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Observing & Listening in Improv & Life Lesson Plan

Author: Cassie Walker

Year: 2015

Artform: Drama

Subjects: Health, Language Arts

Grade: 4th, 5th

Duration: 45 minutes

Overview: Develop your students’ abilities to listen to others and stay on topic (in and out of school) through improvised scenes.

Standards and Objectives

4TH GRADE UEN 2010 THEATER STANDARD 2, OBJECTIVE 4:
Develop an ability to listen to and observe others before responding in classroom dramatizations.

5TH GRADE UEN 2010 THEATER STANDARD 1, OBJECTIVE 1:
Collaborate to select interrelated characters, environments, and situations that create tension and suspense for informal and formal theatre.
4TH GRADE HEALTH STANDARD 3, OBJECTIVE 2:
Develop skills for building healthy interpersonal relationships.

4TH GRADE LANGUAGE ARTS CCSS.ELALITERACY.SL.4.1.C
Pose and respond to specific questions to clarify or follow up on information, and make comments that contribute to the discussion and link to the remarks of others.

5TH GRADE HEALTH STANDARD 3, OBJECTIVE 1B:
Practice effective communication skills.

5TH GRADE LANGUAGE ARTS CCSS.ELALITERACY.SL.5.1.C
Pose and respond to specific questions by making comments that contribute to the discussion and elaborate on the remarks of others.
Students will listen and observe others before responding in improvised dramatizations.


TEACHING AND TIMELINE

INTRODUCTION

Game: Machines

(10 minutes) Students call out ideas for a theme: “haunted house,” “superheroes,” “ocean,” etc. Choose a theme for the machine from those presented. Call on one student at a time to perform a repetitive action as part of the “machine.” You may side-coach, “find a different level, change the volume, can you show that in a different way, etc.”

Purpose: supporting a common theme, brainstorming ideas Depending on time, your class may create more than one machine.

DEMONSTRATION

Activate Prior Knowledge

(2 minutes) Share an experience where a great discussion has been derailed by a comment that had nothing to do with the topic. (I usually share a story about teaching Kindergarten: “I have a hamster with three legs!”) Ask students if this sounds familiar, and for them to share if this has ever happened to them. Why is it important to respond in conversations using the same topic as the person who is speaking to you?

Extend

(5 minutes) The same rule applies to the stage. If you try to create a scene, but each actor tries to pursue a totally different topic, your scene will be chaos. Today we will practice staying on the same topic by improvising scenes (making them up as we go). This is called “improv,” and many actors do this for a living. Improv is generally thought of as funny, but it doesn’t have to be. Improv is any scene where the actors did not practice or decide beforehand what is going to happen in their scene. They are making it up onstage as they are performing.

Quick Rules For Improv:

  1. Quickly establish characters, setting, and problem
  2. Give information, don’t ask questions
  3. Say “yes!”

(See “Other Information” at the bottom of this lesson plan for more information about each rule and some examples.)

WORK PERIOD

Give Instructions

(5 minutes) Each of your scenes will follow the same pattern:

Four people are in each scene. Two start onstage and establish setting, characters, and a problem (preferably a problem they are both facing together, not a problem with each other). Students 3 and 4 are offstage, listening.

Students 1 and 2 attempt to solve the problem but fail. Student 3 enters and follows the theme, but increases the tension. Student 4 enters and solves the problem.

Good Example:

Student 1: Oh no, brother! We are trapped in a cave-in at the mine!
Student 2: You’re right, brother! Maybe we can dig our way out.
Student 3: Ah! Everyone’s lamps went out, and now we can’t see!
Student 4: Don’t worry, everyone! I know a back tunnel. Follow me!

Bad Example:

Student 1: Oh no, brother! We are trapped in a cave-in at the mine!
Student 2: You’re right, brother! Maybe we can dig our way out.
Student 3: Ah! Everyone’s lamps went out, and now we can’t see!
Student 4: I have a magic unicorn that eats macaroni and cheese!

Performance:

(20 minutes) Students will perform the activity with side coaching from the teacher. Try to choose very competent students to go first to model the activity for the other students, and strategically group other students who may vary in success in this activity.

CLOSURE/SUMMARY

Debrief

(5 minutes) What helped you succeed in improvising your scenes? Lead a closing discussion about how we can apply listening skills to our interactions with others in your class, family, and community.


Try to name specific skills as they happen. For example: “I like the way Marcos waited until Trisha was all the way done with her sentence before he began talking.” Target specific skills your class may be lacking. This activity creates a safe place to talk about needed skills without shaming anyone.
  • What strategies can I use to listen carefully and stay on topic in conversations?
  • What is improv?
Adapt as necessary for students with individual abilities and needs.
  • Characters
  • Problem
  • Setting
  • Improv
  • Listening
The most direct ancestor of modern improv is probably the Commedia Dell’Arte, which was popular throughout Europe for almost 200 starting in the mid-1500’s. Troupes of performers would travel from town to town, presenting shows in the public squares and on makeshift stages. They would improvise all their own dialog, within a framework provided by a set “scenario”.

Credit: http://www.improvcomedy.org/history.html
Observe students in their conversations with one another outside of this lesson, and in your class discussions. Did the skills stick?

OTHER INFORMATION

Quick rules for improv:

  1. Quickly establish characters, setting, and problem
    GOOD EXAMPLE:
    “Hi son! I’m glad you are home from school, but your room is a mess.” We quickly know the relationship between parent and son, where they are, and what the problem is.

    GOOD EXAMPLE:
    “Say, boss, fishing on this lake with you is fun, but it looks like rain is coming.” This gives your scene partner a lot to work with.

    BAD EXAMPLE:
    “Sure is a nice day.” The audience has no idea how these people know each other, where they are, or what they are doing. The scene partner has no idea either. This is muddy and hard to work with.

  2. Give information, don’t ask questions
    GOOD EXAMPLE:
    “Hey, you have a pickaxe! You can get us out of here!”

    BAD EXAMPLE:
    “Can’t you think of a way to get us out of here?” This puts immediate pressure on your scene partner.

    BAD EXAMPLE:
    “Who are you? What are you doing here?” This is lazy and selfish. You are making the other person do all the work. Give, don’t take.

  3. Say “Yes!”

    This doesn’t mean literally say the word “yes.” It means accept the ideas given to you, and run with it. Nothing derails a scene faster than denying what the other person has given you.

    BAD EXAMPLE:
    Jose: “Hey! You have a bird on your head!”
    Sierra: “No I don’t.”

    Cue sad trombone. Their scene has nowhere to go, because Sierra has just squashed the scene Jose was trying to create. Jose’s brain shuts off to more ideas, and the audience feels awkward because the scene they were imagining has been shut down.


    ANOTHER BAD EXAMPLE:
    Deidre: “Hi mom!”
    Alyx: “I’m not your mom!”

    Again, the scene comes to a screeching halt. Just say “yes!” Your partner and your audience will thank you.

    Tip: The best improvisers say “yes, and...” meaning they accept the ideas given to them and then add another idea right onto it.


    GOOD EXAMPLE:
    Luke: “Hey, best friend. I’m sure glad we work together.”
    Weston: “Yeah, best friend. We are going to build the best skyscraper in New York City.”

SUPPLIES, EQUIPMENT AND RESOURCES

  • Just bodies, voices, and imaginations!