Drama improvisation ELT games

Ten second object: a bookshelf

Ten second object: a bookshelf

A quick warm up and getting to know you game. Everyone in the room must shake hands with, say “hello” and their name to everybody else within thirty seconds.

As a variation, give a signal for the class to switch between normal and slow motion movement and speech and back again.

Ten Second Object

This is a very popular drama game and a useful technique which can be developed easily towards improvisation or physical theatre. It’s also highly accessible and great fun!

Divide everyone into small groups (4-6). Call out the name of an object and all the groups have to make the shape of that object out of their own bodies, joining together in different ways while you count down slowly from ten to zero. Usually every group will find a different way of forming the object. Examples could be: a car, a fried breakfast, a clock, a washing machine, a fire.

Essence Machines

This activity provides a useful technique for generating physical and aural ideas around a theme. Explain that the group is going to create a “machine” out of themselves. Name a topic and give the participants a few moments to think of a repeating sound and action linked to that theme. For example, if the theme was “shopping” a participant could mime taking money out of a purse to give to a shopkeeper, whilst saying “I’ll have two of those, please.”

Essence machines: at the gym

Essence machines: at the gym

As soon as someone has an idea, ask them to step into the centre of a circle to begin their repeating sound and movement. Ask if somebody else can think of a suitable way to add in their own idea. Gradually, more and more people join in the activity. Some may be linked to existing parts of the “machine”, whilst others may be separate. To continue the example above, someone could join the action by becoming the shopkeeper and saying “Shall I wrap them for you?”, whilst somebody else could be a cleaner in the shopping mall.

You may find that everybody wants to join in the activity, although be careful not to let it go on for too long or get too unwieldy. Once it is set up, the machine can be frozen, then played back at twice or half the “normal” speed. Themes could include: a football match, a meal in a restaurant, folk tales, Halloween. You could have a machine that actually makes something, like chocolate biscuits, school dinners or weather conditions.

  • If using this for language teaching, encourage the use of single words or short phrases instead of a sound

Alphabet Conversation

Have a conversation where each sentence begins with the next letter of the alphabet. This may seem difficult at first, but improves with practice. If you get stuck, you can also use sounds to start a sentence, for example ‘Mmmm’ or ‘tut-tut’. Here is an example:

A: Anyone seen my cat?

B: Black one, with funny eyes?

A: Can’t say I remember.

B: Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten what it looks like?

A: Every cat looks the same to me.

B: Fortunately, I found one yesterday

A: Gee, that’s great!

  • You could also try beginning somewhere in the middle of the alphabet. Then when you reach ‘Z’, return to ‘A’ until you arrive back where you started

  • Try setting the scene or location before you start

  • It’s great for car journeys too!

Catch My Name

A fun way of learning names. The group stands in a circle and begins by throwing a beanbag or bouncing a medium-sized ball, such as a children’s football, across the circle from one person to another. Make sure people are ready to throw and ready to catch. Eye contact is important.

Now, introduce yourself as you throw or bounce the ball across the circle – ‘Hi, I’m Robert’. Once everybody has had a go at that, continue the game but this time say the name of the person that you are throwing to – ‘Jessica to Kelvin’. The group should ensure that everybody receives the ball. One way of doing this is for everybody to hold one hand up until they have caught the ball, or each person folds their arms when they have thrown it.

  • As a variation, the catcher can call out the name of the thrower

  • Ask everybody to call out the name of the thrower

  • More balls can be added in so that it develops into a Group Juggle.

  • Don’t make name games into an actual test – people are less likely to learn names if they feel pressurised. Keep it light and enjoyable

  • A useful adaptation for language learners – use word categories so that each person throwing the ball must say a word in the named category.

Two Truths, One Lie

Highly recommended for getting to know each other in a new group. Tell your partner three things about yourself – two of which are true and one of which is a lie. For example, you might tell your partner about your hobbies, your work, where you live, your family or where you have travelled. Afterwards, your partner tries to guess which was the lie. You might choose to tell three everyday facts or three more unusual things – but remember – only one of them should be a lie. Make sure each person listens carefully to what their partner says!

  • Now introduce your partner to the rest of the group and see if they can guess which was the lie.

  • Alternatively, tell your partner three true things about yourself and then swap over. Now the whole group makes a circle. Each partner introduces their friend to the group – they tell the group two of the true things and make up one lie about their partner.

There Is Only One Liar

A psychological but fun group dynamics game from Augusto Boal. There should be no talking until the exercise is over. The group sits or stands in a circle and closes their eyes. The leader tells them that one person will be selected by a tap on the shoulder. The leader walks around the whole circle, then asks the group to open their eyes. The group members must look around and try to guess who was chosen. They are asked to remember who they decided upon but not to reveal it at this point.

The game is repeated. When everybody has finished looking round, the leader asks them, on the count of three, without talking, to point at the person they thought was chosen the first time. Everybody points. Now, they do the same again for the second time.

Afterwards, members are asked what it was that led them to choose a particular person, for example, the facial expression that person had. Then, on a signal, they are asked to put up their hands if they were touched the first time. They discover that no one was touched the first time. They are asked to do the same for the second time. The group discover that they were all touched the second time. There is only one liar – the workshop leader!


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