Reading, Writing and Improvisation


My mom was a school teacher. Growing up, we had a vocabulary card every night at the dinner table. Its  hard to say which I resisted most - eating stuffed peppers or using the new word in a sentence. This week I had a chance to right that wrong inflicted on me. My friend Josephine is an improviser and an elementary school teacher.  We taught a workshop this week for K-6 school teachers. Improv games and activities are a perfect way to teach literacy by applying them to reading, comprehension, vocabulary, writing, even phonics.

Category Die (Bye) is a game where players in a line have to say an item in the chosen category every time a conductor points to them. The conductor alternates players and the audience yells "Die!" or "Bye!" for any mistake - hesitation, repeats, not in the category, anything they like.

Building on her work from Santa Clara University, Josephine and I collaborated on teaching improv games and adapting them to the classroom. It's simple to take familiar games like Category Die (or Bye in the case of kids) keep students attentive and engaged while they learn.

To adapt Category Die for reading you can use categories such as characters, location, objects, and emotions in a story

Almost any improv game can be used or adapted to helping students understand and learn stories, words, and meaning in any book. Many of the kinestetic games will work with younger kids and be a fun alternative for older kids.

Story Book Tableau -  read a page from a picture book, and then let a group of students create a tableau that shows what happened. After that the picture in the book is shown and you can discuss what was in the picture and what was in the text.

We started out teaching the improv game and then exploring the adaptations. After just a few games the teachers started describing the ways they would use each game in their own classes. We accomplished out primary goal for the workshop - give them some concrete tools to go back and use at the beginning of the school year, from the first day of class.

What comes next? The next workshop will build and expand the improv toolbox they can use with their students. The possibilities are endless, because each game provides a frame that you can use with many different kinds of content.

As an adult, I can appreciate the benefits my mom being a teacher.  Now, it's my turn to teach as an improv coach and mom has already taken her first improv class.  ( I still don't like stuffed peppers though. )

Q: What improv game could you adapt to teach someone at work, at home, or at school?

A: Leave a comment below with the answer - I'd love to know.