Featured Post

10,000 Hours

In his book  Outliers , Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point and Blink ) maintains that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be wor...

Thursday, March 5, 2009


In my beginning improv class today, I decided to teach speaking in one voice. We'd been working on word-at-a-time stories, with often hilarious results, but too often our tales would pause, agonizingly, while the storytellers looked for just the right word to come next. My students each had a very clear idea where they wanted the story to go, so when it was their turn to contribute a word, they didn't want to give up control with a "the" or "a" -- they needed to find the one word that would swing the story around to their vision. Despite my admonitions to relax and just say the next logical word in the story, they couldn't give up control.

Speaking in one voice seemed a logical next step. You really have to give up control with that exercise -- or be outed as a control-freak. So I set the group up in pairs and asked them to answer, in one voice, simple questions that I would ask them, like "what is your favorite color?" As it turns out, however, the questions were too hard to answer in one voice. Whose favorite color? How do you structure the answer? There were too many ways to be wrong, and they were all getting in the way.

So we took a step back. I asked the class to pair up again and, facing their partner and making eye contact, I asked each pair to count to ten, in one voice. Then backward from ten to one. This was something they knew -- they knew how it started and ended and what came in the middle. The only thing that was different was the speaking in one voice.

Then, switching partners, I made up a word ("persephonious," I think, and later "zephyrific" and "fishiculosity") and asked them to spell it in one voice. Of course, there was no way to be wrong, because it wasn't a real word, and it could be spelled any way they chose. However, spelling an unknown word did have enough structure to give the students direction -- they knew how the word sounded, and any English speaker could reasonably make a guess. Yet everyone would probably guess differently -- so each pair would have to work together to stay on the same page.

It was a success -- not only did the students have a great time spelling these ridiculous words, they also "got" the idea of speaking in one voice, which they were eager to then bring to other exercises and games. Now we'll just have to wait and see if it helps with the Word-at-a-Time control issues ...

Improv Hours Today: 4
This Week: 7
This Month: 11
This Year: 132
Total: 5,632