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April 2024 - Year 26 - Issue 2

ISSN 1755-9715

Drama Part 1: Improvisation-based Activities for Language Learning Classes. Physical Exercises

Peter Dyer is a freelance teacher of English and Drama collaborating with teachers of English and businesses coaching in improvisation and presentation skills. He has worked in theatre, film and TV and has run classes for aspiring actors and those in the profession. He has given plenaries and workshops at many international conferences for teachers of English. He also writes articles for teaching publications. 



With the demands placed on language teachers to work on language acquisition, we tend to overlook one especially important aspect of communication and that is body language, gesture and sound. We need to provide our students with physical activities at times in the classroom. In this article, I will describe some physical activities which aid in building group dynamics and co-ordination. In a final activity, I have ventured into simple improvisation as an introduction to our students. More challenging activities are not described here but if the reader starts using just one activity with his group, then we can progress onto more complex activities in future classes. 

The exercises described below, I hope you and your students will find useful. You will be providing your students with opportunities to 

Form and build an ensemble atmosphere in the classroom. 

Motivate students to want to learn. 

Offer and accept offers and ideas from members of the class. 

Build confidence. 

Provide a need for students to want to communicate. 

Trust the power of nonverbal communication. 

I shall provide brief outlines, procedures, and variations. 

The exercises range in order from the simplest to the more complex and you will see how I try to encourage the use of sound. Physical activities as mentioned earlier, cannot be ignored even in a language classroom. We all communicate through gesture and body language and sound and this needs to be encouraged as our students acquire new language skills. 

I am aware that a larger space may be necessary to perform some of these activities and suggest that the teacher uses a hall space or even outdoors if weather permits. 

My advice to you is that you introduce simple exercises regularly and do not be afraid of repeating them, they should be repeated. Once you and your students are familiar with them, have fun and play with them. You will find that these exercises not only help group co-ordination, but they help to create an active learning atmosphere in the classroom. These exercises are not sacrosanct and are simply a base from which all variations and changes may develop. 

Remember, be prepared to demonstrate some of these exercises. Sometimes lengthy explanations of exercises are unnecessary, besides if your students see that you are willing to play yourself and have fun, they will be more willing to have a go. I have for expediency used the masculine pronoun, throughout this article and hope I do not offend anyone. 


Activity 1: The Clap 

Materials: None. A larger space is better for this activity to be performed depending on class numbers. You need at least 10 students for this to work effectively and if you have a large group, a demonstration can be shown to the class, and it can then form two groups and work separately from each other. 

Aim: Group warm up and co-ordination. To prepare the class for learning. Focusing. 

Energy: Medium to high 


The group forms a circle. One student turns and looks at his student on the left. The student on the left looks back. The first student claps his hands, not breaking eye contact, the student on the left claps in response, turns his body to the next student on the left, makes eye contact and claps at him. The teacher could instigate the first action. 

Always performed with eye contact which is so important in this activity. This student also responds with a clap, turns to the left and passes the clap on. The exercise continues around the circle.  

Try to encourage a regular rhythm and eventually encourage speed. The clap should pass like a rapid pulse around the circle. Your students will love the dynamic of the fast action around the circle. When students have accomplished this first step, stop, and introduce them to the second level.  

Here, a clap is as usual responded to, but the recipient may decide not to turn his body to the left to pass it on but rather to pass the clap back to the giver. The clap again must be acknowledged and passed on or returned to the giver. Mistakes are inevitable but that is the fun of the activity, students will get the hand of it eventually. 

After practising this, move on to the third level. Students as usual respond to the clap given to them but this time, they may pass the clap to any other student in the circle.  

Now there are three levels to this game and students should be encouraged to try all of these whilst maintaining a regular rhythm. 

Students only ever clap once to respond and once to pass a clap on. There are no more claps. 

Rationale: This is a great game at any time during a course or a session. Students love it and will want to do it repeatedly. With just a few tries, they will become expert at it. Students have asked for this activity before class starts on occasions and I have used it and the following activity before a class examination to help relieve anxiety. Watch the electricity flow. 

Variations: A great game for naming. Students say their name on sending a clap. The respondent repeats the sender’s name and then sends his name on with a clap to another person. Try using it for vocabulary. Choose a category and pass on a word with the clap. The recipient of the word repeats it and passes on another word. It might be suggested that no word be repeated. 

Remember always to insist the game must begin with just passing the clap around the circle to build up speed before moving onto the other levels. 


Activity 2. Slap, clap, click. 

Materials: None. A larger space might be required for this activity depending on the number of students. 

Aims: Group co-ordination and co-operation. Preparation for class study. Concentration. 

Energy: Medium to high. 


The group forms a circle. The leader establishes a regular rhythm. Two beats slapping the thighs, two claps of the hands, then raised hands with one right hand finger click and one left hand finger click.  

There are six beats in all. Allow the students to familiarise themselves with the rhythm and actions. 

Give the students a number starting from 1 (the teacher can be number one for this first demonstration) and go around the circle in chronological order.  Student number one on clicking his right fingers, says his number and clicking his left fingers, says the number of the next student, number 2 on the left and so on around the circle just so the students get used to the idea. Now comes the challenging part. Looking at the partner who receives the click is especially important. 

On the very next round of the rhythm, student number 1 starts the rhythm with everyone else and clicks his right hand and says, “one” and then with his left hand he says any number within the group. So, it might be, “one” on the right click and “eight” on the left hand click.  

Number 8 now with his next right hand click, says his number, “eight” and with his left hand click, he says any other number in the group. The rhythm must be in unison within the group. This is a difficult exercise at first but persevere with it because students will adapt to it well and the exercise is useful for some variations I will mention below.  

Remember, mistakes will be made but that is half the fun. Even those students who may not be strongly kinaesthetic, will eventually participate with no problems. Mistakes are normal and the teacher should try to calm any anxiety a student might feel at first. 

Variation: This game can be used to pass names around the circle and then out of chronological order. 

Use it to pass vocabulary. Choose a category, e.g. fruit. Each students says aloud his chosen fruit which must all be different. One student begins saying his fruit word with the click of his right hand and with the click of his left hand passes on a new word from that category. E.g. someone in the circle who is an apple or strawberry for example. Now, keeping the same rhythm, the apple repeats “apple” with his right hand and gives another fruit with his left hand click. 

Try the same rhythm with a story. One word at a time only this time there is a new word with each click of the fingers. It is advisable to pass the words chronologically in the circle. This will probably get to the seventh person before there is a pause to check the syntax or story content and then when that is sorted, we continue. I like the players to correct their sentences as they proceed. If the story gets a little confusing, the students will stop and edit and that is where the teacher can assist.  Lots of fun. 


Activity 3. Passing on an object created through adjectives 

Materials: None. It helps to have a larger space for this activity. 

Aim: To develop imagination and miming skills. Voicing and using sound with the mime. Introducing improvisation without fear of making mistakes. Concentration. Physicalising adjectives. Building nonverbal communication skills.  

Energy: Medium. 


Students stand anywhere in the room. One student picks up an imaginary object and by holding it, demonstrates its size, shape, and weight to begin with. Creating size, shape and weight gives some concrete suggestion of the object before embellishing it with other qualities. The object might be hot or very cold smooth or rough, hard, or soft, safe, or dangerous. 

If the students have been studying adjectives, this is a perfect opportunity to use and physicalize them. Now, let me stress that we are not trying to create a recognisable object such as a violin or cooking pot or some other recognisable object. The object is immaterial. We simply want to create firstly size, weight, and shape before advancing on and creating more adjectives. Students need to just focus on this, and they do not even necessarily know what the object is. Teachers must try to encourage the student with the object to play with it, discover it and use sound as he plays. The player must not bother to tell the other members of the group what it is because it just is not important. It is so hard for us not to want to demonstrate a familiar object, but we do not need to do this, we just rely on adjectives and the pressure to find an object is removed. 

Sound is extremely important here as it releases tension. What sound might we use if we touch something hot or smooth or dangerous for example? We must not forget also that all cultures use nonverbal sounds to communicate, some cultures more than others. After creating perhaps no more than four other adjectives, this student then focuses his attention on to another student in the circle and makes eye contact. The eye contact should remain to ensure direct communication.  

The eye contact says in effect, “I am going to send you my object.” The object is important and must not be forgotten and some sound must be maintained. When ready, the student with the object now must throw, pass, roll, kick the object to the waiting recipient.  

The first student should be encouraged to use sound as the object is passed on. The second student should receive the object moving in such a way that seems appropriate to the object and the speed at which it was passed. What is being created here is the magic of illusion, and it will not take long for students to adapt to this.  

Encourage your students to take time discovering the object, take time to establish eye contact with another student before passing the object on. Students at first want to pass the object on too quickly. The recipient of the object takes time to discover it and then he may now use a simple hand gesture to dismiss the object and start the process of creating a new object in the center of the circle starting again with size, weight, and shape. Those watching the class member creating new adjectives, will be fascinated as the player continues creating. 

Remember to discourage students from trying to create a recognisable object as it is not important here. Allow time for the student to demonstrate through action other adjectives he can embellish his new object with.  

Now, this student again focuses his attention on another student and eventually passes on the object. Again, encourage the use of sound. Using sound will release tension and is another form of expression which should be stressed. I repeat, a recognisable object is not the aim of the activity.  We create and object from adjectives. 


This exercise, like so many others, inspires students to respond to each other, in this case physically and it is extremely important to establish this contact as soon as possible within a group if the students are to listen to and react to each other in more complex exchanges in their language class.  

I tell my students with the created object not to pass it on too quickly but to enjoy the object they have created and then make eye contact with another student taking time to let them know that the object will pass to them. The giver must allow the chosen recipient time to be aware that the object is coming to them, this will create magic and theatre.  

I cannot stress how valuable this simple activity is in building group trust and respect within the classroom, and we need this. 

What a beautiful activity for physicalising adjectives. We do this quite naturally in our interactions with people. We use our bodies to gesture our feelings about an adjective and often accompanied with sounds or emphasis when we voice the adjective. More on this in later issues where we can explore voice work. 


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  • Drama Part 1: Improvisation-based Activities for Language Learning Classes. Physical Exercises
    Peter Dyer, France