Three Words Improvisations

Planning a two-person improv. Betsie Van der Meer

Student actors love improvs. This one generates a lot of original thinking in a short amount of time.

If you focus the thinking of student actors on three words or phrases chosen at random to guide their creation of an improvised scene, you will free them to think far more creatively than if you told them to create a scene about anything at all. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, setting limits actually frees up creativity.

This exercise gives student practice in quick collaboration, decision-making, and improvising based on a small amount of pre-planning.

Detailed Instructions for facilitating this Improvisation

1. Prepare a number of words on individual slips of paper. You may prepare your own, or visit this page for lists of words that you can download, photocopy, cut, and use with your students.

2. Place the slips of paper containing the words into a "hat," which, of course may actually be a box or a bowl or any other kind of bin.

3. Tell student actors that they will work in groups of two or three people. Each group will pick three words at random and meet together to quickly decide on the characters and context of a scene that will somehow employ their three chosen words. The individual words may be spoken within the dialogue of their improv or may merely be suggested by the setting or the action. For example, a group that gets the word "villain" may create a scene that features a character who is a villain without actually ever including that word in their dialogue. A group that gets the word "laboratory" may set their scene in a science lab, but never use the word in their scene.

4. Tell students that their goal is to plan and then present a short scene that has a beginning, middle, and an end. Every member of the group must play a role in the improvised scene.

5. Remind students that some kind of conflict within a scene generally makes it more interesting to watch. Recommend that they think about a problem that the three words suggest and then plan how their characters might work to solve the problem. Whether or not the characters succeed is what keeps audiences watching.

6. Divide students into groups of two or three and let them choose three words at random.

7. Give them approximately five minutes to plan their improvisation.

8. Gather the whole group together and present each improvised scene.

9. You may choose to have each group share their words before their improvisation or you may wait until after the improv and ask the audience to guess the group's words.

10. After each presentation, ask the audience to compliment the strong aspects of the improvisation. "What worked? What effective choices did the student actors make? Who demonstrated a strong use of body, voice, or concentration in the performance of the scene?"

11. Then ask the student actors to critique their own work. "What went well? What would you change if you were to present the improv again? What aspects of your acting tools (body, voice, Imagination) or skills (concentration, cooperation, commitment, energy) do you feel that you need to work on and improve?

12. Ask the whole group--actors and audience--to share ideas for ways to improve the improvised scene.

13. If you have the time, it's great to send the same groups of student actors back to rehearse the same improvised scene and incorporate the recommendations that they agree with.

Additional Resources

If you haven't already, you may want to review the article "Classroom Improvisation Guildelines" and share it with your students. These guidelines are also available in poster form for older and younger students.