How do improvisations work? Role play involves giving students role cards, instructions and time to prepare. Improvisations are more spontaneous. The teacher does not give details or language phrases to use.

  • Improvisations work best if students are given roles and situations and asked to react immediately.
  • Improvisations can be introduced very briefly with a ‘warm up’.
  • Improvisations encourage students to
    • use whatever language they have available to communicate;
    • develop “thinking on your feet” skills and gain confidence in coping with the unexpected;
    • get practice in instigating communication from nothing;
    • focus on getting the message across rather than on repeating dialogues parrot fashion;
    • use their imagination;
    • imagine themselves using the language in real-life situations;
    • be creative with language.

Classroom management

  • In a whole class, put students in a circle with an inner circle of students facing them.
  • After each spontaneous dialogue/situation students sitting in the outer circle move one place to find a new partner.
  • Then call out new roles or situations and say "action".
  • Keep to a non-judgemental director role and do not intervene to correct language or discuss content.
  • Hold feedback at the end. Allow students to feel free during the improvisation phase.

Ways to introduce improvisations

  • Use a song (just listened to, covered recently in class or very familiar to students). For example: She’s leaving home – The Beatles. Give pairs roles (the girl, the mother/father, the boyfriend) and give situations to try out (the night before she left, the parents talking on finding her leaving note, the boyfriend asking her to run away, the telephone call home after a week away).
  • Use a picture and photos of people speaking to each other: vary scenes and pass the pictures around. Focus on a theme, such as all pictures of people in different parts of an airport or social situations. Assign roles so students form a ‘tableau’ if there are a variety of interactions going on in the photo/picture.
  • Use a cartoon with no written dialogue. Students are the different characters and mimic the behaviour and imagine the conversation taking place.
  • Use a video with sound off. Select scenes from a favourite show or film e.g. Friends. Students are assigned roles and act out what they think is taking place.
  • Use a piece of realia: a real object to spark conversation e.g. a train timetable, a bit of English currency and a list of exchange rates, a hat or outfit, a musical instrument, a mobile phone, a menu (students must incorporate these objects as part of their invented dialogue).
  • Use a prop (good with younger learners): a pair of finger puppets, a mask to wear or anything that makes them assume a new personality.
Author: 
Clare Lavery
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