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Improv and Literacy Development

Aside from being a teacher, I have also been involved in the arts throughout my life. At one point in my 20’s I took an improv class at a the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York City. I realized quickly that the work of an improv actor is very similar to the work of teacher. You have to think on your feet and respond to whatever is happening in front of you. And you never know what is coming next…

Among the many word games we played, one in particular stood out to me: “Yes…and.” The premise is that you sit with a group of people in a circle and someone starts a story. When they are ready to, they stop and the person to their left continues the story. And so on around the circle until someone ends it. But here’s the catch: Before continuing the story, the next person has to say “Yes…and” and then their ideas have to directly connect to what the person in front of them said. You can’t just make up your own stuff. The key here is to listen to the person and respond to what they say, not just wait until they stop to share your idea.

Every year I play this game with my students in my early childhood classes. I do it to teach two concepts: Active Listening and Oral Language Development.

Active Listening: We continually tell preservice teachers that they must participate in Active Listening at all times. Active Listening means that you actually listen to the person speaking and then respond to what they said, versus just waiting to talk and share your idea. This is hard concept to learn and even harder to practice. It is human nature to generate an idea based on what someone is saying, and then wait to share it. As teachers interacting with children and adults, we must listen and then respond to what we hear. “Yes…and” helps to practice this concept.

Oral Language Development: This game gives children practice in two of the four components of literacy: Listening and Speaking. Children’s oral language and vocabulary increase the more they talk and listen to others talk. “Yes…and” gives them opportunities to do both, and helps them to truly listen to another person before responding. When they are listening, they are learning new words and phrases. They then can respond with this new knowledge. It’s also fun!

A twist to “Yes…and”: Each person can only say 4 words before they must stop and let the next person continue. This version is better with older children – young children are still working on their listening and their oral vocabulary and the original version is a better fit.

 

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