10 of the Best Virtual Improvisation Games for Distance Learning

Written by: Rob Ward

Date: May 4, 2020

Theater students love to play improv games and scenes, but you can’t do improv with distance learning, right? Wrong. Here’s a handy list of ten improv games that your class can play virtually.

1. WARM-UP Numbers

 One of the most challenging parts of working off of zoom or other virtual networking apps is because you can’t really make eye contact to connect, people tend to talk over each other. This warm-up game teaches students how to focus and how to find their opportunity to talk over Zoom. The group must count to twenty, going in numerical order, taking turns at random. If any two people speak at the same time, even if it’s just a noise, the group must start over again at number one. (Pro-tip: It will probably take quite a few rounds to actually get to twenty. Encourage the students to be patient and “feel out when it is their turn to add a number.)  

2. Panel of Experts

We’re all watching more daytime new shows than ever, and with this game, your students will get to become a panel of experts on their own news show. One student acts as the host, and you can have a panel of two or three experts. Get a topic from another student. Then the host starts off by giving the show a name and asking the panel of experts a question about the subject. Expert number one gives their answer. Expert number two says, “That’s right,” and builds off of that answer and so on. Focus is on the students believing they are the expert, and whatever they say is correct, as well as using “that’s right” as a way of building off each other’s ideas. 

Example: Topic is biology.
Host: Welcome Back to It Lives in Your Body. I’m your host (name), and I have a panel of the world’s top biologists here. I understand you all have discovered a new type of cell in the human body, is that true?
Expert 1: Yes, we have. We call it the Jurassic Cell.
Expert 2: That’s right, we named it that because it’s a cell that links dinosaurs and humans.
Expert 3: That’s right, and we’ve discovered that people with too many Jurassic Cells in their body could even turn into a dinosaur themselves. (etc.)
Repeat for several rounds. The host says good-bye like an anchor signing off on a news show.

3. Customer Service Face-time

Two students act out a Facetime style phone call between a customer and a customer service representative. You can get a suggestion from the other students for what the company’s name is. Each character should want something specific (Customer wants a replacement for a faulty product, the customer service rep wants to remain under budget, etc.). The scene ends when one of the characters gets what they want. (Pro-tip: Keep the focus on “The Wants,” this is a great way to teach the importance of having a strong objective in an improv scene).

4. Phone a Friend

Like the Customer Service game, this scene is a facetime phone call between two characters, but in this version, both characters know one another. Throughout the scene, we should learn who both characters are, what their relationship is to one another, and the reason for the phone call. (Pro-tip: Compare the difference in storytelling points when the two characters have a strong relationship with one another versus the previous customer service scene where the characters were strangers.

5. Your Cam Froze

Based on the game “Should’ve said” Two students act out an improv scene, but a third student (or you) can routinely say, “What’s that, your cam froze,” and the improviser on screen has to replace the last thing you said with something else. (Pro-tip: You can call it several times in a row to force the improviser to clear their head and say something they couldn’t possibly have planned).

6. Show and Tell 

Two students do a scene on cam, a third student (or you) has a bell. Every time the bell is rung, one of the improvisers in the scene has to grab any nearby item and immediately use it in the scene. (Pro-tip: challenge the students to make the item very important. For example, if you ring the bell, and one student grabs a stapler and introduces it into the scene, the other improviser should make the stapler relevant to the story).

7.  ___ Tells This Part Better

Three students tell a story together. Get a suggestion for the story’s subject (The ____ Incident). One student starts to tell the story, but at any point, they can say, “Wait, ____ (one of the other two students) tells this part better.” Tagging the second student to continue telling the story until student two tags, the third student in to take over, and so on. (Pro-tip: Students should escalate the speed of tagging each other in. Start with each student getting a sizeable chunk of the story out, but as it proceeds, the chaos should build to where they get out just a few words before tagging their fellow players in)

8. Improvised Ted Talk

One or two students lead a talk on the subject that you or another student suggest. The improviser must then giving a powerpoint-type presentation, but the PowerPoint “slides” are provided by you or another student using screen share. (Pro-tip: The improviser should be challenged to connect whatever random image pops up to their topic).

9. Later In a New Location

Two students do an improv scene, another student (or you) at select intervals pause the scene and move it to a different location and time. For example: “Two hours later in a spaceship.” For even more fun, use digital backgrounds to switch the location.  

10. Dance Class

One student on camera acts as the dance teacher. You play music, and the “dance teacher” dances to the song, all the other students try to follow the dance steps to the best of their ability. Every time the song changes, a different student takes over as the dance teacher. This is a great energy builder. (Pro-tip: The challenge is not about how good of a dancer is each student, it’s about how silly can everyone be).

Need some advice? We’ve got you covered.

Rob Ward is a freelance show writer and director and a resident improv performer and instructor at Orlando’s SAK Comedy Lab.
Photo credits:
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash