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Virtual Improv Activities for Remote Learning

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Given my experiential education background, I’ve always been fond of and have used group team building and problem-solving activities with all of the age groups I teach – for example, see Team-Building with Elementary Students. I’ve written several blogs about teaching remotely during the pandemic and how remote learning can be engaging, exciting, and include student-to-student relationship building activities.

I believe that all learning, face-to-face or online, should have the students doing things rather than be passive learners. Recently I went to a workshop on virtual improv activities. I really loved it and am now incorporating these type of activities into my online teaching of both my college students and my elementary students. These activities elicit the same excitement, energy, and engagement as the face-to-face team building activities.

Improvisational theatre games are traditionally used as an ice-breaker for theatre actors to feel comfortable with other actors as well as the script of the play. The skills and processes of this technique can be introduced in the beginning or at the end to [a virtual class] to initiate communication and encourage collaboration. This can be an educational tool to develop communication skills, and creative problem-solving and supportive teamwork abilities. The rules of improvisational theater, or ‘Improv’ as it is often called, are: don’t hesitate, pay attention, never block or negotiate, always add something positive, and don’t be scared of silence. Following these rules, elements of Improv can be successfully transferred from real life settings into virtual team sessions (Improvisational Theatre Can Breathe Life Into Virtual On-boarding).

What follows is a sampling of improv games:

Club Gesture

Everyone chooses a quality to share about themselves, and picks a gesture or movement to represent it. Going around the circle, each person says their quality and demonstrates the accompanying gesture, and the whole group does the gesture too. Ex: Gloria says, “I’m Gloria and I’m highly organized,” pantomiming arranging objects in the air with great focus. Everyone then does her gesture of arranging objects in the air. Alternate version: Each person makes a gesture but does not verbally share their quality, and the group guesses what their quality is (Improv Games for Virtual Space by Jonathon Moses Leiner).

Dance Party

One student on camera acts as the dance teacher. You play music, and the “dance teacher” dances to the song, all the other students try to follow the dance steps to the best of their ability. Every time the song changes, a different student takes over as the dance teacher. This is a great energy builder. (Pro-tip: The challenge is not about how good of a dancer is each student, it’s about how silly can everyone be) (10 of the Best Virtual Improvisation Games for Distance Learning).

Tell Me a Story

Human beings are naturally born storytellers. With this online energizer, you’ll take some time to connect to one another through telling a shared story and be encouraged to have fun while improvising too!The teacher tarts with a line like “Once upon a time, in a land far away, 5 people got together to solve all the world’s problems. Everything seemed easy, until one day one of the people saw on the horizon…” and invites the next person in the group to continue the story and add the next line. This keeps going until everyone’s contributed to the story (20 online energizers for virtual teams and remote meetings (20 online energizers for virtual teams and remote meetings).

Object Improv

Two students do a scene on cam, a third student (or you) has a bell. Every time the bell is rung, one of the improvisers in the scene has to grab any nearby item and immediately use it in the scene. (Pro-tip: challenge the students to make the item very important. For example, if you ring the bell, and one student grabs a stapler and introduces it into the scene, the other improviser should make the stapler relevant to the story) (10 of the Best Virtual Improvisation Games for Distance Learning).

Puppies and Kittens

First, separate the room into two groups: puppies and kitties. You can have the groups either use nonverbal feedback icons or put their hands up to delineate which team they’re on. If you’re being particularly creative, have them change their background image to either a puppy or kitten! The aim of the game is for the puppies, one at a time, to say hello to the kittens in any way possible and try to make any of them smile or laugh. Use speaker view in Zoom so that each puppy is seen and heard clearly when it’s their turn. Whenever a kitten smiles or laughs, they join the puppy team. Continue until only one kitten remains or everyone becomes a puppy (20 online energizers for virtual teams and remote meetings (20 online energizers for virtual teams and remote meetings)!

Energy Ball

Facilitator shows the group an [imaginary] energy ball, then physically remolds it into a new object, declares what it is and pantomimes using the object, and then the whole group uses the object. That person then chooses who to pass the object to next, and that person remolds it into a new object, and so on. Ex: Alejandro remolds the energy ball into a telephone. He holds the phone up to his ear, everyone mimes using the phone, and then passes it to Nia. “Phone call for you, Nia.” Nia receives the phone, says “Oh hi!” on the phone, and then remolds it into a pitchfork, lifting up hay… (Improv Games for Virtual Space by Jonathon Moses Leiner)

Kamehameha

Facilitator sends “energy blasts” as depicted below to different sides of the screen: LEFT, RIGHT, UP, DOWN, CENTER. The group dodges the blasts by moving in the opposite direction of where the blast is pointed. Blast left → dodge right, etc. Up requires ducking, down requires jumping, and center can be any direction. An optional point system could be included to tally successful dodges and/or hits (Improv Games for Virtual Space by Jonathon Moses Leiner).

Tell Me a Pitch

In the online pitch, we recommend setting up a slide deck of weird and wonderful objects and then, inviting your participants one by one to pitch whatever comes up on the next slide to the rest of the group [without knowing what that object is]. Time it so participants have thirty seconds to pitch and keep things moving – bonus points if participants can think outside of the box while pitching. This is a great online energizer that encourages improvisation (20 online energizers for virtual teams and remote meetings (20 online energizers for virtual teams and remote meetings). 

Picture of Shoes

Have each of your participants take a picture of their shoes and upload it to an online whiteboard or Google Slides. You can ask participants to take their photographs in the meeting itself or beforehand if you want to keep this energizer short and neat. That said, it can be very fun for people to take photographs in the workshop. Change it up by encouraging funny poses or use of extra props. You then invite people to discuss their footwear and tell a story of their chosen shoes. It might be that they’re wearing comfy slippers they got for a recent birthday or running shoes they wore while completing a 10k (20 online energizers for virtual teams and remote meetings (20 online energizers for virtual teams and remote meetings)!

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 21, 2021 at 6:24 pm

Virtual Team Building Activities

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I, like many others, was forced to move a face-to-face college class to virtual synchronous meetings in Zoom. This term I am teaching a group dynamics course. One of my goals is to have my students experience similar dynamics and processes as they would face-to-face. Typically, I do this through experiential group activities. My task has become converting these experiences to a virtual environment.

What follows are descriptions of some of these activities:

  • Ice Breaker Wheel
  • Never Have I Ever
  • Two Truths and a Lie Via Flipgrid
  • I Am Poems
  • Padlet Partner Interviews Partner Interviews
  • Team Contracts
  • Flippity Scavenger Hunt – Virtual Escape Room
  • Body Part Debrief (ala Michelle Cummings)

Ice Breaker Wheel

During the webinar, each student is given a link to the ice breaker wheel. Each student takes turns spinning it to get a question and then provides an answer to the rest of the group.

Never Have I Ever

During the virtual meeting, never have you ever questions are asked. If individual students have experienced it, they jump out of their chairs. There are lots of websites that have these questions including https://icebreakerideas.com/never-have-i-ever/. Here is a list from that website:

Never have I ever . . .:

  • Dyed my hair
  • Baked a cake from scratch
  • Fallen down in public
  • Had braces
  • Built something out of wood
  • Been to Disney World
  • Eaten a Krispy Kreme donut
  • Screamed during a scary movie
  • Been to a professional sporting event
  • Rolled down a hill
  • Toilet papered someone’s house
  • Laughed so hard I cried
  • Burned myself with a curling iron
  • Gotten seasick
  • Eaten food that fell on the floor
  • Shared a sucker with my dog
  • Had chickenpox
  • Shopped at Home Depot
  • Spied on my neighbors
  • Plucked my eyebrows
  • Ridden in a limo
  • Had a pet fish
  • Lied about my age
  • Bought something at a yard sale
  • Made a prank call
  • Gotten a tattoo
  • Had food come out my nose
  • Had a massage
  • Locked my keys in the car
  • Ridden a horse
  • Been lost
  • Been to Europe
  • Built a fire
  • Been skydiving
  • Played golf
  • Had a manicure
  • Made mashed
  • Made all A’s in school
  • Eaten a bug

Two Truths and a Live via Flipgrid

Many have played Two Truths and a Lie. For those who have not or who have forgotten the directions, here they are:

To get started, give out the instructions to the group by letting them know that each person will introduce themselves by stating two truths and one lie. They don’t have to be intimate, life-revealing things, just simple hobbies, interests, or past experiences that make each person unique. The lie can be outrageous, wacky, or sound like a truth, making it even harder for the other participants who have to guess which statement is a lie (https://www.thoughtco.com/2-truths-lie-idea-list-1-31144).

To do this online, each student records her/his two truths and a lie using Flipgrid (The teacher is the only one who needs an account. Here is more information how to use Flipgrid – https://flipgrid.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/360007460474-Getting-Started-Educators). The other class members make their guess for which is the lie via the comment function in Flipgrid. Here is an example:

I Am Poems

Students are provided with an “I Am” template, – https://freeology.com/worksheet-creator/poetry/i-am-poem/. Once the poems are written, participants are given a link to a shared Google Slide presentation (shared with anyone with a link can edit) that you started. They are asked to use one of the presentation slides to compose their poem and include a photo or image that symbolizes the essence of their identity. After all participants complete this task, the presentation, one poem at a time, is shared in the webinar platform.  Students read their poems to their classmates when it comes up in the Google Slide presentation.

What follows is an example from my class.

Padlet Partner Interviews

Padlet is used for this activity. (The teacher is the only one who needs an account. For more information about creating Padlets, see https://jn.padlet.com/ ). Students are split into partners (several of the webinar platforms allow for breakout rooms). They interview one another. They can come up with their own questions or they choose some from https://museumhack.com/list-icebreakers-questions/. Once done interviewing, the interviewer puts the summary of her or his interview on a Padlet sticky note and then selects an image (there is a Google search tool within Padlet) that represents the essence of that interview. When the whole group reconvenes, each group member shares one cool thing learned about her or his partner. Below is an example Padlet (screenshot).

Team Contracts

Team contracts are good to use if the group or team will be working together for multiple class sessions over a period of time such as for weeks or months. Groups are given the instruction to come up with norms that will make this a group where individual team or group members feel a sense of safety to disclose information about themselves and also to feel willing to take risks. The class is broken into smaller breakout groups of 3 to 5 people per group. One group member acts as the media specialist. They add norms and graphics based on their small group input and consensus of ideas.

What follows are example team contracts completed during a Zoom session. The following two examples were completed by small groups using technology – the first one with https://www.canva.com/ and the second one with a Powerpoint slide.

The next example was done with one person cutting out letters and adding key terms that her team members brainstormed.

Flippity Scavenger Hunt – Virtual Escape Room

Flippity,net has a template for creating a virtual scavenger hunt/escape room. Here are the directions for how to do so https://flippity.net/ScavengerHunt.htm.

I created one for my group dynamics course if you want to try it out.

(Hint: Some of the answers are open-ended. Some require specific answers. To make it through the entire series of locks, #6 is courage and #7 is active listening.)

Debrief

It is important to put a sense of closure at the end of the virtual group sessions. To do so, a prompt can be given to the students that helps them think and respond about their significant take away from the virtual class session. Each participant is given an opportunity to answer the prompt one at a time in an “around the group” fashion.

What follows are a few developed by Michelle Cummings of Training Wheels. The first is the Dice Debrief. Team members spin a dice and that number role indicates which question they will answer on the following graphic. If someone doesn’t have a dice, they can use a virtual one by just googling “virtual dice.”

The following debrief prompt, developed by Michelle Cummings, is the body part debrief. Each student picks one of the body parts and the corresponding question to answer for their session closing comment.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 30, 2020 at 1:14 am

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