Say “Yes, And” to Improv in the Classroom
Improvisation does not just simply entertain and engage students in the classroom, it transforms the way in which educators manage their classrooms. The most important concept in improv is the mantra, “Yes, and...” Classrooms that regularly use improv offer educators a vocabulary that is focused more on building a supportive atmosphere, rather than simply rules and consequences. With the practice of improv, students quickly realize the power they possess. They see their role and responsibility in creating an enjoyable and effective learning environment.
Using improv regularly makes teachers better listeners. Educators spend a lot of time focused on creating curriculum, unit plans, and lesson plans - when carefully crafted plans don't materialize in the way that we expect, it can affect how much we listen to our students. Students have their own background knowledge, learning needs, and stories to share. Focusing on what our students share in the moment can surprise us, but it can be a more effective way of getting students to get from not knowing the material to knowing the material.
Educators understand that behaviors detrimental to academic success may be manifestations of trauma. Improv, with its ability to create a sense of safety and belonging, develop mindfulness and co-regulation, develop empathy and resilience, decrease anxiety and depression and more, creates a trauma responsive environment. It helps students get into a better mental state in which to learn.
Improv engages students simultaneously and values each individual’s contribution, which honors democratic values. The structure built into all improv games allows students to lend their own unique ideas and perspectives to shape the performance. Learning to open up and give of one’s self while concurrently learning to accept the ideas of others who differ from us develops the kind of open-mindedness that educators seek to develop in their pupils.
Building strong classroom communities cannot be done without collaborative learning. Improv does not only offer practice collaborating, but develops the skills necessary for students to engage in successful collaboration. In collaborative improv, they co-create as equals. They learn that they are responsible and accountable to each other at all times. Students learn how to take turns stepping up to speak and stepping down to let others have their say. Communication, attunement, empathy, trust, respect are all exercised.
Most activities in a curriculum require long stretches of time, or the use of technology that can be difficult to access, or prone to failure, but improv games are easily implemented. Improv games can be easily integrated into the classroom, because they are short (30 seconds - three minutes each), require a small space, and engage the whole classroom simultaneously.
The benefits of improv are immediate and sustainable.