Yes, and: Teaching Students to Improvise

By |2018-09-06T19:28:14+00:00February 26th, 2014|

“Yes, and” is a popular improvisation exercise and is a guiding philosophy for the famous improvisation troupe out of Chicago, The Second City.  The organization has created an entirely new aspect of the business called The Second City Communications specifically devoted to corporate training and marketing.  As is stated on the website:

No joke, improvisation is about more than being funny.  The skills our actors need to be successful are the same skills businesspeople need to be successful.  You need to be able to listen, think on your feet, create and innovate quickly, communicate powerfully, and work well in a team when the pressure is on.

Don’t those sound like skills we would like to develop in our students?  The good news is that we can and improvisation is a great way to do it.  “Yes, and” is a great way to get started teaching students about acceptance of others’ ideas and building on those ideas.  A great warmup to “Yes, and” is “Yes, let’s!”

“Yes, let’s!” is a way to physically warm up the body, let students feel the power of making a suggestion and having it be accepted and acted upon by their peers, and give the students practice in accepting the ideas of others.  To begin have all students stand in a circle.  Go around the circle allowing students to take turns giving a suggestion of a physical activity that all students can do (brainstorming a list of possibilities is a good idea the first time you try this to avoid wait time between students).

Set up parameters about use of space (all done in self space) and physical limitations of students (you may be able to do a handstand but I can’t!) as well as a time limit (like having the students count to 5 while they perform the movement).  The first student might say, “Let’s do jumping jacks” and the class responds in unison, “Yes, let’s!”  Students can count to 5 in unison as they perform the jumping jacks.  The next student then offers an idea like, “Let’s be fish swimming underwater” and again the class responds, “Yes, let’s!” and performs the movement while counting to 5 (or repeating “glub” 5 times!).

STRATEGIES BANNER, Teaching Students to Improvise, Education Closet

Once all have warmed up and had the practice of accepting the ideas of others, they are ready to try, “Yes, and.”  The idea of improvisation is that you always accept the premise suggested by your fellow actors and you run with it.  If I say, “I really like those shiny yellow boots you’re wearing” and you respond, “I’m not wearing yellow boots” I and the scene have been halted.  By having the students say, “Yes, and” the students have a built in method of accepting and including ideas offered by others.

Start as a whole class and give the students a role in a scenario.  Perhaps they are architects building a mansion for a famous athlete (“Since he is a basketball player we should build a basketball court” says the first student.  “Yes, and we should build a track around the outside of the court so he can run.”).  Perhaps the students are designing an amusement park for children (“We should build a roller coaster.” “Yes, and it should do loops.”)  As students become familiar with the game you may be able to break them into smaller groups or pairs and give them scenarios to try out or allow them to brainstorm their own scenarios.  These can be as realistic as making plans for after school or as fantastic as planning a voyage to outer space.

Teaching Students to Improvise, Education Closet

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By practicing the simple phrase, “Yes, and” students can learn to cooperate and work as a team, to think on their feet, to spontaneously problem solve, and to gain confidence in their own ideas.  Once they have an understanding of improvisation in theater they may be ready to take on music, visual art and dance.  Go forth and improvise!

4 Comments

  1. Martha Howland Baker July 30, 2014 at 2:16 pm - Reply

    Dierdre,

    Where did you earn your masters in Art Integration? Your degree has spurned my interest and I would love to research this as a possibility.

    Martha

    • susanedcloset July 30, 2014 at 2:17 pm - Reply

      Susan Riley | Arts Integration Specialist
      CEO, EducationCloset.com
      EducationCloset | 742 Charingworth Road | Westminster, MD 21158 | [email protected]
      Check out a whole new way to receive professional development on YOUR terms! http://eclearningstudios.com

    • susanedcloset July 31, 2014 at 11:01 am - Reply

      Martha – Deirdre is traveling right now, but in the meantime, I can tell you that she received her masters from Lesley University and has very positive things to say about that program!

  2. Larissa March 14, 2015 at 4:04 pm - Reply

    Great article! Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    I’ve taught these exercises at youth improv programs I’ve taught and they’re perfect. A favorite of mine to do with them is Boardroom, in which the students are CEOs of a successful company and they create the next biggest product. Students give ideas of add ons to a once simple object, and students celebrate each idea that presents itself. In the end, they’ve all worked together to create a fantastic product (complete with slogan and chosen celebrity for endorsement).

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