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The Value of Bringing Improv to Youth Work

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Improv is a fun and engaging way to build real trust in your relationships with young people. Additionally, improv is a great way to build your confidence for those times you need to think on your feet. And using improv in youth programming can inspire creativity and strengthen problem-solving.

There are many good reasons to bring improvisation techniques to youth work. Above all, they help prepare you to handle the unexpected. Young people are impulsive. So, they naturally say or do things that you may feel uncomfortable addressing. In other words, unexpected moments are common in youth work.

Consequently, developing the ability to think on your feet is vital. And it takes patience, trust, and practice. Therefore, practicing improv is a great way to build your self-confidence for dealing with challenging and unexpected situations.

What is Improv?

Improv is a methodology of performance and a specific form of theater. But what's most important for youth workers is that it's a way of being with young people empathetically.

Improvisation has been around as long as oral storytelling. It’s all about making authentic connections. Likewise, it's a fun way to work with individuals or in groups. And you can use improv techniques with anyone, anywhere, anytime. No stage needed!

Benefits of Bringing Improv to Youth Work

Most importantly, improv is just like youth work because it is all about listening and responding in the moment. No matter what type of youth work you do, improv can benefit you. And your program outcomes, too.

  • Reduces stress through play
  • Builds relationships between you and the young people you serve
  • Helps cultivate mindfulness
  • Encourages creativity and cooperation
  • Develops trust and self-confidence
  • Gives opportunities to practice empathetic communication and problem-solving skills
  • Offers techniques for responding to uncertainty
  • Helps you recognize and respond to discomfort in the moment

So, now that you know some of the benefits of bringing improv to your youth work, you might be wondering where to start.

Example Exercises and Games

Here are just a few improv exercises and games you can try, individually or in groups:

Human beatbox. Everyone stands in a circle. One person makes a sound (beat, clap, phrase, etc.) and repeats it. The next person adds a different sound to complement the first. Once the last person has added a sound, the first person stops making their sound, then the second person stops, then the third, and so on. This exercise is great when language may be a barrier.

Flocking. One person leads a movement, everyone follows with the same movement. Switch until all have led a movement. This exercise lightens the mood and helps young people be present with others.

Mind Meld. Partners start by facing each other and try to think of the same word. On the count of three, they each say the word they have in mind. Repeat until both say the same word. This exercise is very rewarding when it works and is best when partners already have a relationship.

One, Three, Five. Three people perform a short scene. One person can only say five words at a time, another can only say three, and another, one. People take turns speaking and go in order throughout the scene. The restrictive structure of this game helps clarify choices for young people.

Want to explore more improv activities you can bring to your youth work? YIPA has a training to help you understand how Improvisation is a Youth Work Superpower! It's free to YIPA members.

Jade Schleif is the training coordinator of the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA), a non-profit association of youth-serving organizations. We're your source for exceptional, affordable, personal and professional online learning via The Professional Youth Worker.  Join us!