Monday, February 3, 2014

EMBODYING THE LANGUAGE: Teaching English using improvisation and creative movement

EMBODYING THE LANGUAGE.  By the end of the improvisation English class, participants are enlivened and embodying the language. Here they are expressing our mantra from Laughter Yoga: Very good! Very good! Yeah! (photo by Ruth Schowalter)

Hallelujah for education! Hallelujah for educators and students! Hallelujah for acknowledging different styles of learning. And, yes, Hallelujah for kinesthetic learning to teach English as a Second Language (ESL)!

I've always described myself primarily as a visual learner, that is until I discovered InterPlay at the beginning of 2013 and learned that I take in vast quantities of information through my body. Surprisingly, I found that I am a kinesthetic learner. This discovery not only impacted the way I go about gathering new information in the world, it impacted my teaching ESL.

As an ESL instructor, I had already been working with improvisation (an acting tool) to help international students to get up from their desks and to "move" and "be" in the English language. But InterPlay gave me a new sense of how to talk about this way of using and learning English. The phrase EMBODY THE LANGUAGE emerged for me.
STANDING, AWAY FROM DESKS. Here the participants are discussing the "why" behind an activity and whether or nor they might use the activity in their own language classrooms. Notice, as this is the first workshop, they are holding onto handouts and not yet using their hands to punctuate stressed syllables and key words. Gestures increase with play and gradual agreement to experiment with new ways of speaking English. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
Having taught ESL for more than 20 years, I finally arrived at my zenith, the culmination of all my years of instruction--I had THE VISION, one I truly believed in for meaningful, successful language learning...

Language learning takes place in the midst of FUN! Enlivened learners and instructors engage powerfully. As an instructor, I needed to be taking risks, moving away from the podium and into the cluster of student activity. Then after asking the students to step up and away from desks, computers, note taking and to be "open" to others is when surprising and meaningful communications occur. 

Engaging everyone in simple physical movement combined with language exercises is the "good" kind of challenge leading to excitement. Magic appears in the room of EMBODIED LANGUAGE LEARNERS...and INSTRUCTORS.

For the language workshop I conducted on Friday, January 31, 2014, at Georgia Tech for my former employer, The Language Institute, I introduced these concepts to the Brazilian educators in the first few minutes to prepare them for our EMBODIED LANGUAGE LEARNING experience:
Important Concepts for this Workshop

  • KINESTHETIC LEARNING = Learning through physical activity/Doing 
  • FUN & PLAY & CREATIVE CHALLENGE = Positive learning outcomes   
  • FLUENCY of SELF (whole person) = LANGUAGE FLUENCY
  • TEACHER = Facilitator/Coach/Participant/Witness
  • STUDENT= Actor/Choice maker/Inventor/Leader/Follower/Witness
  • EMBODYING THE LANGUAGE = Confidence/Empowerment   
TAKING A SIT DOWN ACTIVITY BREAK. I have to remember to provide students an opportunity to sit down and interact. However, I still make sure that the seating is arranged to allow an "openess" to each other. In addition, I visit each group and re-enforce my request for them to use hand gestures to punctuate stressed syllables and key words. With new groups, I do not take photographs of them moving around being silly for two reasons: 1) I'm moving with them to show them that I, too, can move creatively and without inhibitions. 2) To support their moving authentically and prevent any hamming it up for the camera.(photo by Ruth Schowalter)
--> As I develop the concept of EMBODYING THE LANGUAGE, I introduce my logic behind using improv activities to teach English. In a developed 8-week  ESL Improv class, we learn the rules of Improvisation and spend the weeks implementing them. Love, joy, and relationship ensue. And so does confident language use! Hurray for IMPROV ESL!

Reasons for Doing Improvisation:  Actors do improvisation exercises to develop their creativity and ability to build scenes with other actors.  English language learners can use improvisation tools to:

  •  access their existing reservoir of English vocabulary and grammar
  • play with English in fun and exciting ways 
  • use American body language and intonation to increase the effectiveness of communications (embody the language) 
  •   gain fluency and confidence
  • develop personal and professional relationships
  • exercise team building skills 
SMILING EDUCATORS AT THE END OF IMPROVISATION WORKSHOP. The conclusion of an Improv ESL class or workshop is quite satisfying. We have spent the time meaningfully, had fun, and been enlivened. (photo by Beryl Martinson)
That's Coffee with Hallelujah! SOUL BLOG with me and tell me about the ways you embody the language you speak!


  1. What a great job you did explaining the concept of this wonderful way of teaching and learning. Wouldn't it be fun if all the schools would use this method of teaching...get students involved physically, emotionally and mentally.

    1. Darlene thank you for commenting on this workshop I did with Brazilian educators at Georgia Tech! I have so much fun engaging with other teachers of English in this way. It is a fun methodology for instructing and just BEING!

  2. thanks for providing this information really it is helpful

    Categories of TOEFL

    1. Thanks Nancy! The ideas have taken a while to put together!

  3. I love the way you share your experiences with words and PICTURES. And I agree that it's important to not interfere with the activities by introducing a camera, but once people are comfortable in what they are doing, a picture is a great momento of what's gone on and a wonderful way to share the experience with others.

  4. How can I find out about other workshops you might be doing? I live in Seattle.

    1. Lori thank you for showing interest in the way I am implementing improv and InterPlay into teaching English as a Second Language. I would love to talk with you about what your interests are in this field. Can you send me your email in a comment and we can get in touch that way?