Home Academia & Research Build Collaborative Teaching and Learning Through Improv

Build Collaborative Teaching and Learning Through Improv

by Rachel Kasthurirathne
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improv class on stage at Camp Yes, And

Improvisational theatre—better known as improv—is the art of making things up on the spot. But it’s not just funny business! Improv immerses students with social learning challenges in games and exercises that teach, reinforce and draw upon spontaneous application of social communication skills, such as perspective-taking, reciprocity and interpretation of nonverbal cues.

Improv allows students to practice nuanced social skills on their feet by creating and responding to limitless contextual offers in the moment.

At Indiana University’s “Camp Yes And,” an improv camp for teens on the autism spectrum and their educators, we transform teaching and learning by facilitating social competence between students and their communication partners. Our camp works with speech-language pathologists and other professionals on how to use applied improv techniques to create highly supportive environments. The activities also encourage self-expression, connection with others and self-confidence.

The core improv tenet, “yes, and,” makes up the core of our camp philosophy.

“Yes, and,” embodies key principles of improv, such as sending messages to others through making and accepting offers, listening, maintaining presence, and co-creating in the moment. During sessions at the camp, presenters encourage students and educators to practice these traits as they spin through the “yes, and,” cycle to build scenes and dialogue with one another.

Many of our camp educators are speech-language pathologists, social workers, psychologists, general educators and special educators. Camp Yes And provides a collaborative framework for discussing and teaching nuanced social learning in real time, an approach often difficult to achieve during traditional sessions or workshops. Improv activities illustrate the complex nature of social learning and reinforce the need to approach treatment in tandem.

If you’re interested in spearheading a systematic approach for your students with autism, applied improv provides a unique foundation. These tips will help get you on your way to more collaborative and authentic teaching and learning, for you, your coworkers and your students:

  1. Take an improv class—or two! You’ll quickly see how improv games and activities align with your practice. In the meantime, you can find free resources for improv activities online.
  2. Invite other SLPs to a training session (psst…! A drama teacher is a great resource!), and get your team or peers practicing the art of teaching communication skills in real time.
  3. Start a small improv group with your students and peer mediators, or better yet, offer an in-classroom session to reinforce the 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity!

If you’d like to build your own summer improv camp, here’s a sneak peek of “Camp Yes, And’s,” model:

Educator’s camp: Each of the five days, registered educators arrive for morning sessions focused on discussions about autism and social pragmatic interventions. We also perform and scaffold improv games and exercises.

Teen camp: Teens with social learning challenges arrive in the early afternoon. Educators attending the camp, along with camp staff, facilitate the teen activities and exercises.

On the fifth and last day of camp, teens and educators join to perform a final showcase for family and friends!

Can’t wait to get started? You can find hundreds of free of improv games, refernces and terms at Improv Encyclopedia.


Rachel Kasthurirathne, MA, CCC-SLP, is a doctoral student in the Speech and Hearing Sciences program at Indiana University. rhopf@indiana.edu. 

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