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Improv Games

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We wish to thank Patricia Ryan Madson, Stanford Professor Emerita and author of Improv Wisdom, who shared these exercises with us.

Sound Ball

Players stand in a circle. One player says a sound to another member of the class while mimicking the gesture of throwing a ball. When you receive the sound ball, repeat the sound and mimic the gesture of catching. Then throw to another player and send another sound. Add multiple sound balls to the game.

  • You need to find a partner for each exchange; being connected is key.
  • Be helpful; notice who hasn’t had the ball yet.
  • When it’s your turn, see what sound comes out rather than trying to think up a sound. Try uttering a noise and letting it turn into a sound. In order to pay full attention and be a good catcher, don’t get distracted by thinking ahead to your next sound.
  • Try not to analyze or judge whether your sound is good or not.

Word Ball

Just like sound ball – with words. 

  • In lieu of preparation (thinking ahead to your next word), be 120% awake and paying full attention.
  • Goodwill is more important than getting it right. Make your partner look good. If you stop the game to ask someone to repeat their word, you’ve blocked their offer.

Last Letter First Letter Ball

Just like word ball, but throw a word that begins with the last letter of the word you caught.

  • Try not to look up or glaze your eyes over to think up a word. Stay connected.

Eye contact switch

Stand in a circle. When you make eye contact with a partner, switch places.


Players stand in a circle and create wise sayings together one word at a time (one word per person), for example "Every" .... "Person" .... "Needs" .... "Sleep". Conclude each proverb with everyone repeating, “Yes, yes, yes. yes.”

  • Be obvious. Don’t try to think up something clever. We are creating something together without a plan.

Listening Exercise

In pairs, one person tells a story for 90 seconds straight. (Try the story of your name or a story about your friends or family, something true with a fair amount of detail.) After 90 seconds, take a deep breath. The partner repeats the story in 1st person, as close to verbatim as possible. Switch roles. 

  • Listen 130%. Move aside other thoughts and judgments.
  • It’s nice to have someone repeat your story back to you.
  • We rarely listen this closely. It’s a muscle that you can train to get stronger.

Storytelling: story spine

One-by-one in a circle, each person begins their contribution to a story with these lines (written on the board):

  1. "Once upon a time there was…"      Name central character and location
  2. "And every day…"     Sets character into some sort of routine or norm
  3. "Until one day…"     The change to the norm. Be careful not to simply block the norm; instead build in new possibility.
  4. "Because of that…"
  5. "Because of that…"     (okay to add more "Because of that"s)
  6. "Until finally…"      New stasis
  7. "And ever since that day…"
  8. "The moral of the story is…"

Repeat around the circle, building several stories together.