Improvisation - A Lesson in Character Development (6-8)




OBJECTIVE:  Through improvisation students will discover the possibilities of character development through words, which will enhance their voice in written assignments.

  MATERIALS:  Individual situations typed out for groups of 5. 

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:  This lesson is a beginning lesson using improvisation.  The students have been introduced to pantomime and will now move one step forward with the introduction of speech as well as actions.


ANTICIPITORY SET: Sitting in a circle the students will add to a story following the cues of the person before them.  The last student ends the story.  This will be followed by the add on a word circle game.  Each student will say one word to add onto the sentence created by the words given by their peers.  


Teacher will ask students if they remember the definition of improvisation that was discussed in class last week. 

  This will be followed by a brief discussion of the story add on exercise.  Questions posed by the teacher: Was the story add on exercise an example of improvisation?  How is it similar and how is it different?  (Improvisation the characters move and speak, in the story add on the students sat in a circle).

  The students will break into groups of five for an exercise in simple improvisation based on situations.  The students will choose a situation from the teacher, given 5 minutes to prepare, present their situation in front of the class.

  Following all of the presentations the students will have the opportunity to choose their favorite improvisation.  (I do not think it is wise to critic each performance immediately, this is a their first taste at improvisation and I don’t want them to feel self conscience.    What was it about that scene that made it seem real?  What did the students do to make certain characters seem real?  What could you have done to improve your own scenes? (By using the word YOU, I am not asking them to critic their peers). 

  This will be followed by a discussion of the process of improvisation as a whole group. 


  This was a difficult lesson.  When I first began to plan it, I was going to use the improvisations mentioned in our textbook, (McCaslin, 1990) for 2 or 3 players.  I am very glad I decided to begin with the simple improvisations on page 101.  Even though I felt the lesson was difficult, the students did tell me afterwards that they really enjoyed the exercise and want to do it again.  Which of course we will for how else will they improve?

The students had no problem breaking into groups of 5.  I then gave them the choice of a strip of paper turned upside down so they could not read the situation.  I walked around and listened to the groups discussing the assignment, a few had questions.  I would say 4 out of 6 groups were engaged in the activity, while 2 groups wanted to play around.  When the 5-minute time had ended, I gathered them back together as a whole group and they performed. 

I found about one third of the students had a very hard time making up dialogue, one third was very good at it, and the last third did a fair job. One group had two players improvise a door.  They moved and made the creaking sound when another boy went out the door.  I was quite impressed with that group.  We discussed the use of humans for doors in our final evaluation session.  I found one or two players in each group tended to take control of the improvisation.  Others just wanted to fade into the woodwork. 

We went outside to the covered recreation area, as it was a beautiful day.  This is something I would not repeat.  It was very difficult to hear all the dialogue, students were walking past us going to and from PE, and the normal outside sounds disturbed us.  I will have to find a large space inside the building next week when we work on improvisation again.

I think next year I need to do a couple of lessons in pantomime before I move the students onto improvisation.  I felt rushed to try a couple of lessons so I could write this paper, and I feel the students needed a bit more practice imagining and using pantomime.

Although, the rush did make me jump right into drama with my students at the very beginning of the year, that was a plus.  The kids were really excited after watching each other’s performances.  They have requested to do drama 3 days a week.  I told them that Friday would be the designated day. 

I guess I was disappointed in the lesson, because I really saw the kids struggle and I had the preconceived notion that they would all do a great job.  For the students it was a successful lesson, they want to do it again!            


  • You are a group of people at the bus station.  It is six o’clock in the evening.  In the center is a newspaper stand, where newspapers, magazines and candy are sold.  It is run by a woman who has been there for many years.  She knows the passengers who ride regularly and is interested in them and all the details of their daily lives.  Decide who you are going to be – a secretary, an actress, a teacher, a shopper, a policeman, an old woman, a principal, a stranger in town, etc.  The let us know all about you through your conversation with the sales lady in the newsstand while you wait for your bus.

  • The scene is a toyshop on Christmas Eve.  It is midnight, and the owner has just closed the door and gone home.  At the stroke of twelve the toys come alive and talk together.  They may consist of a toy soldier, a rag doll, a beautiful doll, a clown, a teddy bear, a jack-in-the-box, etc.  Let us know by your conversation and movements who you are and why you were not sold.

  • You are a committee from your school, assigned the job of selecting a gift for your teacher, who is retiring.  Each of you has an idea of what you think is appropriate, and you have only a certain amount of money to spend.  The scene takes place in a large gift shop.  Let us know whom you are and what you want to buy.  What is the decision you finally make?

  • You are a group of people returning for your twenty-fifth reunion from high school.  Who are you?  What has happened to you since you last saw each other?  Have you been happy, successful, or unsuccessful?  Let us know all about you through your conversation.

  • You are a group of young women in a suburban community.  One of you has invited the new neighbor in to meet the rest of the group.  Coffee is served and you talk together.  All seems to be going well when the hostess notices that an expensive silver tray is missing from her coffee table.  One by one, you begin to suspect the newcomer.  Why do you suspect her?  Did she take it?  Is it found?  Where?  If she took it, why did she?  Let us know what each one of you is like by your reaction to this situation.  How does it turn out?

  • You are a group of children in an apartment house.  It is Valentine’s Day, and you are gathered in the front hall to look at and count your valentines.  You see one child in the building going to his/her mailbox, and you notice that he/she did not receive any.  How do you feel about this?  What is each one of you like?  Do you decide to do anything about it?  If so, what do you do?

  • You are a group of children who live near a very cross, elderly woman.  She chases you away from her property whenever you come near it.  This particular morning, you see that someone has broken her fence and ruined many of her flowers.  For the first time you feel sorry for her.  What do you do?  How does she react to you?  Do you all agree as to whether you should help her?  Do your actions change her attitude toward children?


  • The scene is a small bakery.  One of you is the owner, one of   you a child who helps him on Saturdays, and another is a beggar.  It is not busy this particular morning so the owner goes out for coffee.  While he is gone, a beggar comes into the shop and asks for some bread.  The girl/boy knows that he/she should not give away the bread but she/he feels sorry for the old man.  What do they say to each other?  What does the owner say when he comes back?

 McCaslin, N.  (1990).  Creative Drama in the Classroom.  California:  Players Press.

Making an effort to increase  by integrating  drama will help children gain meaningful context to their lives.