About the Authors

Carrie Lobman and Matthew Lundquist are the Authors of Unscripted Learning: Using Improv Activities Across the K-8 Curriculum.

Carrie Lobman, EdD is Assistant Professor of Education at The Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University. She is the director of the Developing Teachers Fellowship Program at the East Side Institute. Send an email to Carrie

Monday, April 28, 2008

Games around and about comunication in Mexico

Currently I’m a member of the International Class 2007-2008 and had the privilege to learn and play with Carrie and teachers in the Developing Teachers Fellowship program during two trips to NY this past year. I came back to Mexico where I work at an organization in Juarez, Mexico, called Centro de Asesoría y Promoción Juvenil where we do a lot of community work including our work with after school programs and work with teachers. We been incorporating some improve to many of our activities and hope to share some of them in this space. I’ll start with a recent talk I gave at a local school.

A few days ago I was invited by the principle to give a talk to parents about the importance of communication in a school called 22 de Septiembre. In the past I’ve given talks before where I would prepare materials, a power point presentation, hand outs, and would basically go through the different topics and have conversation with parents. Introducing improved dramatically transformed this format.

While planning the talk I made an important decision, I did prepare by reading some materials regarding effective communication with young and older children, I reread some material about family therapy, and so on. Instead of writing a presentation full of information based on what I read I stayed open to see what games could illustrate similar points made by the texts. For example in one book it stressed the importance of non-verbal communication, so one of the games I though we could play was having a conversation in the language of Bla-bla-bla. At the end I ended up with a bunch of games and no formal talk.

When I arrived to the school's library there was a group of around 35 moms (no dads unfortunatly) who where sitting ready to receive a talk all facing forwards to a blackboard. It took as a few minutes to rearrange tables and seats to create a circle. We began with people getting in to pairs with someone they don’t know. They took turns for 3 minutes each to talk as much as they could about themselves. In the version I know of this activity people are then supposed to tell the group about their partner but given how large the group was that would take the whole session so I only asked for five volunteers. Not only did they shared what their partners said about themselves they said how wonderful it was to meet someone they see everyday when they pick up their children but never get a chance to chat. Next we continued with the Bla-bla-bla game in groups of five and had a nice conversation about non-verbal communication afterwards and how important it was with children who are in the process of learning language.

Out of Unscripted Learning I picked Silly Debate where the audience picks a silly topic for two volunteers to debate. The topic chosen was canola oil vs. corn oil for cooking enchiladas, then two moms volunteered and started debating. It so much fun hearing them debate, after a few minutes I stopped the scene and suggested they continue the debate but this time one of them playing the role of a wife and the other of her mother in law. In principle it was the same debate but it totally morphed into a debate with in a debate, on regarding cooking oil and the other who can please the husband-son better. It was hilarious. We then had another conversation about the very game of having a discussion and how sometimes it does not have to do with the information it self but about wining a debate and how this can get us into trouble with others including their children. We also talked about how people sometimes fight over something superficial in order to fight about some deeper issue (e.g. a mom said they were arguing about cooking oil as opposed to dealing with the mother-in-law distrust of the wife). In other words we addressed all the mayor themes from the texts I read with out actually talking about the concepts directly.

If this had been a talked in our centers I would not worry so much that the games did addressed specific topics but since the school wanted me to address them I chose games that suggested the topic of communication. The two hour talk was fun, full of participation and laughter but also deep conversations. A day later I heard many mothers had really liked the activity and felt the understood communication better and appreciated that I did not lecture. They said I had done a terrific job, but I can’t take all the credit since we all created the talk.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Improvised Introductions

Every year I attend the conference of the American Educaitonal Research Association, which has over 20,000 members (that is an awful lot of educational researchers). This year I also presented a pre-conference event titled CULTURAL HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES ON PLAY, IMAGINATION, CREATIVITY IN DEVELOPMENT AND LEARNING sponsored by the Cultural Historical Special Interest Group of AERA and organized by Lois Holzman and Ana Shane. In addition to my presentation on the Developing Teachers Fellowship Program that I direct at the Eastside Institute in New York City, my colleague Tony Perone and I also led the group in an improvised warm-up/introduction game. This was interesting to plan since this was not a performance conference or workshop. People came expecting something resembling a normal conference enviornment where the presenters present (usually with the aid of a powerpoint) and the audience listens and then asks questions. Tony and I wanted to get the group playing, imagining and creating together.

Here is what we did. We started with a game of Sound Ball (from Unscripted Learning). In Sound Ball everyone stands in a circle and one person starts by connecting to someone across the circle (through eye contact mostly) and passing them a ball of energy that has a sound and a movement connected to it. So, I might pass Joe a bouncy ball that says, "budump, badump, badump). He "catches" the ball by looking me in the eye and imitating my sound and catching my ball. He then transforms it into a new sound and ball and passes it elsewhere.

We did that for a few minutes and then we advanced it. Now, instead of passing the energy, the person who has it and the new person share the energy for a few moments in the middle of the circle. So, I might walk towards Tabitha shile tossing a very light ball of energy in the air and saying "woooo, woooo, woooo." Tabitha joins me in the middle and we both toss the light ball and say "wooo, wooo, wooo" while looking into each others eyes. Eventually I leave her and go to her spot in the circle and she transforms the sound and energy and goes towards someone else.

Finally, after had done that a while. We had people do the same activity except the sound and movement now said something about you (the person with the energy). For example, when it was my turn I made the sound of a computer keyboard and walked into the middle saying, "Carrie...writer, Carrie...writer, Carrie...writer). Mary then joined me in the middle and shared my "Carrie...writer" refrain for a while until I went back to my spot and she made a new offer.

It was a really fun and intimate way to begin to get to know each other before we began a day of conversation on play and creativity. Interestingly, after we had talked for several hours people spontaneously begin introducing themselves in a more traditional way, but by then we were old playmates.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Improvisational Learning

I have been doing improv activities with my classes for the past two years. It has served as a great tool to develop a sense of team among my students. My school (Primary K-2) also has an
Aesthetics Program, in which students chose or are enrolled in an elective course once a week for the semester. Using the games from Unscripted Learning, I have developed an "Improvisational Learning" Aesthetic for this year.

In the way the description was written up in the school handbook, teachers enrolled students in the course who they identified as students who would benefit from relationship building. After 7 course meetings, I am so happy to report that is what we are developing.

I have been so blown away with how this course has impacted the relations of 8 first and second grade students who, other than in this course, do not know each other. The relationships that are being built seem quite genuine as we play games such as "The Clapping Game', "Woosh", "Yes, and" and many more. Even more in the debriefing discussions we have!

It is a completely different experience for me from how we use improvisation with my class of students. While this "team" does not see each other everyday or are involved in each others' academic growth, I see that they are very much a part of each others' social development. They are learning from each other, and through these games, ways to develop social skills to develop relationships with students in their own classes (exactly what their teachers hoped they would gain).

It is incredible how each of the individual personalities in the class have contributed to and benefited from each other. The excitement from the girl who always enters the class angry, the intent look on the face of another girl who loves to talk as she listens to her teammate share, the smile on the face of the excruciatingly shy boy after he "takes a turn." Improvisatonal learning brings creates this for these students.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

I am a SEIT teacher (Special Education Itinerant Teacher) and an EI (Early Intervention Teacher) and work with children ages 0 -5 in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Most of the time, I work with one child either in their home or their day care center. I work primarily to work with the child within the context of their day and classroom. Therefore, I am usually involved with the entire classroom; not just "my" student.

So...all that to say, I am currently working in a day care center with a little girl...let's call her Alicia. I spend at least two hours each morning with Alicia and the class...mostly following and assisting Alicia in her regular routines. On this particular day, the class had been going though some major reorganization. Their teacher was having a difficult time and also having a difficult time managing the activity of the class. She asked me for some help.

At that moment, the children were to sit on the rug and listen to a story...She was trying to accomplish this organizing activity; and was not being successful. They were having a great time reading books, hitting each other, and otherwise not listening to their teacher. I suggested that perhaps we could all play a game...and they all, including the teacher, eagerly said YES !!!!!!!

I asked them to all make a circle by holding hands...the class consists of 18 four and five year olds..They made a circle.....

I then introduced the "Whoosh" Game and gave a demonstration "whooshing" to another teacher who imitated me. It was so lovely to watch how quickly they picked up the "whoosh" as we went around the circle so all could have the opportunity to experience the sound, activity, and fun of "whooshing". Before I knew it, we were "whooshing" each other with almost no teacher intervention. Even the kids who usually can't even stand still in a circle were eagerly waiting their turn to "whoose" with little intervention from either teachers or kids.

I got excited mostly as they were so involved in this game and activity...I introduced the "Zip, Zap, Zop" Game. We began by going around in the circle and having the "zip,zap,zop" refrain correctly by learning it together. This was a bit challenging and we did complete the circle of children completing it collectively.

However, once we started playing it...it proved to be a bit too complicaterd...however, in later days...could be easily taught. The children were happy to go back to playing the "Whoosh Game".

Oh...the "behavior" that the teacher was reacting to before we began playing....well, it vanished as the children were engaged and being part of an activity that they were building...be it Whoosh! or Zip Zap Zop ....development is happening!

(Will keep you posted as I continue to experiment in different environments and class rooms with Improv games...)

Gayle Weintraub, M.S. Ed.
Special Educator

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Carrie Lobman and Unscripted Learning in the News!

Happy Holidays Everyone,

I had a very exciting December. On Friday December 14th the New York affiliate of WABC Eyewitness News aired a segment on Improv and Teaching featuring Unscripted Learning and the work of Allison Addison, one of the current Fellows in the Developing Teachers Fellowship Program at the East Side Institute.

Reporter Art McFarland visited Addison’s classroom in P.S. 399 in East Flatbush Brooklyn and observed her third-graders playing improv games – a new twist to classroom teaching that is ”giving kids a sense of what’s possible.” The segment introduced my work as a teacher educator and co-author with Matt Lundquist of Unscripted Learning: Using Improv Activities Across the K-8 Curriculum, and the Developing Teachers Fellowship Program that has brought improv into 30 schools across the tri-state area.

My favorite quote was when I said, “Improv supports children to grow and develop. And when you’re excited about that, you can learn anything!"

I hope you'll check out the clip at this link: Improv and Teaching on WABC You will have to scroll through several of WABC's recent education stories.

Have a Happy and Improvisational New Year.


Sunday, December 2, 2007

Using Performance as a Catalyst for Writing

*I did this activity for teaching a writing technique, but I was thinking that it could be used for any content piece that involves something structured or formulaic (math, anyone)?!

Game: Let's Be Clear, Dear!

Level: Intermediate
Grade Level: 7th Grade and Up
Time Needed: 20 minutes and up
Materials: Colorful Sheets of paper (labeled, see below*)

It is important to allow students to use their creativity and ingenuity to learn. I strongly believe that students can use these natural gifts to master content and learn important skills.

Recently, I came up with an improvisational game based on the Yes-and game. The improvisational objective is to show students how to listen closely to others and to accept and build upon offers. The skill objective is to orally build a strong developmental paragraph. I wanted students to understand that every idea should link to the next in writing and speaking.

The paragraph structure we have been working on is: Topic sentence ("TS), General Example ("GE"), Specific Detail ("SD"), Transition word/phrase ("TW"), General Example ("GE"), Specific Detail ("SD"), Transition word/phrase ("TW"), General Example ("GE"), Specific Detail ("SD"), ("Clincher Statement").


First, a group of students should model how to play the game. The teacher hands out colorful sheets of construction paper to ten students. Each of the sheets should be labeled with one of the following elements of a strong paragraph (TS, GE, SD, TW, GE, SD, TW, GE, SD, CS).

Students stand in front of the room and figure out the correct order of a developmental paragraph (TS, GE, SD, TW, GE, SD, TW, GE, SD, CS). Students stand in that order, holding their labeled sheets in front of them. The rest of the class offers help and feedback.

Once in the correct order, students begin to create an improvisational paragraph. If a student makes a mistake or is having difficulty, he/she can ask for feedback. When the paragraph has been completed, students re-state each of their sentences. Students can ask questions, defend their position, etc.

Once the activity has been modeled, all students can participate. I have tried circular formations and having students sit in their seats. The circle works better for groups that are just beginning to learn the game, and sitting in their seats is more of a challenge! I always recommend use of the labeled sheets (to help visual learners connect the offer to the type of sentence).

Other writing instruction applications for this game: teaching elements of narrative, expository, persuasive, and DBQ essay writing