Improv activities for design thinking
0. Yes, BUT... vs. Yes, AND:
Have people form pairs or small groups (3-4) and tell them they are going to plan an activity (a trip, a party)
The first round, every time someone proposes an idea, someone else should
answer with "Yes, BUT...(reason why that is not going to work)". On the second round, the response should be "Yes, AND... (add something that builds on the first idea)". Debrief about the group energy and what
kind of ideas came out in each round.
. Everyone stands in a circle. The goal is to recite the
alphabet one person at a time, in no particular order. The catch is that if two (or more) people say the
same letter at the same time, you have to start over from "A". It makes everyone be very aware of
everyone else in the group. You have to really concentrate and look at
everyone to make the decision of whether to chime in with the next
2. Sound ball
: Passing an invisible ball making a sound to someone in the circle,
that person catches the ball making the same sound and then passes it
to someone else making a different sound). You may introduce a second sound ball at some point.
3. People to people:
people walk around at random until the
organizer says "people to people"; then you lock one arm with whoever
is next to you at that moment. Then the organizer mentions two body
parts, for instance "elbow to toe". The 2 people have to touch their
elbow with the other person toe and freeze in that position. Break and repeat. You can also do it with 3 or 4 people at a time.
: One person begins a repetitive movement and a sound that goes along
with it. The second person has to do a repetitive movement and sound
that somehow connects to the first person. One by one, all students add to
the “machine”, creating a huge apparatus and symphony of sounds. You
can make for instance a "peanut butter and jelly sandwich-making
machine" :) The leader can slow the pace down or speed up until the machine disintegrates to end the activity.
group of 4-5 students sits facing the rest of the class. They are
collectively playing one character, who is a guest on a talk show. One
person (facilitator) is the “talk show host” interviewing this
character. The audience suggests a profession or expertise for the
character (i.e. professional scuba diver, foot surgeon, astronaut,
mother of 20 children, etc.). The facilitator asks questions and the
“guest” has to answer one word at a time. Each of the 4-5 people adds a
word, creating word by word an answer to the question. The audience
can also ask questions of the “talk show guest.”
In a circle, people say one word at a time; when the group feels the
idea/sentence is complete they put their hands together and say "yes,
yes, yessss" (see Liz Gerber's article).
6. Growing and shrinking scene
: One student acts out a scene in the middle of the room (for
example, pretend he/she is fishing). At one point, the facilitator calls "freeze!"
and a second person comes in, creating a different scene
based on the position of the first person. At "freeze!", a third
person comes in and changes the scene again. This process can then be reversed and have
people leave, returning to the previous scene, until there's only the
initial person left.7. Freeze!:
people walk around the room paying attention to others; when someone
sees a person freeze (they get to freeze whenever they want), they freeze too (variation: you have to freeze in
same position; how fast can we get the group to react?).
8. The enemy/damsel in distress and the superhero/evil mastermind:
People walk around the room briskly, without a particular direction.
The leader tells people to identify one person (person A), without that
person realizing. That person will be their worst enemy. Repeat, and
the next identified person -B- will be their superhero. When people
resume walking this time, their goal is to be protected from their
enemy by their superhero, that is, to be in between the two at all
times. When the leader yells freeze and asks how many people met the
goal, and to point at the two selected people. The end. Variation:
person A is the damsel in distress and B is the evil mastermind. The
goal is to be protecting A at all times.
9. The equilateral triangle:
same mechanic as # 8, but the end goal is to form at all times an
equilateral triangle between you and the other 2 people you identified.
10. Naming frenzy: Do a, b, c in sequence:
a. everyone walks around the room, pointing at things ("do not point at people") and naming them out loud.
same as a, but starting with the floor and naming it "floor"; then the
next thing you point at you name it "floor" and the next thing you name
it the name of the previous thing. If you get stuck, point at the floor
and start over.
c. same as a, but when pointing at things, call them
anything but what they are (doesn't matter if what comes out of your
mouth makes no sense or is not even a word; "speak before thinking").
And "point emphatically, with your whole body".
After this you may debrief and ask if they are more aware of the room, if the rooms looks brighter, etc.
11. String of pearls: One
person stands and tells the first line in a story (anything). The
second person stands at the opposite end and tells the end of the
story. Now people fill in at any point in between the two ends and
complete another part of the story. Each time a 'new pearl' enters the
chain, everyone in line repeats their line in the order in which they
are standing, until the story is completed (ie, there is no more people
12. Body movement evolution: in a circle, someone
makes a movement and sound (something like a twitch); the next person
imitates, incorporating whatever "mistakes" the person made in copying the previous movement. This can go on for as long as you want around the
13. Rock, Paper, Scissors War: Starting in pairs, people play rock, paper, scissors with one another. The winner moves on, the loser, becomes the winners "biggest fan." By the end the two people will play for the title each with a massive cheering section.
14. Shake and Unravel: The first goal is to meet as many people as possible. You meet by shaking hands. In this game, you cannot stop shaking hands with one person until you start shaking hands with another person. At some point during the game, call out "stick" which means that they can no longer let go of anyone's hand (explain this point while giving the original instructions). Have the group continue for a few seconds until everyone is holding two separate peoples' hands. Pause the game and inform them that they have just created a human knot, and that they must untangle themselves.