In-class activity for interpersonal communication: nonverbal

This is a version of the improv game called Silent Take. I save this for the end of the semester when the students know each other well and it consistently shows up on my evaluations as the students’ favorite activity.  It is a little complicated to explain, but here is how it works:

  • Break the students into small groups (2-3 is best). You will need an even number of groups — for example, a class of 20 is perfect because it breaks into 10 groups of 2. If you have an odd number of students, someone will have to go twice or you will have to jump in.
  • HALF of the groups get a slip of paper that describes a simple scene that can be acted out by 2-3 people, like a hypnotist relaxing a patient or chefs taping a cooking show. The other half of the groups do not get a scene.
  • Each group who got a scene will come to the front and briefly act it out. The catch is they MAY NOT USE WORDS when acting out the scene. I do encourage them to use gibberish (like blah, blahs) to give the other group some paralinguistic clues. This group never tells any of the other groups what they are doing.
  • After the group with the scene finishes, one of the other groups (those who did not get a scene) comes up and copies the actions from the prior group but ADD THE WORDS. They have to make their best guess of what the first group was doing.
  • After each set of scenes, ask what clues the second group relied on in order to guess the activity and ascertain whether they got it correct.

This takes some time (appx. 20 minutes with 20 students), but the students have a lot of fun with it and even those who are not exactly right will often be very close. It does a great job of illustrating how much information we get from nonverbal clues.

Note: YouTube has many examples of improv groups performing this activity (without the gibberish). Search for “Silent Take” if you want to see one.

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About teachingpublicspeaking

I believe public speaking can go from most dreaded class to favorite class. I'm a former public speaking college instructor who spent years seeking out activities, assignments and examples to make the class interactive as well as educational -- they are collected here. I welcome suggestions for additions.

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