Teachers Act Up!

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

Q – Z

Theatre Games (Q – Z) [Games with * are featured in Teachers Act Up!]
Games below include: Racing with Chairs, Shaking Hands, Moving the Body, Space Dodgeball, Taxi, Team Counting, This is My…(the Blanket Game), This is NOT…, What’s in a Name?*, Who’s the Chief?, Zip Zap Zop Boing!,

  • Racing with Chairs

Objectives: This fast-paced warm up activity will fill the room with energy while participants practice teamwork.


1. Divide group into two teams of four players each. (Numbers can be adjusted according to size of group. For a large group, play in different rounds.)

2. Line up two horizontal rows of five chairs each. (There should be one more chair in each row than the number of participants on each team.)

3. Each team member stands on a chair in their row. The last chair should be empty.

4. Each team works together to move the last chair to the front of the row of chairs.

5. When the chair arrives to the front of the row, the player in the front steps down from his/her chair and runs to the back of the row to stand on the last chair. All other players move forward.

6. Repeat steps 4-5 to “race” forward to the other side of the room (or designated goal line). The first team to reach the goal line, wins! (I prefer no games to have a “winner” but this is so much fun that I include it). For longer play, teams must move to the opposite end of the room and then return back across the room to the original starting point.

*Chairs can be tricky–the weight and size of the chair can be difficult or insecure; a game standing on chairs could be “dangerous” to play in a public school setting.  What else could be used? Old phonebooks? Carpet squares?

  • Shaking Hands, Moving the Body

Objectives: This introduction game will help a new group learn names and make connections quickly by having fun together.


1. Designate the entire room as a center of play.

2. Over the course of the game, students will shake hands and introduce themselves to every member of the group.

3. While approaching each person, students must move in a different way (e.g. twirl, skip, disco). Encourage exaggerated movements. Participants must use their creativity as each move can only be used one time per person, although other participants may borrow moves from each other. Remember, the more crazy you are, the more normal “crazy” becomes and the more fun the group can have.

  • Space Dodgeball

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 illustion 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).

Objective: This game will help players develop the intuitive communication among the group as they make connections with others who can accept, catch, and dodge the invisible “space ball.” Participants must focus on seeing the ball as others see it.


  • Number of people: At least 10 players are recommended.

1. Participants form a circle with one player in the middle.

2. Players in the circle throw the “space ball” in order to hit the player in the center.

3. When a center player is hit, he/she changes places with the player who threw the ball.

4. No hitting above the waist.

(Spolin, 1986, p. 50)

  • Taxi

Objectives: The room will fill with laughter as participants practice taking on the roles and emotions of others.


1. Arrange a square of four chairs which represent the four seats in a taxi. The chair on the front left is the driver’s seat, just like in a taxi.

2. Begin play with three participants seated in the taxi, leaving the chair on the back left. The driver should pantomime driving (e.g., steering, stepping on the gas and break pedals).

3. Other participants sit or stand in a line to wait their turn to enter the taxi.

4. The first passenger enters the taxi (the chair on the back left.) This passenger must pick a motion and/or sound to repeat throughout his/her time in the taxi (e.g., sneezing, crying, singing “are we there yet” and kicking his/her legs). Once this passenger enters the taxi, all others seated in the taxi must copy his/her motion. The driver must continue to pantomime driving while doing the motion.

5. Rotate: When the driver gets tired, he/she decides to leave the taxi and go to the back of the line. The person in the front right chair moves to the driver’s seat. The person in the back right chair moves to the front right. The person in the back left chair moves to the back right. A new passenger enters the back left chair repeating a new motion/sound. The other players must continue doing the previous motion/sound as well as add the new passenger’s motion/sound. The driver can’t forget to drive!

6. Repeat this rotation. When each participant reaches the drivers seat he/she should be repeating 4 motions/sounds (his/her motion + those of the 3 subsequent passengers) as well as pantomiming driving.


  • Team Counting

Objectives: This game of focus will prepare group members to work as a team and intuit each other’s actions. It is an excellent warm-up activity for improv games. Thank you Michelle Thorne from Heritage High School for this game!

1. Arrange participants in a circle.

2. Beginning at 1, participants take turns calling out numbers in order to count as a team. Only one participant can speak at a time. If two participants speak at the same time, the game must start back at 1.

3. The group aims to count as high as possible!

  • This is my… (The Blanket Game)

Objectives: Participants are challenged to use their creativity as they transform a blanket into any object they can imagine. This game can be paired with a theme to accompany a particular lesson/unit, such as using the theme of fairy tales to review key vocabulary and imagery in this genre.

Materials: blanket or sheet


1. Arrange participants in a circle.

2. Participant A begins play by holding/manipulating the blanket so that it represents an item as they say, “This is my [item].” (e.g., “This is my parachute,” while raising the blanket overhead and leading it descend to the ground with a bubble of air inside.)

3. Participant A passes the blanket to the person to his/her right, Participant B.

4. Participant B repeats Participant A’s motion while saying. “This is your [Participant A’s item].” Next, Participant B invents her own item and motion, saying “This is my [new item].” (e.g., “This is your parachute. This is my cape.”)

5. Participant B passes the blanket to Participant C, to his/her right, and the game repeats around the circle. The blanket must become a new item every time!

  • This is not…

Objectives: This game really challenges participants to get their creative juices flowing! This is a great warm up for creative writing as participants must use language in ways that contradict the obvious.


1. The entire group walks around the room simultaneously.

2. Each player must point to an object and state what it is not. (e.g., pointing to a desk, “This is not a rollercoaster.”) Encourage creative and even ridiculous responses.

3. Participants point to new objects in rapid succession. As everyone is playing at once, hearing the barrage of other participants’ responses challenges each person to focus on their own creativity, while it may serve as a source of inspiration at well.

  • What’s in a Name? (Introduction Game)

*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.

Objective: Learn each other’s names while incorporating rhythm, sound, and play as a strong foundation for developing a sense of creative spontaneity and community.


  • Number of people: 5 – 25 (higher numbers are possible but may prove exhausting)
  • Time: 5 – 20 minutes

1. With everyone standing in a circle, demonstrate the game action by saying your name and one thing that describes you, and make a simultaneous movement to accompany the name/adjective pair.

2. Ask the person on the right to do the same and so on around the circle.

3. Encourage participants to spontaneously use an adjective that starts with the same letter of their name or rhymes with their name.

4. Encourage participants to exaggerate their movements, making themselves bigger or smaller than they might otherwise be in daily life.

5. After each contribution, ask the group to echo the name/adjective/movement combination, making an exact mirror of the speaker.

6. Acting as a conductor, lead the entire group to chant each name/adjective/movement, cycling back from the beginning, creating a form of repetitive group poem.

  • Who’s the Chief? a. k. a. Who Started the Motion?

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

Refer to book for further elaboration.

Purpose: To view others critically.


1. Participants stand in a circle.

2. One participant leaves the room.

3. Select one participant to be the chief. The chief leads all of the participants through different motions (moving hands, tapping feet, nodding heads, etc.) All other participants act as mirrors of the chief. The chief must change/add new motions frequently.

4. The player who is outside of the room returns and stands in the center of the circle. He/she must guess who the chief is. Other participants must play strategically to disguise who the chief is.

5. When the participant in the center discovers the chief, tow other players are chosen to take their places.

  • Zip, Zap, Zop, Boing!

Objectives: This warm up activities requires participants to be alert and attuned to one another.


1. Participants stand in a circle.

2. Player A makes eye contact and points her arms to any other player in the circle, Player B, saying “zip!”.

3. Player B repeats the action to a new player, Player C, saying “zap!”

4. Player C repeats the action to a new player saying “zop!”

5. Repeat steps 2 – 4 in this order.

6. If Player B signals a “zip,” “zap,” or “zop” to Player C, but Player C responds with “Boing!” while jumping into the air, Player C has rejected Player B. Player B must try again by signaling to a new player.

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