what the characters have to say! Switch it up by rotating the students on the advice panel every few questions.

    Ready to Use These Games in the ELA Classroom? Review the Rules

    Before you dive into the fun games, there are a few essential steps to take first. Remember, for many of your students, this could be their first exposure to improv. Therefore, there are a few foundational elements you want to lay out to aid in their success – and fun. These rules will ensure your students can get the most out of your improvisational activities in class:

    • “Yes and,” is one of the primary rules of improv. In other words, no denial allowed. Also referred to as the rule of agreement, this rule allows creativity to flourish. Therefore, instead of rejecting an idea, you have to go with it. Even better? Build upon it. This teaches students to think quickly and creatively while also engaging in critical thought as they must think outside the box to keep the scene or game going.
    • Always strive to make your partner(s) look good. Improv is a collaborative effort. That means no one student is the star of the show. Instead, they must work together, listening and communicating to achieve success. With that said, this rule helps promote a strong classroom community.
    • In improv, there are no such things as mistakes. Instead, it’s all about acceptance and moving forward, even when things get (often comically) chaotic. Not only does this encourage students to embrace taking risks, but it promotes creative and critical thought. Students work on rebounding from “mess ups” and keep the game going. Honestly, I find this one of the most sneakily powerful aspects of using improv in the ELA classroom, especially for students who fear failure.

    Finally, before you begin, encourage them to have fun.

    While it might take your students a try or two to feel comfortable and get on board, it’s worth it. Improv has a special way of engaging students while promoting and practicing essential skills – all while stirring up a few laughs. Trust me. Improv helps to establish a classroom culture fueled by creativity and collaboration. One where students are encouraged to take risks and try new things. You won’t regret giving it a try.

    And while you might even feel a bit self-conscious or uncomfortable at first, you’re more qualified than you think. I honestly can’t think of a profession that improvises more than teachers. (Think about that.)

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