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Improv to Write

Are your young writers stumped when faced with a blank page? Spark their creativity with these improv exercises.

  • Grades: 1–2

Inspire your drama kings and queens

101 Movement Games for Children: Fun and Learning With Playful Moving 
by Huberta Wiertsema. $14.95.
Get kids moving and learning with noncompetitive games.

Cinderella Outgrows the Glass Slipper and Other Zany Fractured Fairy Tale Plays
by J. M. Wolf. $12.99.
Classic fairy tales get a twist in this lively book.

101 Improv Games for Children and Adults
by Bob Bedore. $14.95.
A theater veteran dispenses invaluable advice on the art of improv for all ages.

Improv Ideas: A Book of Games and Lists
by Justine Jones and Mary Ann Kelly. $23.95.
More than 70 games and
lists to boost creativity.

On Stage: Theater Games and Activities for Kids
by Lisa Bany-Winters. $16.95.
Little actors will love the activities in this guide. 

 

Show, Not Tell

How to play: Have kids stand in a circle and tell them to imagine they are each holding a ball. They can decide what kind of ball they are holding: huge, tiny, heavy, bouncy. Then, ask them to hand their imaginary ball to the person next to them in a way that reflects its characteristics (e.g., wide-open arms for a huge ball). Students continue to pass the imaginary balls around until they get theirs back.

Apply it to writing: Body language is useful when applied to writing because it helps to show and not tell. As a group, brainstorm physical actions that show emotions—crying, stomping, raising eyebrows, laughing. Create a list and put it up on a bulletin board or in the writing center, then invite students to write a story using one or more of the ideas.


Set the Scene

How to play: Come up with a simple scenario for a few students to act out. For example, say: “Two of you are riding a city bus to your jobs, and one of you is the bus driver.” Invite another student to enter the scene, and say, “Someone gets on the bus with a pet iguana.” Ask another student to enter the scene and add a twist: “I get on the bus, and the iguana startles me and I scream.” Invite each succeeding student to add to the scene, the more outrageous, the better (e.g., “I hear someone scream and think of Halloween, so I ask the bus driver if we can stop for candy”).

Apply it to writing: Plots need to progress, but it’s sometimes challenging for students to move things along in interesting ways. To help them break away from clichéd plotlines and to encourage collaboration, invite students to write a story as a group. You can “set the scene” by coming up with an opening and then asking each child to supply his or her own twist. The only rule: no violence.


Yes/No/I Don’t Know

How to play: Pair students. Have one in each pair think of a place that both players know. (Places around school work well.) The other partner must try to figure out the mystery place by asking only yes-or-no questions. (If the question can’t be answered, the response is “I don’t know.”) Encourage students to ask specific questions. For example, “Do people eat there around noon?” is better than “Are the walls painted white?”

Apply it to writing: Describing setting is an important skill and can add depth to writing. Have students close their eyes and imagine a place. Ask them to think about details that might go unnoticed. Next, have them write down 10 of those details. Encourage them to include sensory elements like smells and sounds.


Charlie Is Always . . .

How to play: Break students into small groups. Designate one student in each group to be “Charlie.” Another player starts off by saying, “I can’t believe how Charlie is always . . .” and then chooses an activity to comment on, such as chewing gum or sneezing. “Charlie” then pantomimes that activity. The next person says the “I can’t believe” line but adds another activity. “Charlie” must then perform this new activity along with the old one. Continue until everyone has added an activity.

Apply it to writing: Stories that have fully developed characters are infinitely more interesting. Writers often give their characters quirky personality traits to make them unique and three-dimensional. Have students brainstorm qualities about themselves that are interesting or funny, or have them think about unusual traits in people they know. Then ask them to create a fictional character that has one or two of these traits.


Whoosh-Wow

How to play: Find an open space for this activity. Have students stand in a circle, giving themselves some room to move. Invite everyone to put their arms straight up in the air. One person starts the activity by calling “Whoosh!” and swinging their arms sideways toward one of their neighbors. That person calls “Whoosh!” and then either continues the wave in the same direction, or calls “Wow!” and sends it back in the direction it came from.

Apply it to writing: Revising doesn’t have to be challenging. In fact, it can be fun, especially if you’re changing someone else’s story. Read a fractured fairy tale such as Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson or The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka. Next, invite students to pick a familiar book or nursery rhyme and rewrite the ending or change the story’s point of view.


What Did You Say?

How to play: Ask each student to write a sentence. It can be an observation, an opinion, or something they’ve done or would like to do. Next, have students wander around the room and take turns reading their sentences to one another. The person listening should reply, “What did you say?” and make up a sentence that rhymes with the first one. For example: “It’s a sunny day.” “What did you say? It was a funny play?”

Apply it to writing: Have students write another simple sentence and illustrate it. Next, tell them to write a sentence that rhymes with the first and illustrate it. Staple the pages together at the top so that they can be flipped open and displayed. Then, challenge students to come up with five sen­tences and their corresponding rhyming sentences to create a book.


Hot Seat

How to play: One person sits in a chair, or “hot seat.” Another student approaches and gives the child in the hot seat a creative reason to stand up—for instance, “Look out! A tornado is coming!” When the seated child stands up, the second one sits down and is approached by the next student, who might say something like, “Oh, no! Alligator!” Continue until all students have been in the hot seat.

Apply it to writing: Character motivation is important. Understanding why a character does something makes readers have greater empathy and understanding for him or her. Have students fold a paper in half, lengthwise, and write “Action” on one side and “Motivation” on the other. Then challenge them to come up with three actions and a character’s motivation for each. For instance: “Action”—main character runs away when he sees a spider. “Motivation”—he has been afraid of spiders ever since he found one hiding in his shoe.  

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    Writing, Arts and Creativity
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