Why I Teach Improv

Here's an email I just received from a student.  It really doesn't need any more of an introduction.  I am humbled.

Hi Ms.Caudle!

I was wondering when you were going to start off your improv class again, because I had a fantastic and wonderful experience last time, I am eager to join again. I have noticed that there has been a change in myself just from a class like so. I have noticed that I have been more out there, raising my hand more, not afraid to ask questions or for assistance. I finally felt like I was my own person again and back on track with reality. Not only learning the components of improv its self, but learning to understand and support. Most of all to have fun and think off the top of your head. I have made many connections just in such a small class. I actually loved the fact of having a smaller class because not only was it easier to connect, but i felt like I didn't have to impress anyone that would care if i messed up or was being weird. I felt like we were a family. Not like "One big family" like what most people say, but it really felt like my second family on Tuesday and I could release everything on my mind and everything physically also. Not only was it an amazing experience, but _____ and I felt like it was a time to get rid of all the drama and just have fun for about an hour and forty minutes. I would like to thank you for not giving up on me, and starting this class as well. You and this class have changed my life :)

What Are You Doing?

After a holiday hiatus from posting, I'm glad to hop back onto the writing train.  Improvisational theater has taken me on quite a journey thus far this year--from performing with two troupes, to coaching teachers through professional development workshops, to teaching an enrichment class to 5th - 9th-graders, to integrating improv into my own K/1 classroom, I've learned from and delighted in the magic of playing games and telling collaborative stories.  So...that's what I've been doing.  And here's a marvelous game that works for little kids and adults alike: "What Are You Doing?"

As a primary teacher, I tire of the necessity to have my entire class quiet for instructions.  I spend so much of my instructional time and energy waiting for and supporting students in learning how to "focus", that I appreciate the moments in which this silent focus on me is really not necessary.  Reason #1 why I love this game.

Reason #2: It. Is. Hilarious.
"Be a slug."
"Put on lipstick."
"Fly around the room."
Yes, yes, yes.
This afternoon, I delighted in watching my first-graders let their imaginations go wild with this game.  We laughed together, we worked together, and we learned from each other. 

Reason #3: This game allows for substantial differentiation and multiple opportunities for communication and risk-taking.
Some students never did actively join us in the game this afternoon....and that was completely okay with me.  They were allowed to listen in while we had fun, to learn the rules by hearing what was going on around them; they could also finish their seatwork without feeling rushed.
What Are You Doing is a fast-paced game, so if the directions aren't immediately understood, a player can easily be redirected and "get it" the next time around.  It's a great time to remind ourselves about an essential principle of improv: Woo Hoo!  (Embrace failure, learn from it, and move on.)
What Are You Doing requires listening, multi-tasking, providing offers, turn-taking and collaborating with one another.  This wide range of skills is obviously applicable to a variety of subject areas, both academic and social-emotional.

How to Play/What I Did
When three students were finished with their work and their clean-up jobs, I told them they would be the first to learn a brand-new game.  We all gathered together in a small circle, and we did some quick space-object (mime) practice.  I listed some actions, and we all pretended we were doing those things: "Run in place. 
Climb a mountain.
Eat a peanut butter sandwich.  Don't forget to leave room for the sandwich in your hand.  Ooh--grab a glass of milk and drink a big gulp."  Ta da!  Warmed up.

I then explained how the game works:
Player A does some sort of action.
Player B says, "What are you doing?" to Player A.
Player A says another action--something they are not actually doing--as an offer/instruction for what Player B will do.
Player B then does that action.
Player C says "What are you doing?" to Player B.
Player B says a completely new action--something they are not actually doing--as an offer/instruction for what Player C will do.
And so on.

Actual example from today:
Player A is running in place.
Player B: "What are you doing?"
Player A: "Eating potato chips."
Player B pretends to eat potato chips.
Player C: "What are you doing?"
Player B: "Flying."
Player C flies around the room.
And so on.

After warming up with the whole group (which grew from 3-7 students in five minutes...and we just absorbed the new kids and taught them quickly as they joined us), I partnered the kids up so they could each play more and in a new context before the end of the day.  In ten minutes, a group of six- and seven-year-olds worked in two different groupings, were able to move around while playing with language, listened and spoke, and learned/negotiated the rules for a new game. 

I can't wait to play this game with my entire class of K/1 students this week.  Onward!