As educators, we continuously hear the phrase “multi-model learning.” It’s true, the more ways we learn something, the more we’ll remember it. Activating our bodies increases understanding. From teaching students to teaching teachers – improv, theatre and movement engages the body and mind, giving us yet another tool in our educator tool box. From knots to yoga, here are six ways to incorporate a little drama into our teaching practices:
1. Everything is a story, so make it active
Every event – historical and scientific especially – is a story when broken down to four basic elements: setting, characters, problem, and solution. Identify these parts and make it active. Create the setting, cast the characters, have the students write the dialog and put it up in the classroom. Add a twist by changing one of the four elements and see how differently the event could play out.
2. Be the machine
Collaboration and cooperation is essential to a group project. Having students and teachers working together to create a machine with their bodies not only encourages the group, but also gets them thinking about the parts of a whole. Be anything from the parts of a flower to a steam engine – pick a specific part, think about how it connects to the whole, what it sounds like and how it moves, then construct it with bodies. Or, build an imaginary machine that starts with a repetitive action and sound – having each new person add a new action and sound until everyone is part of a huge, moving machine.
3. Strike a pose
Tableau vivant – or living picture – explores 2D scenes in 3D. Students and teachers take the pose of figures in an artwork (or historical photograph!) and consider the moment before and moment after using evidence they see. The facilitator holds a ‘remote’ and tells the figures to either ‘rewind’ or ‘fast-forward, ’ making choices based off close examination.
4. Zip Zap Zop
Improv is all about careful listening and reacting, concentration and focus. This activity primes these things that are crucial to learning. The group stands in a circle. Person one points and makes eye contact with another person in the circle and says ‘zip’. That person in turn points to someone else and says ‘zap’. The third person points to another and says ‘zop’. The pattern continues until someone changes the order.
5. Untie the human knot
Practice problem solving and team building – students and teacher cross their arms across their chest and join hands with two different people. Without letting go of each other’s hands, untangle until the group is in a circle.
6. Take a breath
Yoga poses and breathing exercises are great ways to center a group before any activity – even a written test. Something as simple as three deep collective breaths will help them (and YOU) take a moment and start fresh.
These activities give students and teachers another method of expression. Try one (or all!) in your teaching practice for the New Year – because really, who doesn’t like a little bit of fun drama in their classroom?
Jen Oleniczak is the founder of The Engaging Educator, a NYC-based organization that specializes in theatre, improv and movement workshops and professional developments for educators. She is also a trained actor, improviser and museum educator. She’s worked as an educator with the Guggenheim Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, Brooklyn Museum, The Frick Collection and Noguchi Museum, and performs improv with National Comedy Theatre. Find out more at www.theengagingeducator.com