Improv Teacher Best Practices

Pasted and attached below are Best Practices for Improv Teachers.  From “making the curriculum your own” to “take your class out for drinks the first night,” this document has tips for managing your classes better.

Got any to add?  Hit up that Comments space.

Here’s the PDF:  Teacher Best Practices IAIDB 2015


Teacher Best Practices

Let’s get better! Read these. Add. Tweak. Critique. Let’s grow!



  • All provided materials are a jumping off point. You’re the teacher. Teach what makes sense to you. Encourage your point of view.
  • Spend time with the curriculum prior to classes so as to make it your own.
    • There are often several suggested exercises listed to illustrate important points. Choose which you’re excited to teach or add an exercise.
    • Articulating improv is important. Don’t hesitate to practice aloud the key points you want to make.
    • Connect exercises with learning. While the emphasis in teaching should be on having fun over becoming perfect improvisers, students expect a class, not recess.
      • Students like to hear your vision for each class and summation learnings at the end of each class.
      • Whether you tell them what they’re going to learn before an exercise or tease out what they’ve learned after an exercise, make sure they feel they’ve learned something with each exercise.
    • Make preparing for each class a priority before each class. Manage your time (consider outlining your class format and notate what approximate times you think you should be done with each section).
  • Ask your TA what they want from this experience, decide what you need them to do and schedule a standing date for communicating.
    • Teachers and TAs work in many different ways:
      • Model student – evoking good notes and bearing bad
      • Translator – rephrasing the teacher’s notes in his/her words
      • Note Taker – keeping notes on scenes and players’ tendencies
      • Example Provider – illustrating moves and leading exercises
    • TAs should be provided the following experiences:
      • Being guided through how you design a class ahead of time and evolve with the class in-the-moment
      • Leading warm-ups from curriculum and warm-ups of their design
      • Leading notes after exercises/scenes/games and [where applicable] runs of scenes/games/longform



First Class Key Points to Make –

  • Respect your group by showing up on time. Please let your instructor know if you are going to be late or miss a class. To respect students’ time, the instructor will strive to finish class on time; so the later it takes to begin, the less time anyone has to play.
  • Students are allowed two absences. A student who misses three classes will be asked to drop out of the class.
  • Foster a safe environment. Be respectful. Students should be physically gentle and appropriate with one another.  Strive not to offend or to be offended.  Students should be conscientious of subject matter that people find offensive and/or insulting.   Treating each other positively, on and off stage, should be everyone’s goal.  Students need to feel that they can try and fail without discomfort.
  • Come to class physically prepared to participate – you want to wear clothing that will enable you to do whatever anyone else does on stage.
  • Ask students what they want out of this class – Getting out of my comfort zone. Performing. Conquering stage fright so I can be a trial attorney. Understand where they are.
  • See shows! You get in free! Watching is essential to learning. Take time in each class to promote shows (specifically –what should they look for) and ask about shows they saw (specifically – what did they like).
  • During the first class inform them you’ll be sending an email the next day to put them all on a – non spammable – email thread. Note: Classes in the past have set up Facebook pages, etcs. Ensure class has instructor’s contact info.
  • Have fun. This is the greatest community in the world. Know and enjoy each other. Go out for drinks after first class.


Start of Every Class –

  • Ask: What shows did you see? Specifically, what did you like / what didn’t you like? What didn’t you understand? What are you exited to do?
  • Tell: “This week you have these specific opportunities to see and do improv…” Share the week’s schedule. Focus them on shows that relate to their level/learnings.
    • Ask: Who else has shows and/or news to promote this week?
  • Remind: Review what has been learned to date. Ask them. Ask for questions.
  • Foreshadow: Outline your vision for the specific class and how it fits into the larger picture of A) the class topic (101, 201, etc.) and/or B) On-stage, before-an-audience improvisation.

          (The 10 year old consultant in me wants to figure how to rearrange the four bullets above to be the teaching acronym F.A.R.T.)



In-Class Note Giving:

  • Accept notes – you may not agree with all the instructors notes; trust that all notes are given for the sake of pushing the group forward and strive to incorporate the instruction you’ve been given. We ask that students try. Every great improviser improvises “their own way,” and until that day – and ideally beyond – they’re learning from their instructor.
  • Elevate Notes, part one: Especially in 101, it can be advantageous to, when giving notes, speak to the group rather than the individual – as the opposite can shame the novice. Rather than, “Joe, when you said no to Jane…” choose “When we negate our scene partners…”
  • Elevate Notes, part two: To be useful the note needs to provide guidance on how to navigate future scenes better. Knowing what I should have said if I were ever again a penguin in a nunnery is less constructive than understanding how, for example, commitment to emotional perspectives can focus a whacky scene.
  • There are no mistakes, except for acknowledging to the audience that you think a move was a mistake. If the audience saw it, it exists; to ignore it is to draw more attention to it. Trusting and following, vulnerably and comfortably, we can make anything work by building together on it.
  • The only one who looks foolish is the one who doesn’t commit to the foolishness. We’re imagining characters and worlds on a blank stage; the improviser who calls us out as “the straight man” is the buzzkill.
  • The classic “No” Notes (“don’t ask questions,” “don’t be strangers,” “don’t negotiate,” can all be trumped by FEELING SOMETHING ABOUT SOMETHING. The “No” Notes are red flags that an improviser is in their head thinking and deciding rather than feeling and reacting.
  • Know why the good went well. You have to be able to dissect what made the good scenes good: Heightening emotion? Heightening detail? Heightening reactions? Heightening collaboration? Just being damn funny? A good question to ask a group after a good scene is: What made that easy/fun for you?
  • Side Coaching: Interrupt with a “Do,” not a “Do Not;” progress is enabled when you show them a path to take as opposed to stopping them in their tracks to dissect how they’re doing “wrong.” Students like it if their instructor is concise, allowing them to re-enter the interrupted scene without being too far in their heads.
  • Ensure that everyone participates / Focus players on finding a balance inside the group – Encourage hesitators to go for it. Insist that stage hogs dial it back. If you think too much and often miss your opportunity? Push yourself to follow your first instinct. If you often barrel on stage confident you’ll figure it out?  Challenge yourself to spend an extra second evaluating how your move will serve what’s already been established. Challenge bullet-proof characters to be affected. Focus aggressive students on agreement and characters that like each other.  Push shy players out to play.
  • Enter a scene in progress only to serve what’s been established on stage, not yourself.


Personal / Written Note Giving:

  • Students love getting personalized notes. 201, 301 and 401 teachers should be expected to write/give personalized notes to each student.Preparing for post-class notes throughout class is ideal; tracking scenes and tendencies throughout classes is easier than trying to remember scenes and discern trends post-class. Take notes and use your TA.
    • Students like receiving personal notes after the seventh class, giving them a final class to practice in and an opportunity to hit goals in the showcase.
    • Focus on constructive notes: ensure there is more “try this…” than “don’t do this…” While you shouldn’t shy from taking the 1-on-1 opportunity to alert players to tendencies that may be detrimental to the group, always strive to provide a potential fix for every perceived deficit.



All Classes –

  • Showcase is about the students, not the instructor. While 101 instructors will be heavily involved [see 101 Curriculum for Showcase Hosting Specifics], in subsequent classes, groups should handle their own performance as they would if headlining at The Coalition with their teacher as no more than a host.
  • Beginnings and Endings of Showcases need to be practiced. As long as you decide, the choice is yours. For non-101 classes, I…
    • Beginning…
      • Have students pick a number from 1 to [however many in class]. The student who chooses the number I pre-chose in my head, is The Host.
      • The Host positions her/himself near the middle of the group pre-stage and once the group has been brought on stage.
      • The Host says, “yes, We are [Blank],” – does not hold for applause – “and all we need to get started is [a word].” The audience says many [word]s. The Host picks one; “I heard [Word]. [Word]. Thank you.”
      • All players must first go to the wings before any players can enter to start the first scene.
    • Ending…
      • When the lights are pulled, all students line up across the stage and in some way acknowledge the audience.
      • Decide beforehand if you’re all going to bow. Bow. Wave. Do assorted shit. Doesn’t matter. All that matters is you answer the question of whether you’re all going to bow together.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.