Tuesday 2 Sep, 2014

How improv helps students learn

head shot of Katherine McKnight

Katherine McKnight, author of The Second City Guide to Improvisation in the Classroom

It’s 11 a.m. and class is about to begin. Your visual learners are doodling. Your auditory learners are talking. And, you’ve got 55 minutes to cover the first half of the American Civil War. So, how do you reach your whole class in a way that’s both effective AND engaging? Turns out, it’s a technique comedians have been using for decades.

Improv—a type of non-scripted theater—utilizes a unique set of skills like creativity, confidence and critical thinking. Using improv in your classroom strengthens these skills in a way more traditional rote methods do not. Plus, it’s easy to apply to any subject or lesson plan.

No script? No problem.
Improv can help your students learn any subject because it’s not confined by a storyline. Whether you teach 19th-century American history or human biology, you can adapt the exercise to fit your lesson plan. For example, instead of reading about the Declaration of Independence, divide your students into groups of townspeople (circa 1776) and argue for or against the Declaration of Independence. This single exercise integrates all of the modalities of learning from auditory and visual to emotional and experiential.

Two words your students should use
Improv is built on the principle of two words: “Yes, and…”. By saying “yes,” your students accept the other person’s idea. By saying “and”, they not only accept the idea but must contribute to it as well. These two simple words help reinforce team building, collaboration, creativity and problem solving.

Why it works in every classroom—even yours

  • Your students are natural improv masters

This generation of students has grown up with social media so they’re accustomed to giving and receiving constant feedback, emotional openness and fast-moving information—the same attributes of improv.

  • Improv uses multiple intelligences

Studies show that today’s students are incredibly verbal, visual and tactile as well as social and introspective. Improv works for all different types of learners—visual, auditory, kinesthetic—because it draws upon so many skills.

  • Improv encourages collaborative learning

Improv exercises are performed in small groups, giving students the chance to build trust and strengthen listening, verbal and nonverbal communication skills.

  • Improv promotes deeper learning

Improv exercises actively engage students, giving them a chance to apply real-life situations to ideas and concepts they’re learning about. By using different modalities of learning, students are truly engaged in the subject at hand.

We spoke with Katherine McKnight, author of The Second City Guide to Improvisation in the Classroom. Take a look at Panel of Experts and One Word Story, two improv exercises from her book, that you can try in your class.

Want to learn more?
Check out previous posts about improv in the classroom.