Continuing with writing ‘braindumps’ versus composing organized posts: today I’m going to just list the games/exercises I used in each class, with some commentary on effectiveness/response/etc.
The kids class (8yo+)
1. Free Association Circle
I really, really like doing this (seated) to start a class. Usually while kids are waiting for class to start, they go apeshit. That’s not a bad thing since they’re associating having fun with the class (win) but it does increase the need to get them in the right frame of mind at the start. Sitting down makes a huge difference for focusing their energy.
Now as much as I exhort them to maintain a rhythm, it doesn’t happen. Next class I’ll try keeping a rhythm physically and see how they do (definitely not clappng, that’ll get too loud in a jiffy).
2. Zip Zap Zop
The classic beginner’s game that still requires direction with youngers since some of them get distracted easily. While I like them to go with variants (like zippity zappaty zoppoty), this week it got unfocused really quickly. Next class I’m going to direct them to stick with the basics and work towards speed.
3. Introductions & Applause
Easy & fun – and a way for the kids to perform a little bit on their own terms. What’s amazing is how loosely precise the kids are when repeating something. In my adult classes, if someone demonstrates opening a door, 90%+ of us do it the exact same way. Kids? Not so much. Sometimes walking 10 feet to the where the door is supposed to be is just too much. But it’s not about getting them to do things exactly so much as them getting comfortable performing in general.
4. Alliterative Introductions
This was a request from one of my younger students, which was nice. Normally I wouldn’t do two similar introduction-oriented exercises but who wants to turn down a kid asking for an improv game?
I have seen that some kids are extremely self-critical in this game. They adjectives they find to alliterate with their names tend to be negative, hyper-critical or dour. These are rare instances where I do (technically) ‘block’ the students, advocating for them instead. They have difficult times accepting a positive adjective and I offer alternatives until they accept something that doesn’t connote that they’re stupid or not good in some way.
5. Bomb & Shield
Kids LOVE this game. The hardest part is to keep them from running like mad, which just ends up with them all running around in one line. So it’s important to make clear before starting the game to Not Run. Because it’s an intuitive game, kids who are not paying attention to both their bomb & shield are easy to spot (and thus guide them towards focusing on both their people).
6. I Do This at My Mom’s House
This is a fun game invented by my improv teacher, Patrick McInnis. He got the idea when his kids returned from their mom’s house and the inevitable Mom lets me do ____ ensued.
Everyone stands in a circle, one person starts chanting I do this at my mom’s house and miming an activity. Everyone else chants with them while copying the activity. After 3 chants the player points to someone else & yells What do you do at your mom’s house? This continues until everyone has had a turn. Some kids (usually the ones who are hyper critical) will try an activity like sleeping or dying. Gentle reminders to just have fun with it
7. Finger Puppets
A simple exercise in solo robot scenes where students make their fingers talk to each other for 3 lines. It’s a low pressure way to get them to improvise a little – and prepare them to do the same with a partner.
8. One Word Story
A favorite of mine as it requires both listening & working together. It’s also a great way to illustrate how every word, even simple ones like a/an/the/and/etc are necessary for a cohesive whole. This relates to scenes where not everyone will be the focus and we can do our best to make our partners look good.
I like to end class with a fun game and Bang! is a favorites. Frankly, I love the game too so I play with the kids 🙂
The teen class (13yo+)
1. Stretch & Share
I love doing this in my adult classes and I would never ever ever do it with teens (or younger) again. They have no clue wtf ‘stretching’ is. So they’re doing undefined, sort of stretchy things, which apparently difficult to do while speaking. And it’s also difficult to listen while making feeble attempts at mimicking whatever the speaker is sort of doing. This was not the exercise that I thought would fall completely flat, I should always start with a Free Association Circle.
2. Free Association Circle
3. Word Ball
This an easy one to segue too from a free association circle. It’s just continuing the same concept of association except making it more active with one person ‘tossing’ a word to another. I need to incorporate a physical rhythm (like patting your leg) into this as the kids tend to either 1) pause & think of who to pass a word to and 2) some kids have to make a big deal about making the pass, which both slows things down and distracts the others. Clearly getting them all to work together as one is going to take some time and I’m already wondering if a performance at the end of the semester is too much to hope for.
4. Red Ball
This is the first time I used it in a class and this is going to be a weekly occurrence. One needs to communicate clearly, both by making eye contact and enunciating (quite a few pronounce bowl and bull almost the same). Next time I’ll make it a little easier by not adding a red bull to it (maybe red shawl or something else). I would not try this at all with younger kids, though.
5. If That Wasn’t Enough…
This was a fun exercise that I would do again, though maybe switch from circle to a line. The premise is simple: heighten a situation, one person at a time. Inevitably, someone just has to make the subject of the story die in some way, because some of these kids are obsessed with death. That’s a good time to start another story though.
6. Word Express
This time I tried two lines meeting for Word Express and this was a bad choice to follow up Red Ball. They’re all hyped up and no one is listening to their peers playing the game. I should have recognized this & moved on to something different but instead I moved on to
7. Questions Only
This went as well as Word Express and stuck with both the last two exercises too long. Thus I missed what I wanted to end the class with, Freeze Tag. Note to self: choose better exercises after ramping up the energy, especially ones that don’t involve waiting.
This is good game when there isn’t a lot of time and works on both listening & quick thinking skills. Continuing the theme from the previous two exercises where people weren’t listening, the game ended quickly because answers were not heard & repeated multiple times.
Note to self: start the next class discussing listening & respect – and choose a better sequence of games.