The chairs and desks were empty. The whiteboard was empty. Pens, notebooks, computers, and projectors were out of sight. Conversation, sweetened with chuckles, filled the room as students mingled. From the outside, the scene must have seemed chaotic, uncontrolled, and teacher-less, like recess. But this was 9th grade Oral English, and the students were learning.
The unit was about body language and non-traditional forms of expression and communication. The socializing was part of an activity. Students were randomly given one card (Joker, K, Q, 8, or 2), which they had to keep secret, and told to act like that card. For instance, one student had a K, so she was trying to get others to bow to her. Another student had a 2, so he was begging everyone for money. Afterward, by deduction, students figured their classmates’ cards. The point of the activity was to interpret body language and mannerisms, but it also sparked an intriguing and informative discussion about perception and socioeconomic status.
This activity is one of many found in McKnight’s and Scruggs’s “The Second City Guide to Improv in the Classroom: Using Improvisation to Teach Skills and Boost Learning” (2008, 185 pages). The book’s cover claims it is suited for “Grades K-8,” but I easily adapted it for 9th graders and believe it could even be adapted for undergraduate and graduate students. Despite the grade level, this resource can be applied across the curriculum–and should be. Every teacher must own one.