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

Shooting vocal arrows | Energizer


TV adaptations of Indian epic mythology, particularly of the Mahabharata, usually involve warriors shooting utterly impractical arrows at each other from ornate bows that are surely the soldier equivalent of a stiletto. Impractical or not, they inspired me to design this energizer which I often use in business and teacher training and that participants find ridiculously engaging.


  • Encourage participants to project their voices more effectively
  • Energize sleepy participants


  • None

Pre-activity prep 

  • This is a really noisy activity. Ensure that the room is soundproof or there aren’t any neighbors to disturb.


  • Divide the participants into two groups and ask them to line up on opposites sides of the room, facing the other group. Make sure there’s a gap of at least 4 metres or more between the two groups.
  • Ask each participant to wave to his or her partner on the other side to identify them.
  • Ask group one to get into warrior position (bow and arrows ready). You can use some culturally relevant banter to set this up. I usually tell my lot that they’re warriors from the Mahabharata on the great battlefield of Kurukshetra, about to slay their opponents with their powerful arrows.
  • Introduce the idea of the vocal arrow. Pull your imaginary bow as if you’re about to release an arrow. When you let go, project your voice on a single word like ‘no’ so that it arcs in terms of energy and volume (noooooooooOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooo) across the room to hit someone on the other side.
  • Demonstrate to participants what might happen if you don’t put enough energy into your arrow (NOOOoooo) when the vocal arrow falls short of its target.
  • Ask group one to shoot their arrows at the count of three. Then nominate participants at random to shoot their arrows one by one at their opponents. Ask the opponents if they felt the arrow hit them. If they say no, ask the participants to try again.
  • Get group two to repeat this procedure. Give them a different monosyllabic word like mom.
  • At this point, I usually end the activity but if you have time to kill, you could give them longer words to shoot at each other.

Debrief & action planning 

  • Ask participants to go back to their seats and discuss in pairs how effectively they were able to project their voices and why this might be important in the context of their work (teacher training or presentations at their organization, or public speaking).
  • Elicit suggestions for projecting the voice with greater impact (breathing, posture, opening your mouth, voice clarity etc.)

News Exchange | A structured sharing activity

Some of my learners have jobs that require them to keep abreast of what’s going on in the world. In fact, for most of these professionals, the focus of their work is the United States where their clients and key stakeholders live. It’s a good idea to know what’s going on there. I came up with this activity to address this need and also provide a segue from the work that Ss are constantly wrapping-up on their laptops as they walk into my class.  The activity uses a Japanese news aggregator called Newsmap which visually represents trending news stories. The more space a news item takes up on the map, the more buzz it’s generating online. When you hover your cursor over a news item, you’ll see the first two or three sentences of an article linked to it. The newsmap can be customized based on a number of countries and the type of news (world, financial, tech etc).

I quite like this activity because it helps me meet multiple goals. It gets Ss connected to trending news. It serves as a warmer and a quick reading cum speaking activity which requires Ss to mingle and talk to each other.



No preparation necessary.


WiFi enabled classroom & digital devices (BYOD) to access Newsmap, timer (old school version or an online timer such as the ones available on Triptico). Noisemaker such as a whistle. Check variations for a low-tech version if you don’t have a connected classroom.


  • Ask Ss to close all their work related applications and open up their browser and connect to Newsmap.
  • Bring up the timer and set it for between 90 seconds and 3 minutes depending on your learners’ reading ability.
  • Ask learners to skim trending news items – hovering their cursors over these titles and getting a sense of what’s being talked about.
  • Call time and ask Ss to pair up with someone from the other side of the room. In pairs, Ss should share top news stories of the day and should ask each other questions to get more details. Encourage them to speculate and make predictions if they are not certain about the details.
  • Blow the whistle after a minute and ask Ss to find a new partner. Repeat exchange. Continue this procedure as long as time permits


  • At the end of the activity, ask Ss the following questions … Was there any news that …
    • you missed on the map which you found about later while talking to your colleagues?
    • you found interesting or exciting?
    • you found boring?
    • you think might be relevant to your project, work or to your clients?


  • Low-tech version 1: Take a screenshot of the Newsmap before you head into class and simply project using your LCD projector so all the Ss can have a look. The downside is that they won’t be able to read the first few lines and make predictions about the content of these articles.
  • Low-tech version 2: Ask Ss to access Newsmap before they come into class and come prepared to discuss trending news.
  • Low-tech version 3: Take a few printouts of the Newsmap and post them around the room.
  • Mobile version: Newsmap has an Android and an iPhone app but il y a un problème. The app requires flash which doesn’t work on all phones.

Murder | Energizer


Materials: Prepare chits of paper (no. of chits = no of Ss). If you’re lazy, write “Cop” on one, “Murderer” on the other and leave the rest blank. Or, fill the others with the names of celebrities. I like to use silly characters from Bollywood (Pappu Pager, Munna Mobile etc). Fold chits and place them in a bag or a box.

No. of Ss: Max 25.

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes

Procedure: Get the Ss to sit in  a large circle and give the following instructions:

  • We’re going to play a game called murder. Who do we need for a murder to happen? (Elicit: a murderer). And who do we need if we have a murderer on the prowl? (Elicit: a cop to catch him/her)
  • In a minute, each of you will receive a chit which has a character on it.
  • If your chit says “Murderer”, then you need to kill people in this room. The murderer kills by winking at his victim (clarify that winking involves one eye whereas blinking involves both your eyes).
  • If your chit says “Cop”, then your job is to catch the killer in action. You only get two chances to catch the killer so be careful about accusing without evidence.
  • If your chit does not say “murderer” or “cop”, then your job is to get killed. Look around the room at everyone. When someone winks at you, continue looking around normally and after a few seconds, act out a nice dramatic death.

After everyone’s received their chit, say “let’s start” to begin the game. The game ends when the cop catches the killer or there are no victims left.


  • Announce who the cop is before the game begins. This is recommended in smaller groups where the game will end quickly and abruptly when the murderer inadvertently winks at the cop.  
  • Have several killers instead of just one.


An optional way of linking the energizer to practicing language is to put Ss into small groups and ask them to use the sequence of events and characters from the game to create stories.  This works particularly well when you’ve used the names of celebrities. It could be an effective albeit morbid way of engaging teenage learners.

Image attribution: Wink by Diego Iaconelli | Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Big fish, small fish | Energizer

There was a time early in my career when I used to train these insane 15 – 20 day programs: 20 (often completely degenerate) participants in a room for 9 hours day after day – sometimes in night shifts starting at 6 in the evening or the life-sucking graveyard shift that started at 11 PM.  It was next to impossible to manage without a huge repertoire of energizers back then. And we’d acquire new ones as frequently from squirreling around the Internet as we did from colleagues over breaks and after-work drinks. I was an on-demand energizer machine with participants bouncing all over the place at ungodly hours.  As I grew older and sporadically wiser, the realization that engagement isn’t solely delivered through energizers, dawned on me. These days, I find it challenging to recall energizers when I need them most. This is an effort to remember all those activities – neat & nutty – that might just help shake sleep and sloth out of learners.  Here’s one of my old favourites – Big fish, small fish.


Materials: none

No. of Ss: Preferably not more than 20.

Procedure: Get Ss to sit or stand in a circle. Extend your hands as widely as possible and tell Ss that this is “small fish”. Then, bring hands together so they’re only about 10 cm apart and explain that this is “big fish”.  Big fish swims clockwise and small fish swims counter-clockwise.  It sounds horrendously complicated but it’s not.  This diagram should help.

Big fish small fish

When student 1 turns to her left to student 2, she does “big fish” by bringing her hands close together.  Student 2 can either turn to student 3 and do another “big fish” or do a “small fish” back at student 1 by extending her arms out wide and thusly the game continues. Players get out if they get the actions wrong (put their hands together for small fish etc.) or get the directions wrong.  Point out that fish swim fast and Ss should similarly react quickly.

You should have them all laughing and energized in under 5 minutes (assuming they understood your instructions).