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.