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A Better Teacher

classroom of children raising hands

Improv has made me a better teacher.

The games we play at ComedySportz®, Richmond, have become a tremendous teaching aid, helping my students to develop quick thinking skills while also having great fun reviewing information.

In one setting, with a student who often struggles to express himself clearly, I invited him to play the improv game, Advice Panel. I’ve used this successfully with several students, as they readily enjoy the role play opportunity. This one student, who is gifted with a creative mind, really became inspired by this game.

Those familiar with Advice Panel know that it calls for three different characters who offer advice, which should be (in order) good, bad, and worst possible. The student created three characters: a child psychologist named Dr. Johnson, a clown named Noodles, and Rip Van Winkle who has just woke up from his sleep and is in a very foul mood.

We began with some simple questions.

I asked him: “What do I do if I forgot to do my homework?”

All three characters gave answers related to who they were. Rip Van Winkle said don’t worry about it, just don’t go to school. Noodles was silly and said to just make it a joke. Dr. Johnson, who was supposed to give good advice, said: “The student should speak to the teacher and try to arrive at a positive solution!”

As we continued, the questions became more serious.

“A classmate is being a bully to me, what should I do?”

Rip gave the worst advice: “Put dynamite in his locker!” Noodles acted goofy, suggesting: “Attack him with a water gun.” Dr. Johnson, as expected, offered the best advice. Sounding like a University professor, this character said: “Young man, you should immediately talk to a trusted adult about this matter.”

We ended this first session with a fun topic, to make this student want to continue this exercise in the future, rather than having it become a reminder of a negative subject matter. When we met next, we reviewed the variety of answers and discussed which one was most appropriate in differing circumstances. We reviewed the angry response, the silly response, and the mature response, based on each character. The student’s understanding of the difference became an internalized resource for behavior modification.

As the school year progressed, there were fewer incidents of misconduct by this student. The student began to reflect before acting. Perhaps he was quickly reviewing the types of responses, based on the characters in his mental Advice Panel. In any event, he was listening better and acting out less.

As a teacher, one of my responsibilities is “lunch duty”, providing supervision and discipline to students during lunch. Many teachers despise these moments, as the students are often wired to action. Personally, I love these moments. I sit with them and we play a variety of improv games while eating. The student’s favorite is the game Shatner, in which two persons speak one word at a time, trying to outdo each other, while at the same time creating some interesting stories. The students would later retell these stories to other friends. Thanks to improv games learned at ComedySportz®, I can tell you that our table at lunch is the popular place to sit.

Giving students their voice and allowing them to find ways to share without the “no” liberates both student and teacher. I have found that improv games are a fantastic teaching tool.

I have used 5 Things as a tool to review important information in preparation for exams. For example, a student may be asked to tell 5 types of igneous rocks. It is also a great way to help students learn about each other. They can turn to their peer and ask them to name their 5 favorite foods or 5 things they like about school.

As a collaborative teacher, I have discovered that pun style games help keep students occupied as I am involved in some of those necessary diversions. Let me tell you, nobody does “pun” games as well as a fifth grade student. NOBODY!

My involvement doing improv at ComedySportz® has helped me become a better team player, develop positive communication skills, and express my acceptance of others. We’ve even adopted in our classroom the “Yes, and…” motto of improv. I hope daily that this motto, more than anything, will be the mindset they take with them forward into life.

Jeana Murray-Nieporte has been a Minor League Player at ComedySportz® since May 2016.

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