Improvisational TechniquesGroup 3 of 4: Developing precisions

Numer JOwS: 
str. 51
Ilustracja: Dorota Zajączkowska

In the previous group of exercises, thinking, speaking and understanding were challen-ged through the use of questions. We now expand language skills with an emphasis on precision for clarity of communication. Let us move to the declarative.

Clarity and precision in speaking requires the right words (vocabulary) arranged in the right way (grammar and syntax) to convey the right idea. In each of these exercises students are confronted with describing what something is, how something is done or why something should be. As in all improvisation, no one stands alone. There is a listener who interprets and acts upon or reacts to what the speaker is transmitting. Thus, as in real life, conversation is a team effort.

Keep off the Grass

In this exercise the “Guide” must employ very clear, specific and precise vocabulary to accurately guide the hand movements of the “Listener”. The “Listener” must concentrate to understand the “Guide” and interpret, as best as possible, the instructions they are given for their hand movements.When introducing the exercise, stress the options that are available to describe mo-tion in addition to up/down, right/left. Refer to the points of the compass; movement to-ward and away from the “Listener”; expressing distance in measurement units such as millimeters or degrees; etc. Remind them that saying “draw a circle” or “draw an arc” is incomplete because it does not identify size and direction (clockwise or anti-clockwise). The hand of the “Listener” must move in a continuous line. The pen or marker never leaves the paper or the board. The “Listener” follows the instructions as heard. It is the responsibility of the “Guide” to recognize any diversion from their in-struction, call stop, and then reformulate their instruction from that point with the pen at that location to correct the error and continue.


Either divide the class into pairs, each pair working at a desk with a sheet of paper, or bring two students to the board. Blindfold the “Listener”. Then the “Guide” is presented the diagram of a path through a grass lawn, such as:

The objective is for the “Guide” to provide clear, com-plete and precise verbal instructions by which the “Listen-er” walks the path with their pen or marker, stepping on the grass as little as possible. “Listeners” and “Guides” can exchange roles to experience both sides of the exercise. When exchanging roles, present a new “path”.Be sure the path has some angles other than 90 degrees, with some being reversals of direction, plus at least one curved section. The path should not be excessively wide, but not so narrow as to leave little room for error – 5 to 8 centimeters. You can vary it by ability, with more advanced students being confronted with a path at the low-er end of that range.When pairs of students work at their desks, after the blindfolding you distribute a diagram to each pair. After com-pletion of the exercise each team raises their sheet to display the result to the class. When performed on the board, after the blindfolding you can draw the diagram or expose the dia-gram that was hidden behind a pull-down map or screen, or covered with a large piece of paper. In this case, be sure the diagram is large enough for the entire class to see. Afterward, lead a discussion to judge what they learned. From the “Listener”, how did they feel about the instructions they were given? In what way, with what language, could it be improved to help them better walk the path? What did the “Guide” learn from the exercise? Which specific actions were the most difficult to describe? Why? How would they have described actions – especially circle and arcs – differently? If there was a problem with the vocabulary, how did the “Guide” work around the problem? For those who participated in both roles, which was easier, being a “Listener” or a “Guide”? Why? Include the remainder of the class for their impressions.

Drawing Blindly

This is an advanced version of the preceding “Keep Off the Grass”. It moves from acting on a flat surface with a con-tinuous line to representing something more complex... a three-dimensional object.


In this exercise the blindfolded “Listener” is directed by the “Guide” to draw a selected object. The object is chosen from something in the classroom or from among items brought by you to class for this lesson. Object should have good form and lines, with internal voids (such as ears on a vase or a handle on a purse) being a positive. Further-more, rather than a smooth or undecorated surface, an object with surface details is a great addition in the attempt at faithful representation. It demands more linguistic agility from the “Guide”. The more advanced the students, the more complex the object that can be employed.As in the previous exercise, this is done in pairs at their desks or at the board by two students with the class watching. Also as described in “Keep Off the Grass”, give general instructions on how to direct the action of the “Listener”. Additional to this exercise, because the com-plexity is increased with it no longer being a continuous line, it is necessary from time to time for the “Listener” to relocate the position of their pen or marker. Thus, in-struct the “Guide” that not to have extraneous marks on the drawing, when a pen position requires relocation they must remember to instruct the “Listener” to “pen up” before relocation instructions are given, and to “pen down” when the desired new location is reached.Unlike “Keep Off the Grass”, setting a time limit is ad-vised. Five minutes is a good duration. Of course you can let it run longer if all is going well. Let them know accura-cy is more important than completeness because accuracy better reflects how well the instructions are presented and understood.At the end, each team displays their “guided” draw-ing against the original object. How well does the drawing compare to the original? Once again, lead a discussion based on questions presented under “Keep Off the Grass”.

Instrumental Instructions

In this exercise the “Doer” not only listens and follows in-structions, he or she is allowed to ask questions when in doubt about what to do, which tool to use, or to suggest a different way to proceed. Each scenario possesses its particular vocabulary – the collection of special words for tools, parts, ingredients, verbs of action, etc.


The exercise is performed by a team of two: one is the “Guide” and the other is the “Doer”.Create a set of cards on which an activity is written on each card. Examples:

—Change a bicycle tire;

—Darn a sock, starting with threading the needle;

—Cook a specific recipe (scramble an egg, make toast with jam);

—Check the level and add oil in a car;

—Buy a tram ticket at an automated kiosk.The

“Guide” pulls a card from the deck; then shows the title of the exercise either:

—to you and the “Doer”. The class listens and watches to guess what action is taking place. This version is often better for young and early learners because the “Doer” knows what is to be done;

—to you only. This is more applicable to older or more advanced students because in this version both the “Doer” and the class are analyzing the instructions to uncover the action.

In proper sequence, the “Guide” provides the verbal instructions to perform specific actions to accomplish the activity. Be ready to note a missed step, such as the “Guide” forgetting to say “take the screwdriver” before saying “un-screw the screws”; or without first stating “fill a pot with x liters of water” before “bring a pot of water to a boil”. You should also note when two or more steps are contained in one instruction; as in real life they must be one at a time to avoid confusion.During the instructions the class can call out what they think the instructions are accomplishing. The exercise is continued until the activity is completed, at which time the activity is revealed if it had not yet been identi-fied. A discussion can follow.

Tour guides

This is an exercise for almost any number of students. It is best experienced in the real world while walking with students in an area around the school, in the city square or other location with many interesting sites to be described. It can also be performed easily in the classroom.


Inform your students that on an indicated day in the near future they will take you on a tour, with each student being the tour guide for a particular sight. If an actual walking tour, you designate the area in which they choose the sights they will describe. If a classroom exercise, you can either distribute locations (cities, countries, etc.) or allow the group to select their location.Each student selects something of interest to de-scribe to you: the tourist. For example:

—a building of architectural merit;

—the spot of an historical event;

—a place used in a movie or TV show;

—their favorite ice cream shop;

—the restaurant where they first had pizza;

—where something memorable happened to them.

The idea is to pick something about which to create a short yet interesting presentation for a visiting friend or family member. They are to have their selection ready for the next class.At the next class, review their selections. It is important to ensure there are no duplicates. In addition, if a walking tour, knowing the locations enables you to de-sign an efficient route to be followed.Between then and the day of the tour, each student develops their presentation in either fully written or in note form; whichever is comfortable for each student. Memorization is not required. During this time, ask if all is going well or if anyone needs assistance.On the day of the tour, as the route is followed each student in turn is the guide describing their chosen loca-tion. It is their choice to read their written text, refer to notes, or present without text or notes. If it is presented in the classroom, they can provide pictures of the place they are describing. After each presentation, you and the students can ask a few questions of the guide or add comments or additional facts.

Nasa interview

This exercise focuses on using language to present a logical argument in support of a petition.


Prepare paper slips on which is written an occupation: gar-dener, barber, dentist, English teacher, karate expert, rock star, etc. Select three or four students to sit at the front fac-ing the class. Also select several additional students who can remain at their desk, each of whom draws one of the slips and keeps it secret. Inform the students that NASA is seeking individuals with special skills to colonize another planet. A panel of judges (those at the front) will interview applicants (those who drew a slip) for the last remaining open position to participate in this chance of a lifetime. Provide a few moments for the applicants to pre-pare the points of their argument in support of why their particular occupation is the most valuable to the success of this space mission and therefore should be selected. Each student has two minutes to plead their case. Follow-ing their presentation the judges can challenge with ques-tions about their reasons, applicability to the mission, etc. Then, on a small slip of paper, each judge independent-ly records their score for that occupation on a scale of 10 (highest) to 1 (lowest). They pass their scores to you to be tallied and recorded.At the end, the student with the highest total score is selected by NASA. In the event of a tie, these students are each given one minute to refine their presentation. This time they are scored by the entire class with show of hands.As in earlier exercises, lead a discussion. What are the important points when making an argument for some-thing? How do structure and organization impact the lis-tener and their decision? How is it made compelling? What role did the vocabulary that was used affect the strength or weakness of an argument? Why were some presentations more powerful and convincing than others? Do they agree with the final decision...why or why not?

Elevator speech

Let us now have the students use themselves as the sub-ject of an exercise, the one that they will apply in their future careers. In the “Elevator Speech” they focus on brevity, but brevity with high informational content de-livered in a calm, natural manner that hides its prepared nature.


—Describe the “Elevator Speech” concept: A brief but impactful speech upon an unplanned meeting by which one promotes the key ideas about oneself or a product, service or project that leaves a lasting positive impression in the mind of the listener. The name comes from the goal to make a memorable im-pression on someone of importance in the brief time of a serendipitous meeting in an elevator ride be-tween floors – some 15 to 45 seconds.

—Discuss how the “Elevator Speech” in business is much the same as when meeting anyone for the first time. During those few moments, what will you say about yourself, and how will you say it, to make a positive impression on the listener without appear-ing self-centered?

—Begin with each student making a list of the things about themselves they believe to be important and that will be of interest to other people: where they are from; the school they attend; what they are stud-ying; their hobbies, likes in movies and music, etc. The more points the better. All of them will not be used, but the longer the list the greater the choices.

—From this they develop and write a short text with an opening line, a development section, and a sol-id close. This is the first draft. Count and record the number of words. Then they begin the fine tuning:

  • —how many words can be eliminated because they are not necessary for structure, are not strong points, or are irrelevant or distracting?
  • —keep it simple and unpretentious. Use long Lat-in derived words sparingly. Where can a one or two syllable word substitute well for a word of three, four or five syllables?
  • —where can you substitute two or three words for a long phrase?
  • —if a phrase or sentence does not flow smoothly from the lips, rewrite or drop it;
  • —how many words, such as conjunctions, can be replaced with a pause?

In total, what can be done to whittle down the word count to a point that still carries all the key ideas? With each review, make a note of the decreasing word count.

—Provide a few days for students to develop, refine, and most importantly to practice speaking it – aloud! When practicing aloud:

  • —hearing it reinforces memorizing and speaking it;
  • —speaking it aloud trains the physical aspect of making the speech;
  • —practice results in a speech that rolls off tongue; that appears to be spontaneous.

—They time their speech. Aim for about 30 seconds. It is far better to reduce word count and use words with fewer syllables than to increase the speed of speak-ing. friendlier.

—Perform the exercise by having students give their “elevator speech” to the class; or have two or more students meet and exchange introductions; or have students present in sequence to the next person in their row.

—Afterward lead a discussion. What worked? What did not work? Did they feel their speech went smoothly and naturally? What would they change? Could any speeches be shortened further? Did the listeners receive enough interesting information? Did the speaker convey confidence? When and how might they use this today? How will this apply to their careers? Etc.