STORY CIRCLE aka FILL IN THE BLANK STORY
Begin in a circle or with you standing as a storyteller in front of a seated audience. Tell them you are going to tell them a story that has never been told before! Invite them to raise their hands when you pause your story if they’d like to fill in the blank. Give them an example (ie: “If I say ‘Once upon a time there was a…’ and I pick you, you could say ‘bear’ or ‘princess’ or ‘magic banana pickle.’”)
Keep it Moving
Make sure not to select kids in order of the circle as that gets boring for the ones who already went or are on the far side of the circle. Instead, select a different raised hand each time to keep them on the edge of their seats. You can also select kids who are not volunteering to give them a chance.
If a student has been chosen but struggles to come up with an answer, offer 2-3 options yourself. (For example- was it a mouse? A tree? A slice of bologna?”) If they still don’t select one, move on to someone else nicely by saying something like “let’s see if someone can help.” Keep it moving.
Be an engaging storyteller
Gasp during the dramatic parts! Let your voice get excited, scared, etc. Make your voice deep and slow if the story is moving to a dark cave. Keep varying the way you tell the story and deliver it emotionally and you will have them hooked.
Create a story arc
YOU are the storyteller and they get to fill in the details. They can say where the story takes place, who the characters are, what their biggest wish is, what activity they were doing. They are sprinkling in the details but you are driving the story and making sense of whatever they give you. The easiest way to create a story is to decide yourself that either it is about 1-3 characters having a normal day when something bad happens OR it is about 1-3 characters that have a big wish and want to achieve their goal. They can then encounter an obstacle they need to overcome. A fun way to go about it is that the first 2-3 ideas for solutions don’t work and finally one does. (“Suddenly the mouse came across a rushing, deep river with no way to cross it! First, she had a silly idea. Her silly idea was to use a…”)
The clock is your storytelling partner
You can create a 3 minute story, a 5 minute story, or even a 10 minute story! Know in advance how long you want your story to be. If it’s a short story, get to the problem and solution fast. If it’s a long story, have a lot of fun getting there.
It is great fun to perform the story you created. Narrate the story allowing the performers to do the actions and say a few lines. You can perform it collectively by all being all the characters at the same time doing the actions and saying what the characters would say. You can perform it in character groups by designating parts of the room where each group should go (“If you want to be the mouse, come sit over here. If you want to be the pizza princess come over here.”) Each group of kids represents that one character. You can also perform it demonstrationally by selecting volunteers to play the parts.
CROSSING THE SWAMP
This is a truly interactive game where YOU become the signature character and your willingness to "play" with the students drives their participation and enjoyment. At its core, the game is a silent physical expression of being in a defined environment, but the story you layer on it creates world of adventure!
YOU ARE THE TROLL - I teach this game from a very holistic perspective where the "troll" gives all of the rules as a storyteller: I am the Troll King and my castle is made of candy! You are the villager children who want to eat my house! I sit at my window all day long waiting to hear you coming and I can tell you are coming because you chant "We want to eat your house! We want to eat your house!"
you establish that you are on one side of the room and the villagers are on the other side of the room and that their line is to chant.
YOUR SWAMP IS MAGIC - After the students have practiced their line I continue with the story: "The swamp between my Candy Castle and your village is magic! I can turn it into anything I want it to be. When I see the village children approaching I use my powers to transform my swamp into something they must get across to reach my Candy Castle."
I then remind the students that this is an acting game, not a race, and it is about who demonstrates the most believable journey across the swamp, not who makes it first. I turn the swamp into things that suggest slow difficult travel: sticky bubblegum, sleeping snakes you have to tip toe around, hot lave bubbling between rocks you needs to jump from one to another, super glue, etc
THEY NEVER REACH YOUR CASTLE - As the students act out their journey across the swamp I react as the Troll King upset that they are succeeding and at the last minute cross myself to the other side of the room announcing that I have magically moved my castle to another location to keep it safe and then the whole process begins again.
you may need to "break character" quickly to redirect the excitement with guidance: "no, you all stay there now" or "hold on everyone is running - is that acting?"
I AM A WIZARD
Have everyone learn the “lines” of the game and rehearse them a couple times. First they must put their shoulders back and hold their head high. Then they should firmly grasp an invisible wand and hold it up bravely. Then proudly and loudly declare “I am a wizard!” Try it a couple times before adding the second line “and I will turn you into...” The instructor goes first, saying “I am a wizard and I will turn you into a __” and everyone becomes the frog, tree, chef, etc for a little while and then the spell wears off. Don’t count the seconds- let them enjoy becoming the character and moving around. Join them in the movement. Have a bold way to pull them back to being their normal selves such as a “long and” (“aaaaaaand- you’re back to normal!), a magical sounding singing scale, or a chant.
After you have been the wizard a couple times, select a different volunteer to be the wizard each time. Make it clear not everyone will get a turn to be the wizard (unless you have a very small group).
When playing this with older students, you can make what they become more complicated. Instead of “frog” or “dolphin” perhaps they become “frustrated babysitter,” “half dolphin half frog,” or “sad golfer.”
DIRECTOR MY DIRECTOR
This game is great for getting energy out, enhancing focus and concentration, and establishing a sense of fun and control. It’s a total bonus that it also teaches them about the stage!
There are many variations of this game (including Captain My Captain) but this one is theater specific.
Tell them where the “audience” would be in your classroom “stage area”. Show them where Stage Left is and have them all go towards that side of your “stage area.” Then have them go Stage Right. Play with just these two for a bit and add Centerstage.
You can try to trick them by going the wrong way or pointing in the wrong direction. Add in a few other commands. You can keep adding one or two each time you play. Keep the focus on fun and movement but it’s great to briefly explain what the term means when you introduce a new one.
When someone makes a mistake, they will figure it out pretty quickly and keep going. This game really keeps them on their toes!
Here is a list of commands but you can also add your own!
Director’s Coming (everyone strikes a dramatic pose)
Costume Change (head, shoulders, knees, and toes)
Curtain Call (take a bow)
In the Spotlight (step forward as if basking in the light)
Out of the Spotlight (kneel with arms extended out as if giving focus to someone else)
This very fun Simon-says type game can be tailored in many ways to achieve different goals. You can use it to explore voice, movement, or character. It establishes that you as the instructor are very fun, hilarious, and playful. After you have introduced it, you can also use it mid class to reestablish control in a fun and exciting way.
Explain that game begins when you clap your hands together and say “BOOM.” Everyone listens and then copies everything the instructor says and does. The game doesn’t end until the instructor says “SHUNK!”
In effort to always make Shunk! new and exciting, silently decide on a theme for yourself. You never need to explain the theme, but having a theme in mind will help you to create new motions, sounds, and say new words each time.
Your theme could be a place (Castle, Under the Sea, etc) a feeling (Shy, Annoyed, etc) an activity (Fishing, Roller Skating), or even a character (Excited Old Lady, Cinderella, Marshmallow Monster, etc).
This is a great game for using physicality imaginatively and getting everyone moving in a very organized way.
Start with a very brief exciting story of why we are going through the maze. (ex: “I set up a maze in your school early this morning”, “I know the way to a place with treasure,” “I can take us to the ____ in the story we created.”)
You may want to add to the hype by saying it’s dangerous and that everyone will have to follow you to stay safe. Have everyone line up behind you. Tell them how to move through the first part (ex: “Right here we have to go down the ladder and you are still at the top but when you get to this spot, you can go down the ladder. At the bottom it is a very low ceiling so you’ll have to crawl.”)
Add a new spot where the maze changes. (“You are all still in the crawlspace but at this spot it’s tall enough to stand. There are a lot of spikes coming out of the walls though so you’ll have to bend your body around them.” Always be the first to demonstrate how it is done.
Continue to add new locations where the maze changes allowing for opportunities for them to react to their surroundings.
At the end, everyone can jump into the pit and discover a tiny treasure box and then mime using what they received and then suggest ways to get back to the original room. Alternatively, you can arrive to where the story you have been creating or telling takes place, or have any other ending you’d like!
STATUE SWITCH UP
Teach 4-6 statue poses with names. Make the statues go with the theme- they can be physical objects, buildings, characters, etc. (Examples: for an ocean theme you could choose crab, rock, shark, and seaweed or for a castle theme you could choose castle, knight, jester, and dragon). Teach one and have everyone try it. Teach the second, have everyone try it then review the two statues a few times. Keep layering another one on and reviewing the old ones until they know them all. Practice how quickly they can do them (and be doing them yourself).
Then tell them you’re going to try to trick them. They should do the pose you are SAYING, not the one you are DOING. Tell them to move fast!
Tell them the mistakes don’t matter and we can just laugh if we get it wrong.
This game is great for getting up and using some energy while also focusing, paying attention, and listening intently.