Story Line Games
In this game a group of five or six players stand in a line and tell a story together. The first version of the game involves a leader who is sitting in front of the group with a pointer. The leader points to random players for random amounts of time while players take up responsibility for telling the group's story while they are being pointed to. The goal is for the story to be presented without disruption, even when the pointer is moved mid-sentence.
The second version of this game has each player receiving a word, at random, from the audience. This word becomes the cue for the next player to take over the story. So, the first player in line starts a story and continues the story until they say their word, at that point the next player in line takes up the story and moves it forward in such a way until they say their word. This goes on until the end, where the last player must end the story with the word that was given to him or her.
In the Classroom:
Energy is key! In this case, avoid having the players sit, or lean while they are in line. Enforce good posture. Act like a sports coach, even when they are not "on" they need to get ready! (Feet shoulder length apart, knees bent a little, lean forward just a little...)
This is a great chance to talk about what makes a story interesting. Here the important component is details. The more detailed the better. Keith Johnstone referred to ideas and details as "offers" and the job of players on stage is to make solid offers, and accept and build on the offers they are given. In other words, give your fellow players something to work with, and recognize and be ready for using those ideas that are given to you. This is an important lesson to give when players decide to play the game of creating the shortest story they can. Instead of saying they are wrong, offer a different game. Introduce the word "epic"! Let us know as much about the people as possible! (He didn't get into his "car" he got into his "rusty, antique, Ford, pick-up truck" or his "fire engine red Porsche Spyder convertible"-- those are offers that will change the nature of the story, and give the next player a lot to work with!)
For the pointer version of this game, the leader is part of the game! That person's job is to keep the story going, and to keep the players off balance! When players are not sure what to expect, they are much more attentive and alive in the game.
Details, Details, Details: This is a great way to promote the use of details in writing as well as structure and clarity.
Parts of speech review: For the Word to Word version of the game, ask the audience for a word of a specific part of speech. (If the kids are older, go beyond noun, verb, adjective! Ask for an onomatopoeia, or homonym! I love ending stories with interjections!)
The process is the performance: One of the best parts of this devise is that most stories that are read in class are very well written. These stories can't be! They will have gaping holes in the plot, loose ends all over the place, every possible problem that can exist! As players struggle with making the story work, talk about what is expected, bringing back facts from the beginning to tie up loose ends in the story, talk about devises that are used to move the story forward. Ask what one might do if they could rewrite it or edit it.
Adding curriculum content:
Be VERY careful about trying to include specific curriculum content into this, or any improv format. The thing that makes improv "safe" is that there are no wrong answers. If you throw students up there without preparation and start asking them to recall a specific facts and figures they will never want to go up again, and who can blame them! Improv is not about "gottcha" moments--its about "I've got your back!" moments!
The way to do this is to set it up so that they are given the opportunity to play WITH the content but not be forced to recite it. Do 'alternative histories', or 'fan fiction' versions of the book or history you just studied. Lets tell the story of what happened the back at the community once The Giver's memories were released... Tell the story of they Odyssey from the perspective of the Cyclops... What would the moon landing be like if the moon were made out of cheese?
The word to word version of the game can work with vocabulary words, but make sure the players are comfortable and confident with the words they have to use before the game starts. (Not just the word given to them, but the word before them as well...)