Improv Games to Focus Your Students
Andrew Ash is the newest member of the Behrman House team. When he’s not leading our staff in improv games, he’s busy creating digital learning apps.
Improv games are a captivating way to focus students’ energy and attention. They may arrive at school zoned out or tired, or bursting with motion and need to move their bodies, or distracted with thoughts about some Instagram post.
Improv games bring students to the NOW, to the present moment. Improv games can be a fun transition to your learning environment, in as little as 5-10 minutes, to focus students before diving into your lesson. Or try a longer 30-50 minute session once a year as an icebreaker, as a nice transition back into school.
If you’ve never led improv games before (and most people have not), a great place to start is the lesson plan in How to lead a level 1 improv class. Here are some game ideas, adapted from Zoomy Zoomy by Hannah Fox.
Purpose: The physical movement of this game gets students out of their heads, and makes a great warm-up.
How to play:
Have everyone stand in a circle, and make sure you have plenty of free space in the room for walking around. Tell the group to secretly choose someone else in the circle to be his or her “angel.” Next have them choose an “enemy.” (I usually ask people to put a hand on hip after they’ve made their choices.) Add a caveat: “These are random choices for this moment – ‘nothing personal!’”
The facilitator explains that at the word “Go,” everyone must walk around and try to keep their angel between themselves and their chosen “enemy” (or else they will be struck by lightning / yirat shamayim).
Afterward, I usually invite people to go up to their “angel” and give them a high five (or hug), then then go up to their “enemy” and give them a high-ten!
Pass the Face
Purpose: Students let down their guard when they can look silly and laugh at themselves.
How to play:
Have everyone stand in a circle. One person starts by making an exaggerated face facing the middle of the circle so all can see (funny, grotesque, shocking, angry, sad, happy, etc.) She then looks to person on her right, who must mimic the face – so for a moment there is a mirror reflection. This second person then turns back to the center, facing the circle, with the face he was just “given” and lets the “mask” transform to something new. Once he feels settled into this new face, he turns to the person on his right and passes on the face.
Zip, Zap, Zop
Purpose: Students create energy among a group and practice making eye contact
How to play:
Have students to stand in a circle. Tell the group to imagine they have a bolt of energy in their hands. They will send the bolt away from their bodies to someone else in the circle by making eye contact with another person and clapping their hands straight out in that person’s direction and saying, “Zip.”
The person who receives the energy chooses to send it to another person in the circle. They should say “Zip” when directing the clap to someone across from them in the circle, “Zap” when sending it to the person on their right, and “Zop” when sending it the person on their left. Encourage students to use their whole body to send energy and to make eye contact. They can send the energy to whomever they want, but the goal is to include all players to go very quickly and keep up a rhythm.
Tips for success
1. Get students to voice how they’re feeling.
After one of these games, ask students “What did that feel like for you?” and give each person up to 1 minute to share. The entire time you’re leading improv games, observe students’ body language and verbal communication. It’s a wonder how varied the response is from different students. I like to do a check-in after games, rather than at the start, because the experience of playing an improv game tends to make students more open to sharing.
2. Get them to make eye contact.
Your students will be amazed how much they can communicate through eye contact. You can’t play one of these games without focus, and physically making eye contact has the effect of focusing their minds too – may it last for the rest of your class!
3. Get them to fail
Learning is full of risks, especially when students struggle through pronouncing syllables while learning to decode Hebrew. Games where we celebrate failure can make it socially acceptable in your classroom for them to take risks and learn something new.
4. Let them succeed
The first rule of improv is “Be Courageous.” Courage is how we choose to respond to fear – by continuing forward anyway.
5. Have fun!
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