Drama inspired storytelling activities

I attended another workshop at Adhyayan who work with schools in India. This one was called Storytelling and Literacy and it was heaps of fun. Like the ones I participated in earlier this year, this one was also led by two drama students who are studying in the UK: Leah & Anthi. Here’s a list of some newish activities I experienced at this workshop:

Warmers & energisers 

  • Gossip: Find out three things from your partner and share it with the rest of the group as if you really like them or you don’t like them or you are telling a secret or gossiping etc.
  • Honey I love you: Students stand in a circle with one person in the middle. The person in the middle must go around saying “Honey, I love, will you please please smile?” The student who this is said to must reply “Honey, I love you but I just can’t smile!” However, no one is allowed to show their teeth so students must fold their lips over their teeth as they says these sentences. If a student slips up and shows his or her teeth, s/he becomes the person in the middle of the circle.
  • Walking around – variation 1: Ask students to walk around the space with purpose. Caution them about forming a circle which is a natural tendency in this activity. They should try to fill up all the space that’s available. Announce a letter such as ‘B’ and ask students to stand still and become starting with ‘b’. Quickly ask those with quirky looking gestures what they’ve become.
  • Walking around – variation 2: Ask students to walk around the space with purpose. When you clap your hands once, they should jump. Do this several times before you introduce two claps when they need to bundle themselves into a ball on the floor. At three claps, they need to become their favourite character from a book. Combine these different claps to get students energised.
  • Name in the cauldron: A variation of name in the bucket. Students stand in a circle and imagine a great big bubbling cauldron at its centre. Students should chuck their name into the cauldron with a lot of energy.
  • Hypnotic finger: Students play this game in pairs. One of the students holds a finger in front of her partner’s eyes and the other follows the finger as if hypnotised. Students take turns, moving around the room.
  • Prop charades: Students use mystery objects in different ways and their peers guess what these objects might be.
  • Mirror game variation 1: Students stand in a circle with one person in the centre. Students then copy everything this person does. .
  • Mirror game variation 2: Students pair off and mirror their partner’s actions.
  • Mad libs: Ask students to write 1. the name of a girl 2. a boy’s name 3. a place 4. a place 5. an article of clothing 6. some more clothes 7. a number.  And here’s the mad lib: 1. ________ met __________. They had their first date at 3. ____________ They got married at 4. __________ She wore 5. _____________ He wore 6. _______________. They had 7. _____________ babies.
  • Running dictation with Shakespeare: Students work in groups to run to a short text from Shakespeare stuck on the wall, memorise a line from it and run back to their teams and tell them what it is. This could be a lead-in to a task that involves analysing or responding to a Shakespearean text.
  • Back to back drawing: Ask students to sit back to back and provide one of them a line drawing and ask them to describe it to their partner who has to draw it. Use this activity to elicit the importance of detail in storytelling. Here’s my drawing – my partner wasn’t familiar with the words fireplace or mantelpiece but we managed 🙂

Cat drawing.jpg


  • Hi-five hands: Give students chart paper and ask them to use a pen to stencil out one of their hands. They should then cut it out and write their expectations on it. Revisit these hands periodically and ask students to hi-five their hands when the expectation is met.


  • Using interactive stories to engage children: I ask a lot of questions during storytelling but I can’t recall asking students perform actions and make noises as they listen along. Leah used the story of Anansi the Spider and the Tiger. Each time she would say Anansi, she would get us make little spiders with our hands and when she’d say tiger, she’d get us to growl and make a tiger face.
  • Draw your favourite part of a story: After you finish telling the story, ask students to draw their favourite part. Mine was when Anansi tricks a snake into tying himself to a bamboo.


  • Story sequences: Ask students to then stand in the sequence of the story with the picture they’ve drawn.
  • The girl on the hill: Get students to stand or sit in a circle and tell them about a girl who really wanted to fly so she climbed a hill and found a lot of feathers there. Students must work in pairs to construct a frame that explains what happens next. They mustn’t move when they present this frame to their peers. Students then guess what the story behind this image might be.
  • Guild of archaeologists: Tell the students that they are Egyptologists on a dig in the desert and that they uncover a mysterious tomb. Show them an object (anything will do but Leah had a little plastic plate that was painted black. She held it gingerly and said it was found in the tomb. She then passed it around asking students to guess what it was by saying “I think it’s the Pharoah’s heart …” and holding it as if it were a heart.
  • And then what happened: Students sit in a circle and co-construct a story by asking each other “and then what happened?”
  • Prop game: Pass around a box of mystery objects and ask students to come up with as many creative uses for it as they can.  This could be limited by lexical sets. For example, imagine this stapler as different objects related to sports
  • The Walrus and the Carpenter: Read the poem out to the students with a lot of drama. Then give a stanza to pairs of students and ask them to create an image that represents these lines. They can use a little bit of movement if they need to (this is called image theatre by the way).
  • Music & art-based prompt: Play some instrumental music and ask students to draw or sketch as they listen to it. Then ask them to summarize their art work by jotting down a feeling. Ask students who’ve written down similar feelings to get together. Ask them to now write down the name of an object. Groups need to write a short story using the five words. Ask each group to pick a storyteller to narrate their stories to the rest of the students using interactive storytelling techniques.
  • Imaginary friend: Ask students if they had an imaginary friend when they were growing up. Get them to draw their imaginary friends and ask them to share stories about their imaginary friends. You can also get them to enact how they play with their imaginary friends. Here’s my imaginary friend:


  • The key: Tell students to imagine that they are going about their business when they discover a mysterious key in an envelope (Leah told us a longer story – I can’t remember it but it ended with a key in an envelope). Students now need to write a story narrating what happens next. They should focus on the ‘who’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ of this mystery key.
  • Shakespeare’s couplets: Take two lines from different Shakespearean plays and cut them out so that you have one line to give to each student. Students mingle and find their partner (for example “Double, double toil and trouble” and “Fire burn and cauldron bubble”). Students then present the scene where their only lines of dialogue are the ones they’ve been given. They must however plant the scene in a non-Shakespearean setting. For instance, these lines from Macbeth could be uttered by a couple of tired cooks.


  • Soundscape: Get all the students to lie flat on the ground with their heads in the centre of the circle with the feet. Ask them to close their eyes and imagine that they are in a forest. Ask them to make the sounds of the forest. Then lead them out to a beach and have them create the sounds they would hear near the sea. If you’re doing this with a group of teachers, you could have them imagine the sounds of their current and their ideal classroom.

Leah was also kind enough to recommend Games for Actors and Non-actors by Augusto Boal, a companion piece to Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and is based around a school of thought called the Theatre of the Oppressed. I had a look at the book and I don’t think I’ll get around to trying out all the activities in this lifetime!

A smorgasbord of drama inspired activities


On a whim, I attended a Facilitator workshop at Adhyayan who work with schools in India and it turned out to be a lot of fun. It was facilitated by Jemima and Nina, students from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London who are in India doing workshops and working with schools as a part of their study in applied theatre. The teachers and trainers I work with are always chewing my ear off with their requests for warmers and I got a veritable smorgasbord from Jemima and Nina who were kind enough to recap all of them at the end of each day and encourage participants to adapt them for other uses.

Activities for checking in 

I liked how they used the term ‘check-in’ instead of warmer. Their rationale was that participants or students need to check in to the special micro-community at a workshop or in their school and need some way of physically transitioning into the role they’ll play in this micro-community.

  • Action introduction: Introduce yourself with an action that expresses how you feel e.g., I yawn and say “My name is Adi”. All the other participants repeat the same action and say “His name is Adi”.
  • Throw your name in a bucket: Have participants stand in a circle and ask them to imagine that there’s a big red bucket in the centre. Have them throw their names into the bucket. As they perform the action of throwing, they say their names really loudly.
  • Bing Bong Name: Participants stand in a circle and the facilitator stands inside the circle. She points at any one participant who must raise their hands and say “Bing” at a higher pitch, she then immediately points at someone else who has to drop down and say “Bong” at a lower pitch. The third person she points to must say their own name. The facilitator continues the sequence of bing, bong, name.
  • Name impulse: Get participants to sit in a circle. The facilitator is also a part of the circle. The facilitator turns to the participant to her left and says “one two three go”. The participant must then say her own name to the person to her left as quickly as possible. This person then says his own name etc. For example, Abha, Neel, Sarita, Hema, Varun etc.  Once the participants have had a go at it, ask them how much time they  think they can complete a full circle in and then ask them to beat the clock. The facilitator times them as they complete the name impulse circle. Now suggest that there are two teams, team A (the circle to the left of the facilitator) and team B (the circle to the right of the facilitator). Get both teams to compete against each other – this is tricky because the names will need to cross at some point. Time them and announce the winning team. Then, ask team A to raise their hands, and then team B (obviously, everyone will raise their hands for both teams) and applaud all participants for winning and beating the clock.
  • Impulse clap: Exactly the same as name impulse but participants pass along a clap.
  • Line up alphabetically: Ask participants to line up alphabetically without speaking to each other and then form a circle. I know this warmer but I hadn’t realised how apt it was for beginning a workshop and challenging participants to remember each others’ names.
  • Likes & dislikes: Have participants stand in a circle. Each participant introduces the person to her left by saying “This is Rhea. She likes reading, and she dislikes rainy days”. They are allowed to make up the other person’s likes and dislikes but the first letter/sound of the like or dislike must be the same as the person’s name. What I liked about this simple activity is how it subtly suggests to learners that there is no right or wrong answer.
  • An object you are: Ask participants to describe themselves as an object using the words “If I were an object, I would be a …” Participants then introduce themselves using this sentence with an appropriate action.

Activities for introducing the topic 

  • Post-its: Each participant writes five qualities of, for example, a facilitator. She then works with a partner to whittle the 10 they have collectively down to five. Participants then share their qualities in a whole class discussion while a volunteer records their items in a collaborative mindmap.

Activities for energising 

  • Boom chicka boom: My absolute favourite. It’s a call response style chant. This YouTube video suggests that it’s meant for kids but I’m going to use it with adults – it’s too much fun to pass up.

I said Boom chicka boom

I said Boom chicka boom

I said Boom chicka rocka chicka rocka chicka boom

Ah haan

Oh Yeah

One more time

Say it (quietly/loudly/opera style/in an English accent/grandma style/rap style

  • Hee Haw Ho: Get everyone standing in a circle. Place your palms together and stretch out your hands pointing at someone across the circle while saying HEE. The person across the circle places her palms together and stretches her hands above her head while saying HAW. The two people adjacent to her place their palms together sideways as if chopping wood and chop away at the HAW person while saying HO. the HAW person then points to someone else and says HEE and so on. Make sure everyone is saying the sounds with a lot of energy.
  • Sssss… strawberry: Participants stand in a circle with the facilitator in the middle. The facilitator points to one of the participants and says Ssssstrawberry. This participant must say “Strawberry” before the facilitator completes the utterance. However, if the facilitator points to someone and only says “strawberry”, they mustn’t say anything.
  • Number swap: Make chits with numbers on them, as many as there are participants. Everyone stands in a circle with one person in the middle. Announce the range of numbers e.g., there are 14 participants so we have 14 numbers. The person in the middle calls out a pair of numbers from this range except her own such as 4 and 12. Participants who have these chits need to discretely indicate to each other that they have these numbers and swap places without the person in the middle grabbing one of their spots. Introduce challenge into the activity by asking the person to call out two or three pairs. Periodically ask participants to place all the chits in the middle and take new ones. You might need to mark out positions using chalk or some such.
  • Swapping places: Everyone stands in a circle. A pair of participants make eye contact and swap places without speaking. There should only be one pair swapping at any point of time. Then ask two pairs to swap simultaneously, then three or more. Participants are still not allowed to talk to each other and must coordinate non-verbally through eye contact.
  • Banana song: This call-response chant was shared by one of the participants at the workshop. The children dance along while repeating the words, acting out the verbs.

Peel banana, peel peel banana

Chop banana, chop chop banana

Eat banana, eat eat banana

Smash banana, smash smash banana

Shake banana, shake shake banana

  • Zip zap boing: Participants stand in a circle. One person sort of claps his hands together to the person to his right while saying ZIP. This person can pass the ZIP along to the person to her right by saying ZIP. She could also pass it to someone across the circle by pointing using both hands and saying ZAP. Participants can also BOING in response to a ZIP to change its direction. The action for boing is a bit like a bit of wound up spring with your hands in the air. Here’s the confusing bit: you can’t boing a boing, boing a zap, zap a boing or zap a zap.
  • Zombie: Participants stand in a circle with one person in the middle who is the zombie. In the first variation of this activity, the zombie puts her arms out and approaches one of the participants in the circle. This participant needs to make eye contact with someone else who says their own name out loud. The zombie then changes directions with a near target. The trick is to make eye contact and get someone to say their own name before zombie gets to you. In the second variation, the person being targeted by the zombie says someone else’s name to get the zombie to change directions.
  • 7-up: Participant sit or stand in a circle. Each person says a number in sequence: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 but the seventh person says 7-up while placing their hand on their head. The direction of the hand indicates who should start counting again from 1 (the person to the left or right). Now ask participants to choose another number and replace it with a sound. As the group gets progressively confident, get them to replace one more number with an action.
  • Jump in, jump out: Participants jump in to the circle when you say “jump in”. They must repeat your words. Get them used to the other instructions “jump out”, “jump left” and “jump right”. Then introduce some complexities: do the opposite of what I say, but say what I say; do what I say but the say the opposite of what I say etc.
  • Who stole the cookie: This is a call response chat. Get it started along with some accompanying actions like slapping the front of your thighs, clicks and claps and then progressively introduce the rest of the chant.

Everyone: Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar

Everyone: Tina stole the cookie from the cookie jar

Tina: Who me?

Everyone: Yes you!

Tina: Couldn’t be!

Everyone: Then who?

Tina: Amit stole the cookie from the cookie jar.

Amit: Who me?


Activities for sharing

  • The sun always shines on … : Participants stand in a circle with one person in the middle. The person in the middle says “The sun always shines on people …” and completes the sentence with something that is true about themselves such as “… people with black hair”. Everyone with black hair then swaps places. The person in the middle will need to run and grab someone else’s spot so that there’s a new person in the middle. Once participants have got used to the procedure, ask them to share deeper things about themselves. For example, in a teacher training context, you could say “The sun always shines on teachers who feel nervous before walking into a new classroom”.
  • Agree disagree compass: Ask participants to imagine that there’s a compass in the room and the directions read ‘agree’, ‘strongly agree’, ‘disagree’ and ‘strongly disagree’. Read out statements and ask participants to move to different sides of the room. Ask them to share their reasons or experiences.

Activities for connecting & collaborating 

  • Ribbon shapes: Get a long length of ribbon and tie it so it becomes a circle. Ask participants to hold a piece of the ribbon and form a perfect circle. Challenge them to create different shapes such as triangles, squares, rectangles, and pentagons without placing it on the ground while working with some constraints. The constraints you could impose include not talking to each other, eyes closed or both.
  • Routes: I blogged about a similar activity drawn from the improv repertoire several years ago. Get everyone standing in a circle.
    • Introduce route 1: Have all the participants raise their hands. The facilitator calls out the name of a participant who lowers her hand. This process continues until all hands are lowered. The last person to get called needs to say the facilitator’s name. Now, get participants to become comfortable and quicker with this route (no more raising or lowering of hands).
    • Introduce route 2: Stop route 1 and introduce a new route. Ask participants to raise their hands. The facilitator walks to a participant who then walks to someone else etc. until all hands are raised. Point out that this route does not involve talking. Now, get participants to become comfortable and quicker with this route (no more raising or lowering of hands). If participants find themselves adjacent each other, encourage them to visibly walk out in a loop so it’s clear that movement has happened.
    • Merge routes 1 & 2: Start route 1 again and once participants have become comfortable with it, introduce route 2 so there are two routes running concurrently.
    • If participants are able to crack this challenge, introduce subsequent routes such as throwing a ball.
  • Tower building: Standard tower building with a twist. Give the participants blutac, paper clips and post-its. Give them a couple of minutes to plan how they’ll build a tower using these resources. At the end of the planning time, take one participant from each group who took on a leadership role and swap them. Give participants time to build their freestanding towers. Ask them to then reflect on how swapping their team members may have affected their performance.
  • Balloon pop: Ask participants to blow a balloon each and name them. Participant share the names of their balloons. Announce that they have three minutes at the end of which they must have safeguarded their balloons then handout thumb tacks. Debrief by asking participants why they did what they did and how the act of naming the balloon made you feel far worse when your balloon was popped.
  • Yes let’s: Anyone in the group can use the stem” Let’s (fly like airplanes) and go for a whirl around the room. Everyone else responds by saying “Yes let’s” and does similar actions around the room. Participants can spontaneously come up with their own Let’s statements.

Activities for language development 

  • ABC: Each participant has to share a sentence with the format of Person, Thing and Place starting from the same letter such as Adi sells apples in Amsterdam. The facilitator stands in the middle and points to people and says a letter. This person needs to quickly make a sentence with three nouns (person, thing, place) starting from the same letter.
  • Picture drawing: You’ll need two copies of the same picture for this activity. It’s probably better to have a picture that has lots of different elements and characters in it. We had a stylized illustration from a children’s book with lots of children and animals at a zoo. Divide your class into two groups and select a volunteer in each group. The picture is given to the volunteer but she is not allowed to share it with the rest of the group. One group asks only close ended questions of their volunteer who must answer using only ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses. The group then tries to draw what they think the picture contains from these responses. The other group is allowed to only ask open ended questions. This group must also draw what they think the picture looks like. While debriefing, elicit how important it is to ask a combination of both open and close ended questions while facilitating, and how the two serve different purposes and often work in tandem in getting a discussion going.

Activities for going on a breaking

  • Lunch fish: Tell participants that they look hungry but they’ll need to first catch a fish for lunch. Place one hand horizontally in front of you (this is the water line), and use your other hand to mime a fish poking around for food. Tell participants to clap at the same time to catch the fish when it comes to the surface.

Activities for coming back from a break 

  • Aah sound: Suggest that the letter A or sound aah can be said in many ways. Demonstrate some. then ask participants to turn to the person to their right and express how they are feeling at that point using some form of the Aah sound. Now ask them to turn to the person to the left and do the sound that was just shared with them. Then, get the participants to stand up. Everyone collectively throws their sound into the middle of the circle.

Activities for gaining attention

  • Ensemble clap: Tell participants that they must watch you and clap at the same time. Bring your hands close together and clap when they are least expecting it. Challenge them to watch you closely and clap at the same time.

Activities for storytelling 

  • Three person image: Participants stand in a circle and spontaneously become parts of an emerging story. Participant A comes into the centre and takes up position and says something like “I’m a gecko on the classroom wall”. Participant B then joins A in the centre and says “I’m the fly the gecko is trying to catch”. Finally participant C joins them and says “I’m the little boy who is more interested in the gecko than in the lesson.”
  • Whoosh: You’ll need to prepare a story with lots of characters. Participants stand in a circle. As you read the story and introduce characters, tap participants on their shoulders. Participants enter the circle enact the story being read as one of the characters. Prime the participants to notice when your fist goes up in the air because that means they all need to do an old-style toilet flushing motion while saying WHOOSH. Participants in the centre head back and the facilitator continues reading the story while selecting new participants to play characters.
  • Freeze frame: Ask participants to work in pairs to share a positive or a negative teaching experience or similar. Then re-pair participants and ask them to share the stories they heard. Re-pair participants once again and ask them to choose from the four stories they now have (besides their own). They should role play the story and select a visual frame from it that they can share with the group. Get each pair to come up and set up this visual frame. Ask the other participants to describe the frame by first using “I see” statements followed by “I think” statements. The facilitator then taps each of the ‘actors’ in the frame and asks them to share what the person in the story is thinking at that point. Then ask the pair to validate what was shared.

Warm up exercises for process drama

  • Lead with your …: Ask participants walk around but being lead by different parts of the body. Announce the first prompt: lead with your nose, then gradually bring in others, let your elbows lead you, your knees, your shoulders etc. Walk slow, walk faster, higher, lower. Ask participants how this might change their ‘character’.
  • Exploring voices: Ask participants to make for example a pirate noise and walk around making this noise. Introduce layers: do it quieter, louder, shriller etc.

Activities for reflecting 

  • I am sentences: Ask participants to think about their identity at the moment and write as many sentences as possible starting each with the stem “I am”. Give them a couple of minutes. Then ask them to write sentences about someone in their profession who they look up to using the stem “S/he is”. Lastly ask participants to think of a child who has made a big impact on them using the “This child is”. Get participants to analyse their sentences for patterns, commonalities and surprises.

Activities for closing

  • Hooked thumb circles: I don’t know what to call this one. Ask participants to form a small tight circle, placing on their right hand towards the centre, palm down, thumb out to the left. Ask participants to now close their fingers around their neighbour’s thumb. You’ll have a really tight circle kinda like the one in this picture. Ask each participant to share one take-away from the session.

Image attribution: Backstage – The artists of Kathakali by Sreeram Narayan | Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0

A 10 minute play | A staged script writing activity

Source: http://www.morguefile.com
Source: http://www.morguefile.com

Here is a series of writing exercises inspired by a recent workshop I attended. The activities are staged and ramp up to writing a ten minute play.

Exercise 1: Imagining the setting

Atmosphere is extremely important in theatre and setting the right atmosphere lets the writer breathe life into his/her work and world. In this activity, ask Ss to choose one of the following items and spend 2 to 3 minutes closing their eyes and imagining the space.  They should explore the space fully in their mind in three dimensions. Then ask them to write about 50 words describing the setting:

  • Abandoned lift
  • Attic
  • Seashore
  • Derelict building
  • Psychiatric ward
  • Deserted street

Exercise 2: Creating a character profile.

Now, it’s time to populate this world with people. To get Ss to start thinking about robust character development, ask them to think of a character that might belong in this setting. They should fill the gaps in the following statements to sketch out this character’s profile:

  • I was born _______
  • My first memories ______
  • I remember my mother ________
  • I have been to ________
  • Since 7 ‘o clock this morning _______
  • I love _______
  • What interests me now is _______
  • I cannot understand why _______
  • I have been reading _______
  • I wish _______

Exercise 3: Dialogue with strangers

Ask Ss to work with a partner. They should choose one setting from the two they have between them and create a dialogue in this setting between their two characters. However, pairs should write a single script in a turn-wise manner. For example, A writes a line for his character and passes the notebook to B who then writes a line for her character and passes it back to A.  This interchange continues until the dialogue reaches a natural conclusion.

Exercise 4: Building out a dialogue

Ask Ss if they know what the word ‘conflict’ means. Elicit meaning beyond fighting and point out the role of conflict in a story. Ask Ss to work individually to describe a setting in one line; two characters A & B – who are they? Age? What do they do?  Then write a short dialogue between A & B in this setting that involves conflict.

After you get some Ss to read out their dialogues, elicit how conflict makes stories richer and more interesting to listeners and readers.

Exercise 5: 10 minute play

Stage 1: Hand out chits of paper and ask Ss to write a full name on it as well as the person’s professions, likes & dislikes and  hobbies. For example Neha Rodrigues, swimming instructor, likes movies & shopping, hates fast food & strong perfumes, loves solving jigsaw puzzles.  They should write three character prompts each.

Collect all the chits into a pile. Now repeat this procedure with these prompts:

  • Setting – should be quite specific – not just “room” but what kind of room and where it’s located.
  • Prop – this is an inanimate object which is positioned on stage during the play.
  • Object – this is an item which is referred to in the dialogue and may not be physically present on stage.
  • Dialogue – A single line of dialogue.

Ask Ss to now pick one prompt from each of the piles except the character pile from which they should pick three chits. They should have some wacky ideas for creating a short original play.  You may want to share a structure to help them write the 10 minute play.

Structure for 10 minute play:

  • Word count: Around 15oo words
  • Jump straight into the action – don’t spend time setting context.  Think about who your characters are and what they want.
  • Page 1 – 2: Set-up the world of the main character(s)
  • Page 2 – 3: Something happens to throw their world out of balance
  • Page 4 – 7: Your character struggles to restore order to her world
  • Page 8: Just when your character is about to restore order, something happens to complicate matters.
  • Page 9-10: Character either succeeds or fails in her attempt to restore order.

Maybe as a follow-on activity, Ss could get into small groups and select one of their plays to perform for the rest of the class. It could be a staged reading instead of an actual performance.

Sometimes what you say doesn’t really matter | A dialogue activity

I’ve been attending a lot of drama-related workshops recently. A couple of weeks ago, I attended the second installment of Writing through Movement – this time with Yuki Ellias and popular playwright, Mahesh Dattani.  As usual, one activity stood out for me for its ability to engage learners and deliver a powerful aha moment.


Materials: Photocopies of whichever dialogue you choose to use.


1. Divide Ss into pairs. Distribute the dialogue and ask Ss to commit it to memory (they should learn the lines for both A & B).

2. Give each pair 5 minutes to discuss and create a setting in which they can enact the dialogue. There are some rules they need to follow:

  • They can’t introduce any additional words or lines.
  • They can’t provide any context before performing.
  • They can’t use any physical objects; they must mime any props they require.
  • They can’t involve anyone else in the performance.

3. Have each pair perform their dialogue in front of the rest of the Ss.

4. Debrief by asking Ss about what they observed and what brought the dialogue to life.

Although each pair will say the same words, the result will be very different. By using the voice, body language and action, some pairs will completely transform the dialogue into something enigmatic, hilarious or magnificent . In the workshop I attended, one pair set dialogue 1 in a prison with an inmate on death row – really moving stuff; another had an at home scene with a constipated husband on the commode.  The best performances will be those where Ss interact effectively with each other and their imaginary setting and the objects it contains.

The activity is meant to teach writers how dialogue, which they may pour their souls into, may not be as important as the setting, characters and objects that surround it. However, I reckon the activity holds an important lesson for teachers. Our approach to language with its focus on form and lexicon puts Ss at a disadvantage when it comes to “performing” in real life – situations where your non-verbal skills and proxemics may be far more important in helping you stand apart.  Sometimes, what you say doesn’t really matter. 


  • With advanced Ss, while they are performing, impose new constraints or settings on them e.g., you’re the same husband and wife going about your morning routine but now you’re in a leaky little boat in the middle of the Pacific.
  • Insist that Ss deliver their lines as they perform the actions instead of separating the two which is what most non-actors will do.
  • While Ss are performing, have them suddenly swap roles so A becomes B and B becomes A.


Source: http://www.morguefile.com

Dialogue 1

A: Two eggs

B: Yes

A: Brown bread toast

B: Yes

A: Two slices

B: Yes

A: Orange juice

B: Yes

A: Freshly squeezed

B: Yes

A Masala chai

B: Yes

A: Without sugar

B: No

Dialogue 2

A: It’s over

B: No

A: Finished

B: No

A: Khatam*

B: No

A: Tomorrow

B: Yes

*Khatam in Hindi means ‘finished’

Improv & ensemble storytelling activities

Last month, I attended a day long improv and ensemble storytelling workshop.  The goal of the program was ostensibly teamwork but there was lots of potential for application in other contexts. Improv has the ability to help participants become less inhibited, test the boundaries of their comfort zones, create better connections with others, listen more actively and become more conscious about actions and speech. Ensemble storytelling helps participants build  stories collectively and create discussion-provoking tableaus. These are useful outcomes for multiple skills.

I’m going to describe the activities as I remember them. I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with ways of using them in your context. Most of these activities should be done without footwear to ensure that no one gets stomped on.

1. Foot 2 foot obstacle course 

Pair participants and ask them to sit facing each other in two circles. So you have an inner circle and an outer circle. Participants in the inner circle sit facing their partner in the outer circle. Now, ask them to put their legs out such that their soles are touching their partners’ so they create a diamond shape between their legs. You’ll now have a foot to foot obstacle course. Give each pair a number. When a number is called out, the pair get up and start running through the obstacle course, ensuring that they are not stomping on anyone and only placing their feet in the space created between people’s legs.

  • Outcomes: Energize participants and break the ice.

2. The “you” pattern game 

This one’s going to sound a little complicated but it was perhaps the most enjoyable activity of the day.  You shouldn’t have more than 12 people playing this game and if you fewer than 6, it might not be all that challenging.  If you have a large group, you can divide them into smaller circles – we had three circles of 11 or 12 people.

  • The basic pattern: In your circle, ask everyone to raise their hand and point their index fingers at the ceiling. T starts the game by lowering his/her hand and pointing to someone in the circle while saying “you”.  This person then points to someone else while saying “you”.  Play continues until everyone gets to lower their hand and say “you” to someone – no repeats allowed – the last person points to the T and passes the “you” back to him/her. Ask the participants if they remember who they received the “you” from and who they passed it to because they are going to stick with these people. Play two more rounds so participants become comfortable and encourage them to go faster.
  • The second pattern: Tell the participants that they are now going to practice a different pattern. Point to someone (different than the first round) and say your favourite breakfast food/dish. Repeat procedure until everyone’s pointed to someone and said a favourite breakfast item (no repetition of people being pointed at or food). Start the “you” pattern and about 30 seconds in, begin the breakfast pattern so you have two patterns going at the same time. participants will generally drop one. Encourage them to concentrate and keep the momentum with both.
  • The third pattern: Now introduce a third pattern – favourite animal or superhero. If participants master this quickly, move on to the finale.
  • Finale: Tell the participants they’ve had it easy till now because all they had to do was memorize where the “word” came from and where it was going so it didn’t really involve genuine concentration. In this round, when someone points to them and says “you” or a “breakfast item”, you need to swap places with them. Begin again with the “you” pattern and gradually introduce the second pattern before bringing in the third. At first, it will be completely chaotic but after some time, most participants will be able to get into the kind of “flow” described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book of the same name. At that point, it might look like they are performing a contemporary dance.
  • Outcomes: Energy, focus, teamwork, concentration, flow, momentum, intonation, supporting each other, being fully engaged.

3. Yes and … 

Have all the participants sit down and ask 3 or 4 to come and stand where everyone can see them. These participants stand in a line facing the audience. The audience needs to give them a product to sell and those in the “yes and …” line say things that describe or promote the product. However, they cannot confer with each other and each person says their lines spontaneously. Here’s how it plays out:

  • The audience asks those in the “yes and …” line to sell a toothbrush.
  • All four participants step up and pump the air with the fists while saying “Yes and” and then step back.
  • One of the participants steps forward and says “Yes and … this is a magical toothbrush that grants you a wish every fortnight.”  While this participants steps back, everyone in the line says “Yes and …” and another participants steps forward and adds his/her line.
  • Participants will try to choreograph each other by conferring, guiding, forcing others to say something etc. Don’t let them to do this. Some of them will also contradict each other by saying “No and …”. Stop the activity, tell the participants that the reaction should always be positive “Yes and …” and ask them to do it over.
  • Outcomes: Building on each other’s ideas, spontaneity, creativity, fluency, allowing autonomy of action, not stage-managing other people’s words or actions, not seeing the way in your head as the only  right way, going with the flow and lots of other things.

4. Affinity … to me 

You need a slightly larger space for this activity. It would work well outdoors. Demonstrate by calling out something you like a lot, for example, “dogs”. Everyone who likes dogs runs to you and forms a tight huddle and those who don’t like dogs need to get as far away as possible. The game is spontaneous. Anyone can call something out and if you have an affinity for that thing – you run over to them and if not, you run away.

  • Outcome: Getting to know each other, energy, taking initiative.

5. My enemy 

Ask everyone to silently and subtly choose someone in the room. They must not let this person know (in any way) that they have been chosen. This person is their enemy.  Ask them to now choose another person. This person is their guardian. At all points of time, they must keep their guardian between themselves and their enemy.  Play for a few minutes before asking participants to switch perspectives – their enemy is now their guardian and vice versa.

  • Outcome: Dealing with change, thinking about how we view people

6.  Samurai

Ask participants to hold their right (or left) hand out vertically so it’s folded up at their elbow. They need to form a fist but put their little finger out. Tell them that they are samurai warriors and this is their katana, their traditional sword. At all points of time, their hand must be held up and out as if it were a sword with their pinkie sticking out.  The objective of the game is to kill others in the room by using your sword. Samurais can only die if some part of their torso is touched by another warrior’s pinkie finger. Participants can only defend and block using their sword. Start the game by asking everyone to raise their swords and striking the floor while making the noise of steel against ground. Then, stand back and watch the battle. Those who are killed should fall to the floor and play dead.

  • Outcome: Getting into character, strategy, playing by the rules

7. Letter by letter

Divide the participants into groups of three or four. Write seven letters on the whiteboard, avoid tougher ones like X, Y & Z. Call out a letter by crossing it out and announcing a time limit of one or two minutes depending on the level of the participants. Participants need to write out a story within the time limit but there are some rules. Each group member can only contribute one word at a time and they must write this word on their piece of paper. Participants shouldn’t influence each other or compel their group members to write something they don’t want to. Each word that is contributed must begin with the letter called out for that round. For examples, all the words in the story begin with “t”, including function words. When the timer runs out, call out the next letter and so on. Finally, have groups pick a person to read out their story using their voice and eye contact to bring it to life.

  • Outcome: Building on each other ideas, collaboration, avoiding helpful sentence completion, letting others think for themselves, encouraging team members while letting them be themselves, creative writing, working under constraints, making the most of the voice.

8. Freeze frame

Divide the participants into larger groups of between 5 and 7 people per group. Ask them to sit together and share experiences that were life-changing or life-affirming in some way.  They then need to construct seven tableaus that narrate the story. These are frames where there is no movement and no dialogue.  Give participants ten minutes to design and practice their frames. Each frame must include everyone from the group. Point out that each person doesn’t need to be a character – they could also be objects or a part of the setting.

When everyone’s ready, get participants to sit down on one side of the room. Get the first group to come up and ask participants to put their heads down so they can no longer see the are the performance is taking place. The group quietly gets into position for their first frame. Say “freeze frame” and have everyone look at the frame. Then says “heads down” and the group gets into the next frame and so on.  At the end of the seven frames, ask observing groups to reconstruct the story, reflect on what they liked about the frames and which details they found most enjoyable or memorable.

  • Outcome: Teamwork, collaboration, being resourceful, using everyone in the group, storytelling, visualization, coordination.

9. My story for the future

In the workshop, the facilitators asked us to pretend that human civilization will have to undergo some world-changing tribulations in the near future. As a result of this, we will lose most of our repositories of knowledge, culture and stories. Ask participants to think of a story that has significance for them and bequeath this to the people of the future by preserving it in an abstract sculpture we will launch into space. The facilitators got us to write (most people wrote names of books or movies) our story titles on thin pieces of wood which had grooves so they fit into each other. When we were done, they invited us to construct the sculpture so it became a piece of installation art.

I think the activity would have been more powerful if participants had written their own stories on the piece of wood. It could be a story inspired by an existing narrative or one that is somehow significant to them – but something that people from our future would find moving, funny or interesting and would become a treasured addition to a culture that is bereft of stories. Instead of wooden squares, you could create the same effect with cardboard from old boxes. I tried, it works as long as the cardboard is a little thick – saw 4 grooves into it where it could be connected to other squares.


I hope you have as much fun facilitating these activities as I did participating in them!