Improv games for the drama classroom
Updated: May 20, 2021
It takes time for a teacher to build up a class to get them comfortable with improv but it is well worth the effort. Here's some improv games, activities and terminology to get your teen drama classes firing.
Improv (or improvisation) in theatre terms is 'acting on the spot' or 'acting without preparation or rehearsal'. It is sometimes called spontaneous improvisation and 'spontaneous' performance is what improv is.
Improv is synonymous with theatre games and some well known improv theatre games include things like party quirks, bus stop, hitchhiker, space jump, understudy and the games you may have seen on Whose Line is it Anyway performed on the spot.
Improv in the drama classroom
There is a skill to good improv performance and it can take time for a teacher to build up a class to get them comfortable and free with improv games. And the more comfortable and free they are - the better the improv will be.
Good improv in the drama classroom requires:
Time and practice: unless they are seasoned actors, no class will be great at improv right from the start. It takes time and practice.
Freedom and confidence to be silly: This comes with time and practice but it also comes with students feeling open and free to express themselves in the drama classroom environment. Good improv is about risk taking - and students need to feel comfortable and free to be able to take creative risks and put themselves out there even in a silly way. If you are working with teens, you are also working with children at the stage of their lives when they are naturally self and socially conscious. I suggest using energy release whole class circle games like Primal Screams, Exaggeration Circle, Acceptance Circle and Look Up Look Down.
Confidence in dialogue and storytelling: Good improv is about making and accepting offers with dialogue. Creating dialogue spontaneously is a scary thing and I find students feel safer and more free to do so when they start with and are comfortable with partially scripted or prompted group performances (where they get to go away in a group and create a scene together - not on the spot with an audience). This also starts them thinking about ideas generation in a less confronting way, it also allows groups to be allocated with confident students and encouraging quick storytelling decisions increases improv skills which transfer over. I suggest group scene creation activities like Opening Line Scenes, Odd Inventions or Prop Scenes.
Working together: The more trust there is in the class, the better the improv will be. I like games like Living Pictures, Body Hide and Human Knot which promote the class working together.
Fun: Improv is fun and the class should have fun together. I like the following fun games to build a fun class atmosphere: If you love me honey and Bippity Bop.
Audience involvement: Good improv in your class happens when the whole class is involved in the performances. I like the audience involvement game Job Interview which also helps starting the process of ideas generation for characters.
Beginner improv games and activities: You should start with beginner improv games and activities and I suggest the improv games What are you Doing? Space Jump and the scene creation activity Dramatic Deaths (moving into Death in a Minute once your students improv skills improve). I also like The Argument Game which is played in a circle and Group Freeze Frames.
How to incorporate improv into your curriculum
I would start by bringing in the improv games and activities above for warm ups, wind downs or as end of lesson scene creation activities. You may also like the Introduction to Drama Unit which introduces students to improvisational drama games and activities teaching accepting, offering, blocking, building and endowing (plus other drama skills) and is structured in a way and with activities to build basic drama and improv skills.
Key improv terminology for teens
There is a lot of improv terminology that I have not included as it is for more advanced improv and I am focused on building improv skills within the school drama classroom (for a more advanced improv glossary, see Hoopla). The following is the key basic terminology that I think is useful for teenage students to understand and will help build improv skills:
Offer: An offer of an idea for the scene. This may be an offer relating to a characters characteristics (e.g. I think I've broken my leg) or a scenario or point of action offer (e.g. 'that car is coming straight for us' or 'do you want to go to the movies?) - which is an idea to continue the scene.
Accepting: As the name suggests, this is where you accept an offer within an improvisation and run with it.
Alternative Offer: This is where students do not 'block' an offer but make an alternative offer to progress a scene. There is a fine line between making an alternative offer and blocking and it should not be a method that is used other than sparingly.
Blocking: The opposite of accepting. This is where someone rejects the offer or idea for the scene.
Building: Related to 'accepting' where an offer is built upon within a scene - or the idea is expanded.
Endowing: Endowing is an improvisation technique where you give (offer) characteristics (personality traits, attitude, mood, physical attributes, scenario) to another character during a scene. It is basically giving the other person (or player) information about their character or the scene that they can accept into the scene and run with.
I think it is good to discuss this terminology with your students as they create improv performances (for example, after a scene commenting on a 'good offer' or 'good acceptance' etc.)
Some improv games you may like
Here's some improv games that I like to play in the drama classroom. All of these games are also included in the Free Drama Games PDF which you can download HERE!
Some more improv games you may like
And now that your class is ready for improv, you can find more improv games and activity suggestions and instructions in my drama and improv card sets alongside prompts ready to print and go. Some of the improv games you will find are listed below.