I’ve periodically read posts or emails on listservs about using improvisation in the ESL/EFL classroom, and I’ve played around with it occasionally. I thought I’d share what I tried out today in my Intermediate English class and which worked out quite well. It took about one half hour.

I gave each student a small whiteboard — these are so versatile and so inexpensive, and if you don’t want to buy them you can make them easily, too — along with a marker and cloth eraser. I explained that I would start off a conversation, that I wanted them to write on their board what they might say in response and hold it up so everyone and I could see it. I’d then choose one of the responses they wrote, and, in turn, respond to it, and so on. Students didn’t quite get the explanation, but they quickly did when we started.

I began by saying that I was holding onto a cliff with my fingers and ready to fall. I then yelled “Help!” and told students to write a response. Students immediately got the idea and the fun began. Responses included “No” “Why Should I?” “What Do You Need?” and “Good-bye.” I chose “Why Should I?” to respond to and said “I’m going to die if you don’t help, please!” The next responses, with much laughter, included “I will step on your fingers to help you fall!” “What will you pay me?” and “Have a good trip.” In print, it may sound like I have a class of crazed students, but it was all done in fun, and everybody participated. I would also point at various people for them to say what they wrote, too.

I next asked them to imagine that I was a pretty girl or a handsome boy, and said, “Will you go on a date with me?” A similar process then began, including at one point my asking, “What restaurant will you take me to?” followed by “I don’t want to go there.” Many students came back with responses like, “Too bad” but one wrote “Where do you want to go?” I pointed out that the student who came up with that response was likely to get far more dates than the rest of them.

Lastly, I said “You are getting an F in this class and will have to repeat it again next year.” Needless to say, an energetic conversation followed.

The lesson was a lot of fun, required next-to-zero teacher prep time, had close to 100 percent student engagement the entire half-hour, and required listening, speaking, writing and even a little bit of reading. You can’t really beat that kind of result. Well, there is one way you can, and that’s what will happen next week. Then, students will take my place and start taking turns being up in front, developing a scenario, choosing which responses they want to pick, and responding to them.

In the comments section, feel free to share your experiences with improv in the classroom, and also write any suggestions you have for future scenarios that have comedic possibilities!