AN IMPROV ESL CLASS CELEBRATING SAYING WHAT YOU THINK TO GET WHAT YOU WANT! (Course designed by ESL Instructor Ruth Schowalter and Improv Teacher Lesly Fredman)

Saturday, May 5, 2012


In the seventh week of our eight week program, our IMPROV ESL class at the Language Institute at Georgia Tech is rehearsing what we have learned this session. In other words, we are refining English speaking skills of rhythm and intonation while implementing the RULES OF IMPROV!

Today, we were once again visited by IMPROV TEACHER, Lesly Fredman, who is assisting me, Ruth Schowalter, ESL LANGUAGE INSTRUCTOR, in developing this IMPROV ESL class. The focus of our lesson today was STATUS. Here is a pictorial explanation of what occurred today, April 26, 2012.

Every improv class begins with a warm-up. These physical and vocal exercises allow student improvers to be present in the classroom. The idea is to relax one's mind and body in order to prepare for the challenging exercises requiring a clear mind.




LOVING THE PHYSICALITY OF IT ALL. It is a pleasure to experience students away from their desks. They seem to delight in the physicality of being in their bodies. I believe this "being in the body" impacts their language learning positively!

PLAYING THE ELEVATOR GAME (Practicing focus and emotion)

The goal for this exercise was to get student improvers to focus on the emotions of another. When the elevator door opens and a new person gets on, the people already on the elevator have to understand the emotion the newly arrived person. They then "act out" the emotion in whatever way they can imagine. When the elevator door opens, one person gets off and a new person gets on with a "new and different" emotion. The improv exercise continues as players keep adjusting their emotion to the new arrival.

ENTERING THE ELEVATOR WHILE TALKING ON THE PHONE.  Ciro (center) gets on the elevator.  Student Imrpovers on either side of him are trying to figure out how to duplicate his emotional state, which doesn't mean that they have to be speaking on the phone.

WHAT'S GOING ON HERE? The other two students have exited the elevator. Tarek (left) has entered. Ciro is figuring out what to do. Is Tarek a druggy?

TIME FOR GOING DEEPER INTO CHARACTER. Lesly (right) gets on the elevator as sloppy drunk. Sephora at first tries to help Lesly. Instead, she is encouraged to become "intoxicated" like Lesly.

GOING FOR IT! Sephora (left) is able to play along with her partner Lesly. Remember in improv,  always take what your partner gives you. 

CHANGING THE EMOTIONAL STATE.  Both Lesly and Sephora waiting to see what Hamdan is going to "give" them when he gets on the elevator!
In this improv exercise, the goal was to have one student begin the scene as "high status" and the other to be "low status." During the scene, the students were to slowly reverse status. To begin, the class has to give the improvers a setting and two characters.

THE DEFENDANT AND THE JUDGE. Alejandra (left) begins the scene as a low status criminal. Hamdan is an unrelenting judge. Notice the body language. The students were also working with their voices.

REVERSE STATUS.  Now Alejandra has become high status! Look at the change in body language as Hamdan goes low status!

ENGAGEMENT.  Look how engaged the improvers and their audience is! IMPROV ESL is a wonderfully engaging language learning tool!
GUESS WHO IS LOW STATUS?. After seeing the two students above demonstrate REVERSE STATUS, the rest of the class did the exercise. I was slightly surprised when I asked the students to change the characters and setting that they didn't want to. Instead, they wanted to play their own version of the JUDGE and the CRIMINAL. When Ciro (left) became high status, he warned the Judge that he had eaten lots of people and he would eat the Judge too! Wow!

PARROTING (An Exercise in Focus and Teamwork)
This improv exercise requires students to pay close attention to one another and to work together. The students are asked to tell a story together at the same time. They must make eye contact with one another and look at each other's mouths. No one student makes the story up alone. Each student must contribute a piece of the story. It is challenging and fun!
DEMONSTRATION BY THE INSTRUCTORS.  Parroting is a slightly difficult exercise. The students needed to see it demonstrated to understand how to do it. Here Lesly (left) and I create a fairy tale by beginning with the words, "Once upon  a time..."

PARROTING BY KOREAN AND ARABIC SPEAKERS. How amazing it is to see two different language speakers create a story together in English. One thing that surprised me was how slowly the students spoke. One of the greatest challenges for "pronunciation" teachers like me is to get students to realize English as a time-based language and not a syllabic one. This exercise had students producing more English sounding pronunciation as they lengthened on the vowel.

A NATURAL REASON FOR EYE CONTACT AND GESTURES.  I love the way improv exercises give students "real" reasons for performing the body language we teach in theory. 
As the class came to an end we gathered for a class photo! The students chose the theme: STATUS. 

LOW STATUS.  Compare this class photo to the one that began this blog (which was high status)!  

That's it for now dear ESL IMPROVERS. Remember! Always make your partner look good!

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