Teaching Improv: How do I help students create specific environments within their scenes?

“My students are very vague when it comes to object and environment work. How do I get them to make more specific choices?”

This is a common problem when teaching beginning improv.

The above video is a great game to play to address this issue. Here’s how it works:

Improv Game: Creating Obstacles

1. Remind students of the importance of “Yes, and” when performing improv.

2. Tell them that this rule doesn’t just apply to dialogue, but also applies to the physical world around them. For example, if someone closes a door, the next player should not walk through the door, they should open it.

3. Brainstorm a list of possible obstacles that could exist in different environments (doors, animals, fences to climb, things to jump over, etc).

4. In this game, two students participate in a slow motion chase scene from an action film.

5. Student A is “chased” by Student B. Student A creates obstacles through pantomime and Student B accepts those obstacles and bypasses them as well.

6. In order for the audience to believe this chase scene, Student A should imagine they are “running” in a real environment that they know. (Imagine your neighborhood, a city block in your town, a local park, the hallways of the school, etc).

7. Allow several pairs of students to have a turn.

Game Debrief: Was it easier to be the chaser or the one being chased? Did you know what obstacles your partner was “throwing” at you? How did you figure them out?

Here a few other options for helping students practice object and enviroment work in their improv scenes:

Improv Activity: Props

1. Bring in a bunch of props to class (broom, phone, keyboard, guitar, etc).

2. Pass out the props and have students play with them for a few minutes.

3. Remove the props.

4. Call students up to the front of class to pantomime an activity using one of the props. The class guesses what the object was.

5. Partner up students and have each student pantomime using an object. Partners should give feedback to each other on their pantomimes.

6. Allow partners to create a scene that revolves around using their objects. Give them time to practice the scenes. Allow them to perform for the class.

Improv Activity: Bedroom Tour

1. Just as in “Creating Obstacles” above, for environment work the goal is to encourage students to think about actual locations that they know.

2. A good exercise is to have them think about their bedroom or another place that means a lot to them.

3. Partner students up. Have each student take their partner on a tour of that place.

4. Be specific as to where things are located.

5. Remind them to think about how many steps it takes to get from one place to another.

6. After they share, they should ask their partner if they can visualize the location.

7. The partner should then be able to give another student a detailed tour of their partner’s location.

Have a comment or suggestion? Leave it below!

This is an adapted excerpt from the book Teaching Improv: The Essential Handbook, a step-by-step guide to teaching short from improv in a classroom setting, written by Mel Paradis. This book will be released on April 1, 2019 at www.bbbpress.com. 

Lesson plans and improv games for kids.

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