Using Improvisational games/activities/exercises can be a lot of fun in the classroom and are great linguistic training opportunities. Most activities in language classes deal with students presenting some kind of pre-thoughtout discourse. The problem with this is that speaking in real life is not as planned. Using Improv will help your students to think on their feet and discuss a variety of situations immediately without translating ideas or writing things down. Here are 6 activities that I created (although I’m sure someone else created them in the past) that I use in my classes.
Tip: Improv is hard stuff and should only be used with students who have a solid speaking base. Most of these activities are only useful for upper intermediates and advanced students. When you first do improv, it will most likely not work that great. Don’t worry, with practice and more exposure, your students will get more comfortable and you will see a tremendous growth in their overall output with other language activities. Do them, they work, are extremely beneficial and are a lot of fun.
1. Blob on the Bench (credit to Tom Hegg my middle school acting teacher)
Prepare a seat in the center of the class where one student sits. He is the Blob. He feels nothing, knows nothing and just sits there. Tell the students to think of a situation (demo this out a bit) and have one of the students come up and interact with the blob. Whatever situation the second student presents, the student who is the blob has to react to it. For example: At the dentist, at a movie, in a car, girlfriend/boyfriend fight, at a psychologist, car wash, restaurant….what have you. Have them go for a bit, and when you feel there is a lag in the output, shout ‘break’. Then the student who was the blob leaves and the new student is now the blob. Another student gets up, interacts with the blob and this continues.
Tip: This is hard stuff for even native speakers. Your students will feel awkward at first about it, but don’t worry. Try interacting with the blob first a few times so students get the hang of it and then let them do it on their own. Once they feel comfortable doing it the first time and it’s a success, you can do this activity whenever you have a couple of minutes to spare in a lesson.
2. Master of Puppets
This deals with TPR (Total Physical Response)
Put your class into pairs. One student is the puppet and one student is the puppet master. The puppet master essentially controls the puppet with language commands e.g. ‘Stand up, walk over to the wall and turn around’. The puppet, has to follow whatever commands the master gives. These commands can be vocal and should include different puppets interacting with each other e.g. ‘Walk over to Tomas, shake is hand and wish him a good day’ ‘Stand on the desk, put your hands in the air and say "I’m the king of the world"’.
After a few minutes, shout ‘switch’ and the puppet and puppet master change roles.
Tip: This can be used with lower levels but probably nothing lower than a solid pre-intermediate level. This is really and easy activity to pull off.
3. Speed Conversations
Put students in groups or pairs depending on class size and tell them that they have to speak about a subject as naturally as possible for a 2 minute period. Yell out a situation/topic and students have to talk about it with each other as naturally as they can. Subjects can be things like gun control, global warming, immigration, Marriage, Sports, Gender roles…etc. If you want to make it more student centered, allow your students to shout out their own topics. Listen and grade the students on how well they sound.
4. Stolen Identity
This is a variation on the ‘Who am I?" warmer, but instead of students asking yes or no questions and guessing who the student is pretending to be, each student assumes the role of a celebrity.
Students mingle with each other and ask questions and give answers about what they do and who they are. You can shout ‘switch’ whenever you want and they have to become another person.
Tip: Push your students to really become the person they are imitating and think of the language and even mannerisms that they would use. If you have an outgoing class, this can be a lot of fun.
5. The BS Artist – or ‘Impostors’ (if you want to be more PC)
Have your students write down what their professions are on a piece of paper. Check them to see if there are any duplicates. Randomly had out the professions to your students so each student has a piece of paper with a profession on it (not theirs). Tell the class that they have to pretend that this is their job and they have to talk about their job to the other students. Have them go into as much detail as possible about it. Who they work with, what they like about it/dislike, what problems they have with, what skills they need to have, what their typical day is…etc. Students mingle with each other and vote on who they felt was the most convincing.
Have three students sit in the front of the class. One student will be his real profession and the other students have to pretend to be that profession. For example three students, one is a real doctor in real life, the other two are pretending to be doctors. The rest of the class is unaware of who is real and who is fake. In the style of the Dating Game, the class will ask each of the students in front different questions about their profession and try to guess who’s the real deal and who are the impostors. When they guess correctly switch groups and another three go up.
General Tips: Improv is a skill in itself and with practice your students will get better. Remember to error correct and improve their output by either writing mistakes down or jumping in fast and eliciting mistakes if you can.
I create unique lesson plans on my blog http://www.teflpragueandabroad.blogspot.com each day. If you want me to create your own lesson plan from scratch, just leave me a message. I’m happy to do any topic or language point for you.
Cheers, Chris Westergaard, The Language House TEFL Course in Prague http://www.thelanguagehouse.net
I would like to know if anybody used the Rainbow game. Do you know what it is about and how to play it?
Thank you so much.
Can you give us any more information on the Rainbow game? Where did you hear about it? In what context?
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