Emotional Improv

As we continue supporting our Purple Roomers as they build a deeper understanding of emotions within themselves and others, we have been experimenting using improvisational exercises to work with feelings. Improvisations can help teach the brain to listen actively, communicate verbally and non-verbally, explore imaginative realms, collaborate with peers, and effectively express different emotions. Improv can also help us to be flexible to change and to develop a more acute awareness of our surroundings.

The most important ground rule for all improvisational exercises is that there are no wrong choices! Improvisation is a safe space in which all participants can feel free to put forth any expression or addition so to make the game adapt to their point of entry, which helps build confidence too!

Here in the Purple Room, we have been practicing mirrored pantomime with a partner and teachers for several weeks. After choosing a partner, the children are given an emotion from a list of emotions the group brainstormed earlier. Purple Roomers make eye contact with their partner, show clear body language by creatively moving their bodies into shapes, scrunching and contorting their faces, and by using their voices to express whatever emotion has been chosen. As the children observe, many notice that vocal intonation can sound like an emotion:

“Kaio’s face is surprised.”


“I thought you were going to laugh but then your voice was sad.”

We’ve also been exploring how we can use our bodies and voices to tell stories through improv games. To begin, we’ve played a simple game of “PASS THE BEEP” (passing a beep sound to a person in the circle with eye contact, pointing body and hands at recipient of the beep. Then they pass the beep to the next person.) We have also played a game called Zip zap zop. Zip, Zap, Zop is about focus and energy. As students pass the energy across the circle (in the form of a Zip, a Zap, or a Zop), they make eye contact with the person they send the energy to, and work together to keep the rhythm going.

Zip Zap Zop!

3-10+ players, sitting in a circle.

To start the game, the leader can send a “bolt of energy” out of their body with a strong forward motion straight to someone else in the circle (use hands, body, eyes, and voice to make contact across the circle) and say, “Zip.” Explain that the next person takes the energy and passes it immediately to someone else saying “Zap.” That person passes it on to another participant with a “Zop.” The game continues and the “Zip, Zap, Zop” sequence is repeated as the energy moves around the circle.  Players use their whole body to send energy and to make eye contact. They can send the energy to whomever they want but the goal is to include all players. This game can be silly, unpredictable, and a challenge as the words start to jumble together and get confusing. But we all have fun!

Trying out angry faces

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