Debriefing, Part Two: A Structure for Debriefing

Whether at the end of a stand-alone game, in the midst of an improv workshop, or after a series of activities, debriefing with the group is an essential component to integrating improvisational theater into the classroom.  While my last post addressed the reasons for processing with students, this section will outline the logistics involved in structuring these discussions.

Physical Structure
When I teach using improv, I always debrief sitting in a circle with nothing in-between us.  That's right--I feel strongly that having desks, books or folders in front of students obstruct them from directly connecting with their fellow players.  To develop a community of learners, an ensemble, I create an environment in which we are all sitting at the same level (all in chairs or all on the floor) and have no distractions or barriers between us.  In establishing this seating pattern as a routine step, my students know that Sitting on the Floor In a Circle = Processing Time.  Even 7th and 8th-graders can handle sitting on the floor; once you establish it as an expectation, they will embrace it as a part of your culture.

How Long to Debrief? 
Well, that all depends on the game(s) you're debriefing, your focus, and how long you'd like the conversation to run.  I've facilitated one-minute processing sessions, and I've guided and participated in 45-minute-long debriefing marathons.  It all depends on your goal as the teacher...and your class's focus and engagement as an ensemble.

Conceptual Structure*
Processing with your class will work best if you have a FOCUS, or objective, for your game or workshop.  Of course, any good teacher knows that an excellent lesson begins with a defined objective.  The same is true for improv--whether it's a class taught on the stage or an integrated lesson in the classroom.
Your learning objective (academic or social) will guide your facilitation of the processing discussion:
1) Ask the players to make observations-- "What did you notice?"  "What happened?"
2) Ask the players to personally react to the experience-- "How did it feel to...?"
3) Ask the players to make connections between the improv activity and another area of the curriculum, personal goals, or social interactions.  "How is this a metaphor for...?"  "How is this like...?"  "How can we use this experience to help us understand...?"
4) Ask the players how this activity might inspire change.  "What are you going to do differently next time?"

When teaching primary students, I often focus on the first two of these areas, and I certainly don't cover all of them for every workshop.  If it's a quick game, I'll often focus on observations or connections as a brief response.  However, I am consistently blown away by the insight and complexity of students' understanding when discussing the experiences, applications and impact of these games.  As much as our play brings smiles to our faces, our conversations about the meaning behind the play inspire deeper learning and stronger relationships.

Ever onward!

* Thanks to Cheryl Gould for her informative, engaging presentation about debriefing at the Applied Improv Network SF Bay Area Regional Meeting in December, 2010.  I've blended my approach and her ideas for this blog post...and for my future work in guiding sessions with students and teachers.

Up Next: Strategies for Supporting Equity in Debriefing Sessions


  1. great approach about debriefing...I love this post and your blog overall...thanks for sharing with us!!

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  3. it is a difficult subject but with your explanation easy to understand.