Teachers Act Up!

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

F – P

Theatre Games (F – P) [Games with * are featured in Teachers Act Up!]
Games below include: Focal points, Hands Hands, Hi-ya!, Hopscotch dance, How Many A’s in an A*, Yes No Stop (Dude), Landscapes, Name Calling (Times Three)*, The Numbers Game, Play Ball, Power with Chairs, Power Shuffle*, Preposition Charades
  • Focal Points

Objectives: This game of focus will warm up participants to work as a team by honing their skills of perception to be aware of their team members and surroundings.


1. Instruct participants to walk around the room, always passing between two people. Prompt them to “be very aware of your environment/surroundings.”

2. After participants have been walking for about 30 seconds, instruct, “On the count of three, stop and close your eyes. One, two, three.” All players should be standing still with their eyes closed.

3. Give participants a moment to quietly reflect on their surroundings. Then instruct, “Keeping your eyes closed, point to [participant’s name].” All students must envision their surroundings to accurately point to the designated person without peeking.

4. When all students have their arms pointed, they may open their eyes and see how accurate they were.

5. Repeat steps 1-4 the desired number of times.

6. Closing activity: Gather all participants into a group and instruct them to move in unison: “Everybody moves at the same time. Nobody starts the movement and nobody leads. Nobody moves until everybody moves.” Try stopping in unison and starting again.

  • Hands, Hands

Objectives: This game of focus and strategy is a great ice breaker as participants get to know each other through friendly competition. We had terrific reflections on our own learning/playing styles and how this game is a metaphor for L2 development.


1. Arrange participants in a circle. They may either kneel and bend over or lay on their stomachs so that they can outstretch both arms on the floor.

2. Each participant criss-crosses each arm with the participants to his/her left and right. The crossed arms form a circle of X’s with everyone’s hands in the center. No person’s two hands should be next to each other in the circle; each person’s set of hands is interrupted by another person’s hand. This is what makes the game so challenging!

3. Start the game by patting your hand on the ground. Going around the circle clockwise, each player pats his/her hand in order.

4. If a player pats his/her hand twice, the order of the patting must reverse to go counterclockwise around the circle.

5. If a player raises his/her hand to pat when he/she is not supposed to, that player must leave the circle.

6. Continue play until two champions are left in the circle.

Extension: Discuss each player’s strategy for playing the game as a group. Play again to see if this analysis of strategy changes the course of the game. Do some players last longer in the circle? Is there more or less talk and/or laughter?

  • Hi – ya!

Objectives: Players warm-up their skills of concentration, rhythm, and expression in this fast-paced warm-up game.


1. Arrange participants in a circle.

2. Player A raises both arms over head with hands touching in the middle, creating a sword. He/she swiftly motions downwards to point to another player in the circle while shouting, “Hi-ya!” Encourage big actions and exaggerated sounds.

3. The player to whom was pointed, Player B, must in term raise his/her hands over head in the same manner, also shouting, “hi-ya!”

4. Each player to the immediate right and left of Player B must simultaneously put their hands together to form a sword and swing it across the body, targeting Player B in the waist while shouting, “Hi-ya!” Player B still has his/her arms raised.

5. The motion repeats as Player B motions downwards to point to a new player.

6. The motions and shouts of steps 2-6 will create a rhythm. Players must stick to this rhythm. If a player does not stay on rhythm, or if a player does the wrong motion, he/she is eliminated from the circle.

7. Aim to play very rapidly. This game is action packed!

  • Hopscotch Dance

Objectives: This game gets participants moving and warms them up for teamwork as they practice following each others’ rhythm.


1. Mark a series of 10 – 20 squares in a column (using tape, designating floor tiles, or chalk outdoors). Option: Play music with a great beat!

2. Participants stand in a line at the beginning of the columns.

3. The first player jumps/hops through the squares in a repetitive pattern with an established rhythm (e.g., hop twice in the square; hop once in each square followed by a one-legged hop out of the square). Participants may get creative with their patterns, although it is essential that they stick to the same rhythm.

4. Other participants enter the column of squares one at a time, following the leader’s pattern. Thus, players create a long line of rhythmic movement.

5. Once a participant reaches the end of the column of squares, he/she returns to the back of the line. Participants take turns leading the group to an invented pattern.

  • How Many A’s in an A?*

*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: 5 – 25
  • Time: 5 – 20 minutes

1. Have the participants stand in a circle.

2. Ask them to think of a feeling, emotion, or idea that they can express using only the sound of the letter “A,” interpreted in any way they like (e.g., “a” as inlate, bat, father, or as spoken in another language).

3. As one participant after another offers his or her interpretation, lead the group members to echo all the sounds and actions.

4. Encourage big actions and exaggerated sounds.

5. The same activity can be repeated for the other vowel sounds.

Points for Reflection:

  • This activity reminds us of our vast and varied communicative potential, without using any “real words” at all.
  • This activity can be used to help second language learners master the many uses of vowel sounds in the target language.

Variation:  Yes, No, Stop (Dude)

Participants repeat “yes,” “no,” stop,” and/or “dude” in the same fashion. You may invent other words/phrases as well! Similar to How Many A’s in an A* this game reminds participants of our vast and varied communicative potential, how many different thing can be said with one word–depending on “how” it is said.

  • Landscapes

Objectives: Participants will exercise their imaginations to convert their surroundings into any landscape their mind’s eye can see! They will also explore expressing emotions as they explore each new landscape. This exercise can introduce or complement any unit about a new landscape (the surface and gravity on different planets, elements of various geographic areas).


1. As a group, brainstorm a list of landscapes. Make a column labeled “landscapes” on the board. Participants suggest landscapes while you write them on the board (e.g., the moon, a bowl of jello, the dessert, a yogurt shop). Make another column labeled “emotions” and brainstorm a list the same way (e.g., happy, scared, furious, worried).

2. One participant leaves the room for a moment.

3. The group decides on a combination of landscape + emotion (e.g., angry in a bowl of jello, happy on the moon). All participants act as if they were in this landscape feeling this emotion. They may speak and make other sounds, but should not say the name of the landscape or emotion.

4. The participant who left the room reenters, walks around amid the other participants, and guesses the landscape and emotion. When he/she guesses correctly, pick a new participant to leave the room, a new landscape + emotion combination, and play again.

  • Name Calling times Three*

Objectives: This game serves as a warm up game for sharpening participants’ concentration, and can also be used to learn/review group members’ names.


1. Participants stand in a circle.

2. Begin the game by walking into the center of the circle and calling one other participant’s name three times as quickly as possible.

3. When a participant hears their name being called, they must shout it out before the caller in the center finishes saying it three times. If the participant successfully shouts their name in time, the caller in the center must try again with a new name. If they do not, that participant must go to the center.

Note: Participants with long names will have an advantage. To level the playing field, you may decide to abbreviate participant’s names before playing (e.g. “Mel” for Melissa, “Steph” for Stephanie).

  • The Numbers Game

Objectives: This language learning activity is a fun way for participants to learn numbers in the target language without developing a dependence on hearing the numbers in order.

Materials: a ball properly sized for tossing around the circle (e.g. a miniature soccer ball)


1. Participants stand in a circle.

2. Assign each participant a number in order around the circle. The teacher tosses the ball to each player while saying each number, and the entire circle repeats her.

3. Practice the numbers: A player bounces/tosses the ball to another participant while calling that participants number.

Competition option 1: If a player calls out a number but tosses the ball to the wrong player, she moves to the end of the circle (to the position of the highest number). Assign new numbers.

Competition option 2: A player calls out any number. The player whose number was called must rapidly raise his/her hand (or catch the ball) and call out a new random number. If the wrong player raises her hand, she moves to the end of the circle (to the position of the highest number). Assign new numbers.

  • Play Ball

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

Refer to book for further elaboration.

Introduction: “A ‘space ball’ is not an imaginary ball. It is a part of space – thin air- that is called a ‘ball.’…The player who creates a space object is not attempting to create an artful illusion for an audience. Rather, he or she experiences the awakening of an intuitive area which can perceive the space object as it emerges” (Spolin, 1986, p. 42).

Objectives: Players will manipulate their space ball, intuiting the way qualities of weight, mass, force, inertia, and gravity affect the ball’s behavior. Thus, this game could be used as an introduction to lessons about these scientific concepts.


1. Divide players into two teams, A and B. In round one, Team B is the audience, while Team A is the audience in round 2.

2. Each player chooses a type of ball for their space ball (e.g., tennis ball, baseball, basketball).

3. Team A lines up horizontally faces a wall and tosses their space ball against the wall.  Participants must anticipate where and how fast their ball will rebound in order to catch it.

4. Call out varying conditions which will affect the ball’s behavior:

  • Throw the ball faster! Faster! Throw and catch the ball as fast as you can!
  • Now slow it down! Slower! Now the ball is moving in verrry sloooow motion.
  • Now the ball is moving normally!
  • Now the ball is becoming lighter! Lighter! Now it is as light as a feather!
  • Now the ball is becoming heavier! Heavier! Now it is one hundred times heavier! Use your whole body to throw the ball!
  • Now you are playing underwater!
  • Now you are playing in jello!
  • Now you are playing on the moon! There is much less gravity on the moon!
  • Now you are playing on Jupiter! There is much more gravity on Jupiter!

5. Team B evaluates Team A’s performance.

6. Team B plays while Team A is the audience.

7. Team A evaluates Team B’s performance, leading into a group discussion.

Points for Reflection:

  • Did you imagine the ball or did you actually feel it?
  • Did Team B benefit from the suggestions made during their evaluation of Team A?
  • How did the ball’s behavior change when you threw it faster, slower, on the moon, underwater, etc.?
  • Power with Chairs

Objectives: Participants use props to express their interpretations of the word “power,” arranging the physical relationships between the props to represent social relationships. This activity can be used to begin discussion about issues of power as each new arrangement of the props presents a new piece for the entire group to interpret. Ask students to show the power of English with chairs in relation to other world languages.

Materials: 6 chairs, 1 water bottle (different materials can be used as well)


1. Without speaking, the first player arranges the props (6 chairs and 1 water bottle) to create a representation of his/her interpretation of the word “power.” The participant may use other players as props, or place herself in the representation.

2. The activity leader asks the entire group which prop has power in the representation.

3. Any participant may share his/her interpretations of the representation, including the player who created the representation.

4. Repeat these steps with a new player making a new representation.

Variation: Any combination of different materials can be used. Also, this activity can be used to represent other concepts.

  • Power Shuffle*

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.

Additional references: Sternberg, P., & Garcia, A. (2000). Sociodrama: Who’s in your shoes? (2nd ed.). Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers/ Greenwood Publishing Group.

Number of people: Minimum of 8 – 10; can be adapted to a larger number of participants

Time: 10 – 40 minutes

Short description and goals: This exercise, designed by Marc Weinblatt (2006), is a variation of a sociodramatic technique called The Line Up (Sternberg & Garcia, 2000, p. 242), in which group members arrange themselves in a continuum based on various categories, such as height, date of birth, length of time in the United States, and so forth. Power Shuffle adds the dimension of power and privilege in the group. This game challenges the good intentions many teachers have to see all students as the same, regardless of differences in race, class, gender, parents’ educational background, etc. This colorblind and difference-blind orientation overlooks important historical and social differences that place unfair obstacles and burdens on some more than others. This game requires a sense of group trust and may be most productive after participants have had a chance to get to know on another.


1. Ask participants to stand in one line across one side of a cleared space in the room.

2. Call out a category, such as:

  • Aged 21-59
  • A man
  • Ablebodied
  • Raised in a Christian household
  • White/Euro-American
  • United States born/ U.S. citizen
  • Heterosexual
  • Raised middle-class (enough or more than enough resources)
  • (“Standard”) English as the first language

Tell participants that if they fit within the category called, they should cross to the other side of the room. Do not explain categories, and encourage participants to make their own judgments regarding whether they fit the category or not and where to stand.

3. Once each crossing is complete, say to participants, “Notice who’s with you, who’s not with you. How do you feel?” These questions are not yet to be answered, as dialogue occurs at the game’s conclusion.

4. Then have all return to the starting line, and call another category.

5. Discussion: After the activity is complete, ask pairs or small groups to sit and share their experiences of this exercise. Then engage in group dialogue, introducing the terms Target  and Agent.

  • Targets: Individuals who don’t fit any given dominant categories can be targets of oppression. Targets are members of social identity groups that are disenfranchised, exploited, and/or victimized in varying ways by institutions and society as a whole. Targets can simultaneously be or become Agents in powerful and/or destructive ways.
  • Agents: Agents are members of dominant groups with many unearned, unwanted, and/or unconscious privileges, power, and access within institutions and society as a whole. Shame often comes up for Agents and can be paralyzing, preventing action. Agents can exploit their agency and/or potentially become powerful allies of Targets.

Extension: Ask participants to cluster in groups of three or four around a shared identity as an “Agent” where privilege is a concern to them (e.g., concern about economic privilege, racial privilege, religious privilege, etc.). Using each others’ bodies, sculpt an image of what this privilege/agency looks and feels like to members in the group. Each group will provide a title and share their image with the larger group or discussion.

  • Prepositions Charades

Objective: Students will learn the prepositions and how prepositions are used to describe relationships between words by demonstrating this relationship with their own bodies. Prepositions can be the most daunting part of learning another language (or teaching one’s own!).  This game turns daunting into exhilirating!


1. List all prepositions on small pieces of paper and place in an envelope/hat/bowl/etc.
2. Divide class into groups of 2 – 4.
3. Each group chooses 1 – 5 prepositions out of the envelope.
4. Each group acts out a preposition without words. The other students call out prepositions to guess what is being acting out. The group who calls the correct preposition takes the next turn.

3 responses to “F – P

  1. Sarah Lowman August 18, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    I played a variation of “Name Calling (Times Three)” in my SPAN 1001 classes today to practice the numbers. The game became “Gritar los nu’meros.” I had to adapt the activity to be played from our desks as there is not enough room in the jam-packed classroom to even form a circle around the desks. I felt that it went very well and really brought out the students competitive spirit, which motivated them to get the numbers right.

    My adaptation: Each student holds a card a number between 11 – 99, displaying it for all to see. The first player calls another player’s number 3 times, and the player holding that number must yell the number before the calling player finishes. If they do not, that person is out and must stand at the front of the room, serving as the judge. The caller gets to call again. If the person whose number is called is successful, they become the caller. Frequently ask the judge’s their opinion if the person is out or not to keep them engaged in the activity. As the game progresses, add the following rules to make it more competitive:
    If someone responds mistakenly (they thought their number was called, but it was not), he/she is out.
    If the caller calls a number that nobody has, he/she is out.
    Only call numbers two times instead of three.
    The caller only has 5 seconds to decide which number to call.
    End round: When there are 3 – 5 players left, go into a “sudden death” end round. Call out an math problem (I chose addition). The first person to answer correctly in the target language wins. I gave a piece of candy (jolly rancher or blowpop) for a prize.


  2. teachersactup-Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor August 23, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    An aside, Sarah quoted one of her students: “I’ve never worked so hard for a jolly rancher!” I often seek alternatives to games that have winners and losers–games where everyone has a chance to win/lose or where everyone wins. However, sometimes competition can be fun and joyful, especially with ways to continue to engage those who “lose.” In this case the loser rises in rank to “judge”–one who is frequently engaged in decision making. This is a brilliant suggestion–so glad you shared this variation Sarah! I will have to work on my speedy rendition of “noventa y nueve”!


    • Sarah Lowman August 27, 2011 at 4:13 pm

      I think I got the idea to engage the players who were “out” as judges from when we played “Hands, Hands” in class!


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