Teachers Act Up!

Thoughts on Teaching, Language, and Social Change from Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor

A – E

Theatre Games  (A – E) [Games with * are featured in Teachers Act Up!]

Games below include: Bippty-Bippity-Bop, Blob Tag, Carnival*, Clapping Game, Colombian Hypnosis*, Come my Friends, Complete the Shape, Continuum, Cover the Space, Do  You Like Your Neighbor, Echo, Explosion Tag.

We need games to warm up, to get to know one another and ourselves, and to have a great time.  Here are a few new videos taken from the first year courses I teach at UGA–I hope to upload more in coming years to this “Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor” channel: Improv_education

  • Bibppity, bippity, bop!

Objectives: This warm-up game prepares participants to focus and work as a team.


1. Arrange participants in a circle.

2. Player A stands in the middle of the circle. As he/she says, “bippity, bippity, bop!,” she spins in a circle, pointing with her arm extended. She stops spinning when she finishes the phrase.

3. The person who Player A ends up pointed to, Player B, must cross both arms, putting one hand on her nose and extending one arm downward to create the trunk of an elephant. The players to the immediate left and immediate right of player B must arc their arms in the shape of a C, connecting their hands to player B, to form the ears of the elephant. The last of these players to complete the elephant formation must go into the center.

4. Repeat steps 2 – 3. Encourage players to be attentive and play rapidly.

  • Blob Tag

Objectives: This fast-paced variation of the classic game of tag will warm up participants to work together as a team.


1. Designate one participant as “It.” This player will tag other players. [A fun way to choose “It” is to start class saying “Not It” and put your finger to your nose.  The last one to say “Not It” and touch their nose will be the first “It.”]

2. All other participants run [or walk or creep, as space requires] around, trying to avoid getting tagged.

3. When a participant is tagged, he/she links arms with the person who tagged him/her. This “blob” grows until all players are tagged. Members of the blob must use teamwork to move as a unit in their pursuit of other participants.

Note: You may mark off boundaries for the area of play using orange “agility” cones or other props (e.g. chairs, books, desks.)

  • Carnival*

*Taken from Cahnmann-Taylor, M. &Souto-Manning (2010) Teachers act up! Creating multicultural learning communities through theatre. Teachers College Press.

Additional reference: Boal, A. (1998). Legislative theatre: Using performance to make politics. London; New York: Routledge.

Refer to books for further elaboration.

Short description and goals: This game explores issues of assimilation, power, erasure, domination, persuasion, and influence. It is a visual reminder of how some individuals have the power to persuade others to engage in a certain activity (or believe something) even if they initially espouse another perspective. It also makes visible the tendency to assimilate and replace one’s beliefs, actions, and ways of being in the process of trying to belong. In Carnival, groups start with different actions and sounds and try to persuade others to join in (or buy into) the specific behavior. Each group member attempts to get others to behave the way he or she does, leaving aside their original practices. This mirrors the process through which many immigrants assimilate, transforming or erasing their perspectives and cultural practices.


  • Number of Participants: Minimum of 15 (multiples of 3 preferred)
  • Time: 10 to 40 minutes

1. Have participants form groups of three and number themselves “1,” “2,” and “3.”

2. Ask each individual to come up with a sound and an accompanying movement and teach them to the other two group members.

3. Call out “Number Ones!” and instruct the “1s” to perform their sound and movement, with the other members trying to make an exact imitation.

4. Call out “Number Twos!” for the “2s” to perform, and the others to imitate and learn.

5. Call out “Number Threes!” for the “3s” to perform, and the others to imitate and learn.

6. Call out “Original Movements!” and ask 1s, 2s, and 3s all to perform their own separate movements simultaneously.

7. Call out “Unify!” and ask each group member to try to get the other two to adopt his or her sound and movement.

8. When each trip has unified and found a group sound and movement, call out “Groups Unify!” Each trio moves as a pod and aims to attract members of other pods to adopt their sound and movement. The object is to find out which sound/movement will unify (or dominate) the group.


  • When groups initially try to unify within their first trio, announce, “You may change groups – if you’re happy, stay put; if you want to change, change” (Boal, 1992, p. 98). Anyone left by him- or herself must join another group.
  • Start with the same sound and movement and have groups introduce slight (or dramatic) changes and try to convince the entire group to collaborate.

Points for reflection:

  • How is this activity a metaphor for race, class, and culture?
  • Dominant culture and the cost of assimilation
  • Violent coercion
  • Marginalization
  • “You’re either with us or against us” mentality
  • Weakened resistance
  • The Clapping Game

Objective: This warm up activity will prepare participants to work as a team as they establish a group rhythm.


1. Participants stand in a circle.

2. Participant A begins the game by turning to Participant B to his/her right and both clap at the same time. In turn, Participant B turns to Participant C to his/her right and both clap simultaneously. This motion proceeds around the circle. You may decide to play clockwise or counterclockwise.

3. As the clap moves around the circle, participants should aim to establish a rhythm. You may instruct participants to speed up or slow down the rhythm.

Variation: Sing a song, such as “Take me out to the Ballgame” during the activity.

  • Columbian Hypnosis*

*Taken from Cahnmann-Taylor, M. & Souto-Manning (2010) Teachers act up! Creating multicultural learning communities through theatre. Teachers College Press.

Refer to book for further elaboration.


  • Number of People: 6 – 18 (depending on room size; even numbers desirable)
  • Time: 15 – 20 minutes

1. Demonstrate this process in the front of the room, inviting a pair of participants to step forward, one of whom will “hypnotize” the other. Partner A (the hypnotist) puts his or her open hand 6 to 8 inches from Partner B’s face, fingertips in line with the forehead, palm in line with the chin. Partner B becomes mesmerized by Partner A’s hand, which guides Partner B to move in new and unexpected ways. Partner B is to follow Partner A in real time.

2. After the demonstrations, have all participants work in pairs.

3. Have the Partner As lead for approximately 3 to 5 minutes. As participants are engaged in the activity, ask the Partner As to notice how it feels to lead and the Partner Bs to notice how it feels to follow.

4. Tell the Partner As to “release the spell.”

5. Tell the partners to switch roles. Ask partners to notice the differences between leading and following.

6. After both partners have had a chance to lead, instruct both partners to leadand follow at the same time, each placing a hand in front of the other’s face, guided by his or her own rhythms and instincts.

7. Encourage pairs to experiment, modifying participation so they enjoy it better or experience a new dimension of the play.

Cautions: This is a nonverbal exercise, so any movements that the following partner cannot complete must be expressed physically. Slow movements and transitions are recommended to prevent dizziness or exasperation. Remind participants of the ethics of reciprocity, as partners will soon exchange roles!

Points for Reflection:

  • Participants cultivate both a physical and social awareness of others as the idiom “lead as you would like to be led” becomes vivified.
  • This exercise raises questions about power in relationships with others, including teachers, students, parents, administrators, district leaders, and politicians.
  • This exercise demonstrates how stressful it can be to follow the leader over an extended period of time, as well as the pressure of being a leader.

Discussion Questions:

  • How did it feel to lead? To follow?
  • How different did it feel to lead and follow at the same time?
  • Did you tend to play one role more than the other?
  • Did you prefer one role over another?
  • In what ways does this exercise evoke issues related to status and power?
  • Come My Friends*

*Taken from Cahnmann-Taylor, M. &Souto-Manning (2010) Teachers act up! Creating multicultural learning communities through theatre. Teachers College Press.

Refer to book for further elaboration.

Objectives: This exercise uses Boalian Image Theatre to examine categories of belonging, providing an excellent opportunity for individuals to discover common experiences as well as different perspectives within what seems to be the same group. Recognizing the complexities of sameness within difference and difference within sameness is a major contribution of this activity.


1. Ask participants to think of categories in which they belong, imagining wild and varied types of categories (e.g., first-year teachers, mango lovers, garage sale specialists, etc.).

2. Form a large circle and ask participants, one by one, to come to the middle of the circle and call out a category, saying, “Come my friends who are…” One rule is that it is everyone’s own right to identify or not identify with a category, and no one can volunteer or force another person into an identity (e.g., no nudging someone saying, “Go! Go! You are a ping pong player!”). If, for any reason, a participant does not wish to identify with a category, he/she does not need to enter the circle. Remember, “friends” may form a category of one or may include the entire group – it all depends.

3. Once the friends are gathered in the center, call out, “Family image!” The group has about 5 seconds, without talking, to sculpt themselves into an image that conveys what, according to their perspectives, it feels like to belong to this group.


Ask participants to form a single, unified image. For example, rather than separate interpretations of what it means to “work and go to school,” the group would have time to discuss and present a single image from the collective group of bodies. Hence, three individuals might pose together in an active triptych (like the famous image portrayed for the American 1970s sitcom Charlie’s Angels, but with car keys, books, and children in their hands rather than weapons).

A large group may remain seated around the room and simply rise from their chairs to illustrate their belonging to the group, creating their pose from wherever they may be located.

  • Complete the Shape

Objectives: This activity is ideal for beginner’s geometry as well as learning additional languages. Students use teamwork to build geometrical shapes with their bodies.


1. One player begins by calling out a shape and forming part of it with his/her body.

2. Additional players volunteer to “complete the shape” by using their bodies to form the rest of the shape.

Variation: The first player begins a shape with his/her body, but does not call out a shape before hand. It is up to the following players to determine what the shape will be.

  • Continuum

Objectives: Participants create a physical representation of their personalities, displaying the nuances of personality of each individual and the group as a whole. As the teacher can strategically decide which prompts to give, it provides him/her with an excellent way of getting to know the students.


1. Designate one side of the room as “strongly agree/ always” and the opposite side as “strongly disagree/ never.”

2. The teacher calls a series of prompts (e.g., I like to read for pleasure, I like to play sports, I have studied a second language before). For each prompt, participants arrange themselves in a horizontal line between the two walls according to their opinion.

Variation: Participants take turns calling prompts, and the teacher participates in forming the line.

  • Cover the Space

Objective: This game introduces questions of what it means to belong to a group, differences and similarities within and among groups, and how labels are given, defined, and interpreted.


1. Participants walk around the room with arms outstretched aiming to cover the space in the entire room with equal distance between each player.

2.  Instruct participants to quickly form a group with according to a designated category (e.g. footwear, first language, pigmentation) without talking.

3. The teacher visits each group and instructs them to shout the name of their group in unison on the count of three without talking beforehand (e.g., “One, two, three-” “flip flops!” For more complex categories, the teacher may decide to give the groups a few moments to talk about a group name.

4. Repeat steps 1 – 3 with the desired number of categories.

5. Conclusion: Have participants walk around as in step 1. Call stop. Instruct participants to touch one partner some way without moving from their location on the floor.

6. Instruct these pairs to reach out and touch another pair, again without moving from their location on the floor.

7. Repeat step 6 until the entire group has become united.

  • Do You Like Your Neighbor?

Objectives: This fast-paced introduction game will fill the group with excitement as participants learn each other’s names and facts about each other. Even if students have already gotten to know each other, it can be used as a language learning activity at any point in the year. Thank you Michelle Thorne from Heritage High School for this incredible game!


1. Arrange chairs in a circle, with one fewer chair than the number of participants (e.g., 20 participants = 19 chairs).

2. All participants sit in a circle, except for one who stands in the center of the circle.

3. The center player approaches a seated player and asks, “[Seated player’s name], do you like your neighbor?”

4a. If the seated player responds, “no,” each player to the immediate left and right of the seated player must race swap seats, while the center player tries to steal one of their seats. If the player’s seat is stolen, he/she becomes the center player.

4b. If the seated player responds, “yes,” he/she must decide on a category of people that she “doesn’t like” who will have to find new seats (e.g., “Yes, but I don’t like people who have a pet dog.”) All participants who fit that category must get up and find a new seat, but they cannot sit in the seat immediately next to their original seat. The center player also tries to find a seat, and the player left standing becomes the center player. Note: It is up to each player to decide if he/she belongs to a category or not.

5. Continue playing and strategize so that all participants become the center player at least once.

  • Echo

Taken from Spolin, V. (1986) Theater games for the classroom: A teacher’s handbook. Northwestern University Press.

Refer to book for further elaboration.

Purpose: Exploration of sound for verbal and sensory agility.

Focus: On picking up and diminishing a sound without letting it stop.


1. Divide group into two teams.

2. Arrange teams into two vertical columns that face each other (as if playing tug of war).

3. The first player in column A calls out a word or a phrase.

4. Starting with the first player in column B, the word or phrase is repeated in turn by each succeeding player in column B without pause. Each player is to pick up the word or phrase and repeat it more softly so that the sound finally fades away at the end of the line. Prompt, “Each line is one body – one sound – the echo!”

5. The first player in column B calls out a word or phrase for column A to echo.

6. The game continues back and forth between columns.

Points for Reflection:

  • Did each succeeding player pick up the word without pause?
  • Did the sound flow as one echo?
  • Did it fade as an echo does?
  • What causes echoes in the natural world?
  • Explosion Tag

Objectives: This fast-paced variation of the classic game of tag will warm up participants to express themselves. When playing with Pr-K students, we introduced the concept of “loud” and “quiet” explosions along with the new children’s book, The Louds Move In by Carolyn Crimi.


1. Designate one participant as “it.” This player will tag other players.

2. All other participants run around, trying to avoid getting tagged.

3. When a participant is tagged, he/she must act out an explosion with movements and sound and fall to the floor. Encourage big movements and exaggerated sounds.

4. Play until all participants have been tagged and “exploded.”

Note: You may mark off boundaries for the area of play using coins or other props (e.g. chairs, books, desks.)

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