Here's 5 superb improv games that were favorites when I was teaching high school speech and drama.
They're great exercises combining learning about mental flexibility, focus, communication, concentration, body language and empathy, with good fun.
Try them as icebreakers or warm-ups - quick fire activities to get your class or group focused and ready for work.
Be warned - the first two are riotously noisy!
You'll need a hall or a gymnasium to play this one as it needs a largish space. The game always worked well for me regardless of age group. It's a load of loud fun!
The key is in the silence before calling, and then in split second reactions. The team tagging runs straight ahead toward their partner but the team to be tagged must turn around before they run.
Make sure no one stands too close to their partner. The two meter space between the lines must be there before calling the name of the team that tags.
You'll be amazed by how many players get confused and bewildered and run in the opposite direction!
After they've got the exercise sorted, flummox them completely by calling another animal or word beginning with H for example, horse, hippo, or heffalump.
Change the names the next time you play to Rabbits and Roosters and then call Raddish!
You'll find this game an excellent icebreaker for groups of 5 players plus. It encourages bold, exaggerated responses without judgement.
And now for 3 quiet improv games:
This exercise is borrowed from mime, best done in a hall, is good for people of all ages and for maximum impact needs to be done in silence.
I'm sure you're familiar with the saying, but have you actively tried copying exactly how another person walks? This is a fascinating, illuminating exercise enabling a glimpse into what it is really like to be in another person's shoes.
Participants will discover what it feels like to go through the world for example, with their head down, with rounded shoulders, head up, without lifting their feet ... Whatever is observed in their partner they will attempt to copy.
'Walk As' is great for observing where weight is carried, which part of the body leads, and what emotional/mental shifts occur in the second person to accommodate the walk of the first. It takes HUGE focus to do it well.
Change partners several times to have your group experience being in a variety of other people's shoes.
Have a feedback round to finish.
This game The Naming of Things is brilliant for concentration or focus and only works if each person is thoroughly in the 'now'. It makes us aware just how deeply embedded our associations with words are!
Tell your class to walk authoritatively around the work space naming everything they see as something other than what it is. They must point to the object as they declaim its new name.
Example: 'A' sees the floor, points while loudly exclaiming 'dog'.
When they get proficient do the exercise with a drum beat to set a walking pace. Strike 1-2-3-4 and then pause in which the class names something as something else and then pick up the beat again.
For variation try - faster and slower beats plus varying the number of beats between the pauses.
This is another of those improv games borrowed from mime and therefore is best done in complete silence.
When I played it if there was any verbal communication, the group had to begin again!
You're going to tell your class to line up according a range of differing criteria.
Start with obvious physically observable criteria for example, from smallest to tallest, or shoe size and then move to more difficult ones, for example, lining up alphabetically according to the first letter of their middle name, or by birthday (date and month).
Allow about 3-4 minutes to complete the task and tell them to sit down in order when they're satisfied they've got it right. You then check the results.
There will be bad mime in all directions but it's a great exercise for focus!
Even though these are essentially drama exercises, I think they are a useful addition to teaching public speaking. The line between the skills required for either is very blurred. Both share performance in front of an audience as an end goal. A good public speaker needs what these improv games offer: an awareness of body language and non-verbal communication, while developing concentration, mental agility and flexibility, confidence and empathy.
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Make your speech class fun too.