Everyone can participate in these conversation games to unleash creativity and have fun.
When I signed up for an improv theater class, I never thought of combining my passion for theater with my passion for teaching languages. But once I applied improv-inspired conversation games in the classroom, everything changed—my students’ energy, creativity, and motivation soared.
You may think, "I'm not an actor. I’m an educator. I can't do improv." I’ll admit I was skeptical, too, walking into my first improv class. While I had done theater and stand-up comedy before, creating dialogue on the spot—and in my second language—was intimidating. But I quickly learned improv is for everyone willing to unleash their creativity and have fun.
My experience with improv was so great that I decided to share it with other educators at ACTFL. I presented an academic session titled “Yes And: Unlocking Creative Teaching Strategies with Improv Theater,” the response was overwhelmingly positive. Teachers from all over the nation were excited to try improv-inspired conversation games in their own classrooms. They were confident that it would help their students learn languages in a more fun and engaging way.
What Is Improv Theater, And How Can I Use It as a Teacher?
Improv theater is a performance that is unplanned and unscripted. The performers create the story, characters, and dialogue on the spot. This exercise is an engaging, dynamic way to develop essential skills like creativity, teamwork, and communication. Here are some basic principles to remember for improv-based conversation games:
This is the most important rule of improv. Accept what your scene partner has offered and add to it. This keeps the scene moving forward and creates something new and unexpected.
As a teacher, this looks like building upon a student’s idea and helping them develop it further, pushing their creativity. This shows that you're interested in what they have to say and that you value their contributions.
Improv is all about listening to your scene partner(s) and responding to what they're saying or doing with relevant material that builds on the scene they’re creating. This collaboration helps keep the story connected.
Give students your undivided attention, and take it one step further by asking clarifying questions and summarizing what they’ve said to demonstrate understanding.
Improv requires you to be entirely focused on what's happening right now to keep up with the spontaneity of the exercise.
Paying attention to what is happening in your classroom allows you to respond to your students’ needs and be flexible if necessary.
Improv is a collaborative art form, so trust is a key component in building the world and telling the story of the scene you’re performing.
Trust yourself, your teaching abilities, and your students to be capable learners.
These principles proved extremely valuable to me as a teacher because you must embrace the unexpected in a language learner classroom. Students may ask difficult questions, have off days, act out, or surprise you. When I'm teaching, I need to be able to think on my feet and come up with creative solutions to these challenges. Improv has helped me develop these skills; I'm a better teacher because of them.
5 Conversation Games for Your Language Learners
Ready to unleash the power of improv with your students?
Incorporating improv-inspired conversation games into your world language or English language learner classroom fosters creativity and confidence in students. These conversation games also help develop effective interpersonal skills, regardless of the language being taught. Improv creates an engaging and dynamic learning environment where students can actively apply linguistic knowledge in real-time scenarios.
Your students may be hesitant at first. They have to be open to the possibility of things getting a bit silly. But trust me, they’ll be laughing and learning in no time.
Here are my top 5 improv-inspired conversation games I have used with language learners adaptable to your target language and students’ needs:
Students take turns adding one word at a time to build a collaborative story, creating unexpected twists and hilarious turns. Imagine a story written one word at a time by a group of friends who don't know where it's going!
Novice Mid to Advanced High
I can present on very familiar and everyday topics using a mixture of practiced or memorized words, phrases and simple sentences.
Gather a group of up to six students and establish a starting point for your story.
The first student says a single word to begin the story, and each subsequent participant adds one word to continue the narrative. The goal is to create a cohesive and entertaining story as you go around the group, with each person contributing only one word at a time.
This is a word association game played by two or more people. Students go through rounds of saying words at the same time until they finally say the same word, achieving a moment of perfect "mind meld."
Novice Low to Advanced High
I can provide information by answering a few simple questions on very familiar topics, using practiced or memorized words and phrases, with the help of gestures or visuals.
Get two volunteers; they will face each other before the class. Give them five seconds to think of any random word; then, they say their word on the count of three.
For the next round, keep the same two participants or swap one out with a different student, and choose one of the words from the previous round as the prompt for this round’s words. The challenge is finding a creative and quick connection between the words. The game continues with new word pairs, fostering communication and creativity among participants.
In this game, two students speak gibberish, and another student acts as the interpreter, translating made-up words and conveying the speakers’ message to the audience.
Intermediate Mid to Advanced High
Presentational and interpretive communication
I can state my viewpoint about familiar topics and give some reasons to support it, using sentences and series of connected sentences.
I can identify the main idea and key information in short straightforward conversations.
Select three students to come to the front. Two students have a dynamic conversation with each other in nonsensical language or gibberish, while the third student interprets their "gibberish" into the target language. The goal is to create a humorous and engaging dialogue where the interpreter must improvise and attribute meaning to the imaginary language spoken by their partner.
In this game, two students play a single expert with two heads. They answer interview questions in unison or alternating words, creating comedic chaos while revealing their outlandish expertise.
Novice-High to Advanced High
I can express, ask about, and react to preferences, feelings, or opinions on familiar topics, using simple sentences most of the time and asking questions to keep the conversation on topic.
Two students stand together, side by side, facing the class. They become a single character with two heads. Each student can use their outside arm but not the arms next to each other.
The class collaboratively decides on a scenario for the interview. This could be a job interview, a talk show, a news interview, or any other situation.
The challenge is for both participants to work together to respond to questions from their classmates and create a coherent narrative. They take turns speaking, and when one participant begins a sentence, the other can seamlessly finish it or continue the thought.
The goal of this game is to improvise a scene and then repeat it in increasingly shorter times, highlighting the essential elements and refining the story with each iteration.
Novice-Mid to Advanced High
I can express basic needs related to familiar and everyday activities using a mixture of practiced or memorized words, phrases, simple sentences, and questions.
Invite four students to the front of the class. Ask the rest of the students for characters (who), an activity (what), and a setting (where) to start the scene. Then, students begin acting out the scene based on the suggestion. They should aim for a natural and engaging performance, incorporating dialogue, action, and emotional responses. Tell the students you will time them; at exactly two minutes, you will stop them.
After improvising for two minutes, tell them to redo the same scene in half the time (one minute). Repeat the scene at thirty seconds, then after fifteen seconds, then seven, then three. This will force them to refine their choices, prioritize key moments, and communicate effectively under pressure. When focus starts to waiver, switch the students in front of the class.
Want to learn more on how to use improv in your classroom?
Improvisational conversation games are not just about being funny but about being present, creative, and taking risks. These are all essential skills for language learners, and improv can help them develop these skills in a fun and engaging way. I encourage all language educators to give improv a try. You may be surprised at how much your students—and you—enjoy it.
Do you want more ways to support your language learners’ creativity and language skills? Read on for some strategies you can use to help your native or heritage Spanish-speaking students thrive.
A former Spanish teacher who is currently based in the Washington DC metropolitan area. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish Language and Literature from la Universidad del Zulia and a Master's degree in Spanish Linguistics from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her interests include SEL education in the world language classroom, theater, and finding ways to make the world a less scary place.Explore more related to this author