• IMPROV e English Team

Improvisation Theatre or Improv

Updated: Feb 18, 2021

Improvisation Theatre or Improv

What is Improvisation theatre?

Improvisation theatre is often call as Improv. It is based on performing of a group of actors and actresses in front of an audience without a screenplay or without any other script saying what they need to do or say. The actors are just improvising on the topics or inspiration taken from the audience. The Improv actors are usually performing in a form of games (short or long forms of them). Each game has its own rules to follow, which gives some opportunities for actors and actresses to develop the action.

The actors and actresses on the stage are improvising and building stories of their characters in different places developing a main plot of an action. They are using their body language and words to build the atmosphere and take the audience to the world of the improvisation theatre.

Improv and education?

Why improvisation theatre and education are connected?

This question could pop up in our mind why we should connect theatre and especially improvisation theatre with education. One of the most important reasons are the principles of improv and atmosphere which the mentioned build. The improvisation theatre enable actors to develop their soft skills as communication, self-esteem, public speaking, solving the problems, self-development, courage to share the ideas, listening to the partner and focusing their attention on whats now.

All students get to express themselves creatively, to play together, to have their ideas honored, and to have their mistakes forgiven (Koppett, 2001). Improvisational techniques, sometimes referred to as activities, exercises, or games, are tools that can be added to any existing set of teaching strategies. They can increase students’ awareness of problems and ideas fundamental to their intellectual development. Disciplined improvisation provides instructors with a way to conceptualize creative teaching within curricular structures (Sawyer, 2004). [1]

The Ronald A. Berk from The Johns Hopkins University and Rosalind H. Trieber from Towson University describe in „Whose Classroom Is It, Anyway? Improvisation as a Teaching Tool” the seven principle of improvisation theatre:


In order for a group to be successful and productive, the members of the group, referred to as “players,” must to be able to trust one another.


This is the “Golden Rule” of improvisation (Gesell, 1997). Players must be willing to accept a new idea in order to explore its possibilities—not just say “yes,” but have an attitude of “yes, and . . .,” meaning, “I accept the offer to improvise (using ideas, words, or movement) and must build on it.” In other words, players must say yes, accept the offer, build on it, contribute, and discover new ideas. It is this process that harnesses the power of collaboration. Each team member is responsible for contributing to and support- ing the group’s activity. The brainstorming that occurs can lead to innovative solutions (Koppett, 2001).

Active listening.

Players must be aware of the partners with whom they are co-creating in order to increase their understanding of each other and to be able to communicate effectively.

Spontaneity. Players co-create in the moment, without the opportunity to revise. Each player is motivated by a positive purpose and desire to delight. Spontaneity allows players to initiate words and actions, building trust with the other players (Keefe, 2002). Players must suspend any critical judgment or spirit about what others say.


Players develop the ability to create a collaborative narrative that connects their dialogue through a story. This process often results in memorable content.

Nonverbal communication.

Players use facial expressions and body language to help communicate attitude, character, and trustworthiness.


Warm-ups are structures that provide an opportunity to develop trust and safe environments, where players can feel free to explore through “contentless” games and frames. It is similar to bantering with students to develop rapport. Warm-up activities focus on transitioning individuals into an improvisational mode to allow them to improvise verbally and physically; be spontaneous; “listen” carefully to one another; and use a sense of humor (adapted from Koppett, 2001, p. 32) [1]

Improvisation theater through its approach and a principle enable the actors focus on the partner to listen to him or her, to listen carefully to join the partner in the situation and together sharing ideas to develop the action. The improv increases courage to share the ideas without the limitations, players share ideas with a spirit of no-mistakes, trust, acceptance, they learn that there are no mistakes and everything could be developed this is very important in improvisation theatre, the feeling of acceptance. Actors through playing improv are developing their competences of acceptance of the situation what could support them in the real life situation when everything is changing all the time. Through work with partner actors are building a relationship on the stage between the characters and beside it.

The approach of no-mistakes enable actors to share all of their ideas and developing them on the spot, it discharges the fear of making the mistake which prevent from trying. The actors are not afraid of trying and sharing their thoughts, ideas or starting their movements what gives them and their partners wider spectrum of opportunities.

TheThe improv encourage focusing on the partner and on the situation at the moment, which enable players to see the clear picture of the world and see the opportunities to develop the action through concentrating on a specific topic/theme. The competence of focusing support the players, learners as well as people in daily life tasks in concentrating at one thing and enable us to see the opportunities together with bigger clear picture of the situation.

The improv develop competences of listening, as it's very important to be updated with everything what is happening around and to be at the moment to support each other in the game and to develop and get deeper into the play.

Improv in a classroom Why combine improv in classroom?

Improvisation theatre in a classroom gives new spectrum of possibilities and qualities to the education and learning process of students. Including the improv games into the classroom bring the fresh view into the lesson and increase the interest of students as the new element of the learning process which involved cooperation, creativity, spontaneously, fun, gamification, competition spirit.

Improv games bring opportunity to use interesting non-formal methods which are based on interaction, communication, cooperation, creativity and joy for the students. The improvisation theatre games are easily adapted to the classroom where the topic of improvisation game could be connected with the subject theme, students playing a game would be concentrate on a subject-they would increase their knowledge, and practice their skills like: communication, public speaking, solving problems, creativity at the same time it gives them opportunity to develop theirs’ attitude of sharing their ideas with other without a fear of failure and courage to make mistakes and work on them. The improv as non-formal method increase the engagement among students and their focus on the subject.

When improvisation is used in teaching, students provide different responses throughout the class session, and the instructor does not evaluate any given response but instead facilitates the improvisation process among the students, with the goal of guiding them toward dis- covery of their own knowledge (Sawyer, 2003). [1]

The Ronald A. Berk and Rosalind H. Trieber write in „Whose Classroom Is It, Anyway? Improvisation as a Teaching Tool” about four major reasons for using improvisation in the classroom:

It's responding to the students „desires to learn by inductive discovery, experientially, their need for social interaction and collaboration, their emotional openness, and their limited attention span. It taps into students’ multiple and emotional intelligences, particularly verbal/linguistic, visual/spatial, bodily/ kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intra personal, it fosters collaborative learning by helping to build trust, respect, and team spirit as well as listening, verbal and nonverbal communication, ad-libbing, role-playing, risk-taking, and storytelling skills; and it promotes deep learning through the active engagement with new ideas, concepts, or problems; linking the activities or tasks to prior learning; applying the content to real-life applications; and evaluating the logic and evidence presented.”

English teaching with improv

Why combine english teaching and improv?

Most of the improv game is based as well as on the speaking and on non-verbal communication, what gives huge diversity of games which could be used for improving the communication skills in foreign language. As the spontaneously action during the game encourage students to use their language competences which prepare them for speaking in foreign language in not-predicted situations using the mixture of vocabulary, tenses and grammar structures.

The improv helps to break the fear of speaking in foreign language in front of other people as the atmosphere of improv is encouraging students to try and to make mistakes in the philosophy that mistakes are good, which helps students to increase their confidence in speaking then that helps to identify the mistakes and fields of improvement to develop the language competences including grammar. Improv teach accepting and develop so when the students make mistake they learn to accept it and to work on it later on and practicing speaking with further analise and reflection on it helps to develop the competences in the learning theory of experiential learning model [3] developed by David A. Kolb what will be tackle in next articles.

The improv helps to break the pattern of the lessons and engage the students to use their creativity and go out of their thinking boxes which could be important to try out the language in new situations which require listening, understanding and fast reaction it enables the flow of speaking among students in chosen topics.



[1] Whose Classroom Is It, Anyway? Improvisation as a Teaching Tool; Ronald A. Berk, Rosalind H. Trieber

[2] Learning to Lead, Unscripted Developing Affiliative Leadership Through Improvisational Theatre; Human resource Development Review, Suzanne Gagnon, Heather C. Vough, Robert Nickerson

[3] Experiental learning. Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, David A. Kolb

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