Modifying and Building

As someone who used to teach middle school students, it has been quite an adjustment to find games and activities to engage and support the needs of beginning-of-the-year Kindergarteners.  However, I am committed to bring earlier and more consistent improv experiences to my K/1 class this year.  The answer?  Adjust it, baby!

One of the most commonly played theatre games in classrooms is Sound Ball.  When it works best, the game moves quickly and involves all players.  It should encourage spontaneity, freedom, and silliness.  Because it's not language-based, all can be engaged--regardless of their mother tongue.

I have found this game to be challenging with groups of young (or seriously guarded) players because they can become confused...and because it often takes too long and feels contrived and exhausting.  Waiting for the next sound can feel like an eternity, and sometimes folks get left out.  Just thinking of a sound can become stressful for some students.

I love learning from my colleagues and from my students, and I turn to both groups when I'm looking for ideas.  My daughter is in Kindergarten in my colleague's class--just across the way from my classroom.  On the first day of school, I asked her what she enjoyed most.  I was impressed to hear her description of a modified version of Sound Ball, a game I had just taught to our staff at our retreat two days earlier.  Ms. Damico had invented Alphabet Ball, a game in which each child said a letter as they threw an imaginary ball to another student, and then they sat down in the circle when their turn was over.  I loved how this simplified version of the game allowed all students to understand its structure, and I decided to modify her modification to meet my own needs.

My first version morphed into Name Ball.  I basically took Lisa Damico's Alphabet Ball structure and had kids say their own names instead of a letter.  I am often reminded of the power of repetition.  Learning to play the game takes a few tries for four-to-six year-olds.  We're now timing ourselves and seeing if we can beat our last record.

As I began to introduce Sound Ball, I realized some kids always made the same sound...or that they might appear to be stressed when having to come up with a sound on the spot.  As a new modification and warm-up, I asked the kids to make sounds in unison.  It went something like this:
"On the count of three, make a silly sound."
"Make a loud sound."
"Make a scary sound."
"Make an animal sound."
"Make a cute sound."
"Make a happy sound."
To support the class in coming back into control, I taught them a conducting gesture to indicate "silence now."
It was amazing to see the transformation in our playing of Sound Ball after using the group sound warm-ups.  We collectively shared ideas and built confidence.

Tomorrow, I hope to do a classic mirroring activity for our class meeting--something I didn't try until the end of last school year.  I'll report back soon.  Happy new school year!

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