Thursday, July 26, 2012


THE PROFESSIONAL LOOK! As a result of using improvisation with these international students enrolled in an intensive English course before beginning their 2-year MBA course at Emory's Goizueta Business School, they willingly respond to a variety of prompts when posing for a class photo! The prompt for this photo was, "Look Professional"!

HALLELUJAH PILGRIMS for playing with our IMAGINATIONS. And IMPROVISATION is absolutely one of the most FUN and IMAGINATIVE ways to playfully teach English in an international classroom of students who want to increase their fluency in this global business language!

How does IMPROVISATION facilitate language learning? GREAT QUESTION! Let me start my explanation at the beginning of this summer's (2012) Advanced Oral Communication's class at the Goizueta Business School on Emory University's campus! I have the students read out loud to one another and sign the following IMPROVISATION contract (c) by Ruth Schowalter and Lesly Fredman:


 I,  ______________________________________________ , 
(your  full complete name)
agree to take communication risks in this class. These risks may challenge me, and the way I am used to speaking and expressing myself. I understand at times I may be uncomfortable in performing some class activities but that “moving” outside of my “comfort zone” helps me grow and gain new exciting ways to communicate.

I also agree to think of ways to use the skills and activities that we are doing in class in my daily life beyond the doors of Emory’s Goizueta Business School.  I acknowledge that in class, we use exaggerated pronunciation, intonation, and gestures in order to practice and acquire a skill, knowing that my “social acuity” adjusts these behaviors once I leave the classroom. I promise I will be aware of the subtle shifts in my behavior and how I change my speech and body language to be appropriate for the situation.

Very importantly, I agree to observe the 7 Rules of Improv as stated below:

  1. I will always say “yes” to my partner, finding multiple words and phrases to express “yes”. 
  2. I will be myself.  I will use the good idea I have and not wait or search for the great idea. 
  3. I will be present to the scene. I will really listen to what my partner says. I will then say and do what I think in response.  
  4. I will accept what my partner gives me. I won’t reject anything. If my partner says something I don’t like, I will find a way to say what I want without refusing what he/she has offered. 
  5. I will take risks when communicating in this class.  I agree to try things and to fail. I understand that making mistakes are okay. In this way, I learn something new. 
  6. I will strive to make my partner look good. It is my goal to appreciate my classmate and make him/her look smart and fluent. 
  7. I will have fun in this class. I know that when I experience positive emotions, I learn and retain what I have learned.

Finally, I promise myself to learn something from this class that will improve the way I speak English and communicate with people in all arenas of the English speaking world whether it be academic, professional, or social.

______________________          ____________________

signature                                                 date

Immediately following the reading and signing of the contract, I engage the students in implementing one of the most delightful IMPROVISATION rules, that one of saying, "YES!" Saying "YES" is one of the most significant IMPROVISATION tools any IMPROV English language student can use. In addition to the positive atmosphere  that a good resounding "YES" produces, it also keeps the conversation going and going and going--a result close to a MIRACLE for a person who longs to have an opportunity to speak in the target language with native speakers!

HIGH STATUS--LOW STATUS.  Examine the body language here! Can you tell who is high status and who is low status? The students choose roles to play from the handout or create one of their own. The character pairing ranged from ones like manager + employee to sun + moon. During the exercise they had to gradually reverse status, so at the end, they would be using opposite body language from the beginning (see another blog entry of mine that mentions status).  
WHO IS HIGH STATUS HERE? Whenever I can, I have the students stand up and speak. I believe that repeated standing up and using the entire body increases confidence and builds skills using the entire body. Notice the students in the background holding onto their papers. I also encourage students to put down their handouts in order to gesture more freely and to make better eye contact. Often students hold onto papers for security.
HAVING FUN! Improvisation enables to students to have fun, a positive emotion that enhances learning. Here the students are playing "status" between a cat and dog! Notice the use of body language! 

As an aside, I might disclose that when the students begin the course with this IMPROVISATION "YES" exercise, they immediately develop the inclination to say "YES" as frequently and as loudly as they can during the rest of our classroom time together! Because they know how affirming it is for everyone! "YES" indeedy!

Then, once having established the RULES of IMPROVISATION with the student contract and the first "YES" exercise, students willingly "jump in" to improvisation exercises each day. They have been given a powerful recipe for language learning from the RULES of IMPROVISATION--the permission to do the following:

Take risks
Make mistakes
Have fun

In addition to these RULES of IMPROVISATION creating an environment where students can experiment with expressing themselves and try out "new" ways of speaking the English language, they practice a way of "connecting" positively with others. They get to experience communicating successfully--even when speaking English imperfectly and having breakdowns in understanding! IMPROVISATION exercises create opportunities for language learners to express opinions, play experts, answer questions, experiment with status and to negotiate misunderstandings! Best of all? Students find these engagements with one another stimulating and meaningful!

Let me conclude this blog with the way improvisation exercises in the Advanced Oral Communications class impacted the other class I taught them--giving presentations! 
HAVING FUN GIVING THE TEAM PROJECT PRESENTATION. The intensive language program for this international portion of Emory's MBA class of  2014 concluded with presentations of case analyses that they did in teams. As you can see here, this is TEAM GOOGLE. They decided to wear jackets for two reasons: 1) To remind them to use "professional" English as opposed to "informal" spoken English. 2) To let the jacket serve as an imaginary device allowing them to speak using their "American" persona! Isn't their display of intellectual prowess grand and fun? This kind of easeful fun is the culmination of practicing IMPROVISATION daily.
EXUDING CONFIDENCE AND STYLE. Improvisation activities teaches students how to step into another way of being so that they can succeed in whatever they endeavor--or at least have fun negotiating meaning. This Starbucks Team rocks! Notice they chose to dress in Starbucks colors.

Every language teacher knows that when language is used meaningfully, students have incentive to learn and use it. Three additional  RULES of IMPROVISATION from the student contract above are about creating a positive exchange with another person:

Listen and respond to what another person is saying
Receive what another person gives you conversationally
Make that other person successful

These rules are useful tools for working together in a team! Don't you think! A resounding YES! That's Coffee with Hallelujah! Let me know what you think about using the RULES OF IMPROVISATION in your classroom and life!


  • First of all, I acknowledge the students in the 2014 MBA Goizueta class who made teaching IMPROVISATION ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE a pleasurable, meaningful, and worthwhile experience this summer! And the first IMPROV ESL class that I taught at Georgia Tech's Language Institute and blogged about here: International Watermelon Pirates.

HURRAY! THE LAST CLASS. After the last presentation, I asked the students in Section B (we had two groups) to pose for a series of photos. This photo shows evidence of improvisation work. For the warm-up before presentations, I had had the class do some physical exercises, one of which  you can witness here--the laughing lion exercise from laughter yoga. For this exercise, you open your mouth wide and laugh and you put your hands out like a fierce lion! See the right student in back row. Wow!

  • Then I must certainly acknowledge the 2005 professional conference of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) in San Antonio, Texas, where I was first introduced to the idea of using IMPROVISATION in an ESL classroom, and more specifically learned the "YES" exercise. 
  • And many thanks go to my IMPROVISATION teacher Lesly Fredman, who I began taking IMPROVISATION classes from in 2008 and then who I developed an intensive ESL IMPROV course with in the spring of 2012 at the Language Institute of Georgia Tech. 
  • It is from Patricia Ryan Madson's book, Improv Wisdom, that I got sound understanding of the rules of improvisation. 
  • The idea of making a contract came from Julia Cameron's The Artist Way. At the beginning of her book, we all sign a contract to ourself to write every morning (the morning pages) and to give ourselves "an artist's date" once a week. The three different times I did the The Artist's Way, signing the contract deepened my commitment to the process I was endeavoring to be a part of!
  • My acknowledgements wouldn't be complete without mentioning my fellow improver, Alice Teeter, and her poem, "Say Yes," from her book, When It Happens to You. Read it if you are looking for inspiration to say YES. Saying YES really makes a difference! It is FUN, and it takes you deeper into your LIFE (See my blog entry on saying yes!).

VERY GOOD, VERY GOOD, YEAH. A refrain I use in class with students is "Very good. Very good. Yeah." It is something I use to bring activities to an end and get everybody together as we clap our hands together twice and then raise them up in the signing you see above. Thanks to Jean Woodall, the woman who certified me as a Laughing Yoga Leader.


  1. OMG. Your classes are so inspiring! How lucky these students are to have you and your creativity as a teacher-leader-enabler. YEAH!

  2. Cecelia! Thank you so much for your very kind comments! It is such a privilege to work with these students! They are kind, gentle, smart, and enthusiastic. So much fun!