Teaching English with Improv

On 12 and 13 of August 2013, the Language Centre ran successive sessions of its workshop “English through Improv”. The courses were led by Steve Bond of the Centre for Learning Technology, and Angelina Castellini, an LSE alumna and freelance improvisation teacher. Steve and Angelina also teach classes for LSE Improv, a division of the LSESU Drama Society, during term-time. Improvisation theatre is the art of acting without a script, making scenes up on the spot, sometimes based on audience suggestions. Applied Improvisation uses the skills and techniques of improvisation as teaching tools outside of the theatre setting, in this case for language learning.

Improv in action

LSE English students improvising

The idea that improvisation classes could be valuable for language students arose simultaneously and coincidentally from two separate conversations: one between Steve and EAP co-ordinator Alison Standring, and another between Angelina and Languages Facilitator Inés Alonso-Garcia. Improvisation seemed a natural fit for language classes because it involves expressing oneself clearly, confidently and most of all spontaneously. To improvise well is to listen carefully to other actors, then to reply instinctively and truthfully, without conscious thought. When learning English, speakers of foreign languages may lose fluency because they filter what they are saying first, to make sure it is right. Improvisation techniques aim to remove these filters, to ‘trick’ people into saying the first thing that comes into their head – which is often the most interesting and intuitively ‘right’ thing they could say.

An average workshop is about 1.5 hours long and students are interacting at all times, either in pairs, small groups, or as part of big group games. In the workshops we start with warm-up games, which often involve no speaking at all, but which help to relax students and help them lose their inhibitions about performing in front of others. These games can also be used to develop the focus and attention to others which is vital for improvisation. We then move onto improvisation exercises, games that introduce and reinforce the basic skills required to respond spontaneously and truthfully on stage. One of the basic improvisation skills is accepting other people’s suggestions and building on them, rather than trying to control a conversation by dismissing other people’s thoughts. Finally we move into performing short improvised scenes, putting the basic skills to use in their usual context. The scenes that are created are a mixture of every-day life scenes to completely imaginary scenarios.

Happy improvisers!

Happy improvisers!

At the end of the Monday (12th August) session we collected feedback from the participants:

Yanghee: “I feel more confident in myself”

Bow: “I just couldn’t stop smiling and laughing”

Hitomi: “Very fun and good practice of quick responses”

Tomoko: “I really enjoyed and admired everyone’s imagination”

Nish: “I really enjoyed this because it was a mix of emotional skills and language skills”

Tóri: “What a fantastic way to meet complete strangers”

Over the course of a single workshop, the observed change in some participants’ confidence levels (i.e. in speaking English and presenting themselves) can be quite astonishing. Furthermore, students improve their diction, widen their vocabulary, engage in dialogue, and learn to express themselves freely. These sessions bring the every-day use of the English language closer to the students and can prove to individuals that they are capable of things that they may not have thought possible. Many of the regular members of LSE Improv will testify how improvisation has changed them for the better in all sorts of ways.

Applied Improvisation is most effective when it is offered as regular workshops; however, improvisation exercises are very easy to include into every-day language classes and are as much fun for the teachers as they are for the students. Many of the warm-ups can be used as ice-breakers or speaking exercises as part of a regular class, as most of them only take about 10-15 minutes. The Language Centre is currently working on a Train-the-Trainers session to teach improvisation exercises to language teachers. We also encourage the language teachers to join in the termly “English through Improv” classes to feel the effect of improv themselves.

If you would like to learn more about improvisation and Applied Improvisation, please contact Angelina Castellini a.c.castellini@gmail.com.


Today: Day Jobs and the Twilight World

LSE Space for Thought – LSE Language Centre Literary Festival presents:

Day Jobs and the Twilight World

17:15 – 18:45 Wolfson Theatre

 Although the cliché of the novelist as a typically bohemian, solitary, garret-inhabiting individual persists, in reality today, as in the past, the majority of novelists writing lead double-lives, holding down at least a part-time and very often a full-time job as well. Trollope did a full-time job as a director of the General Post office while simultaneously turning out some of the major novels of the nineteenth century. Kafka worked in an insurance office. Author of the bestseller The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame worked at the Bank of England for thirty years. Alan Judd represents a case in point, having published nine novels, most recently Uncommon Enemy (2012), while simultaneously working in the army, in the Foreign Office and in other Whitehall departments. He has also written, while pursuing these day jobs, The Quest For C , the biography of Mansfield Cumming, founder of MI5. Together with Lord Hennessy, the author of The Secret State and a preeminent Cold War historian, and Professor Christopher Andrew, the author of Defence of The Realm, the official history of MI5, he discusses the question of combining official work with the writing of fiction in the context of the Cold War and after.

twilight 1

Tonight: The Heart of a Dog


Tonight LSE students present an adaptation of the satirical novella Heart of a Dog which lampoons the emerging totalitarian system with its exposé of medical science gone mad.

Mikhail Bulgakov was like his great Russian precursor Anton Chekhov, a full time doctor as well as a writer. In the 1920s and 1930s he was dogged simultaneously by disease and the constant threat of reprisals by Stalin as the Soviet Union headed toward the Great Purge. His 1925 work The Heart of A Dog anticipates both the unreal and sinister atmosphere of this period and the proto -magic realism of his classic Master and Margarita.

25 February, 19:00, Old Theatre – Free event entry

heart of a dog

Languages: The State of the Nation

The British Academy has just published the report:

Languages: The State of the Nation. Demand and supply of language skills in the UK

 These are some of the key findings of the report; there is clearly room for improvement and also scope for reform:

  •  There is strong evidence that the UK is suffering from a growing deficit in foreign language skills at a time when globally, the demand for language skills is expanding
  • The range and nature of languages being taught is insufficient to meet current and future demand
  • Language skills are needed at all levels in the workforce, and not simply by an internationally-mobile elite
  • A weak supply of language skills is pushing down demand and creating vicious circle of monolingualism
  • Languages spoken by British school children, in addition to English, represent a valuable future source of supply – if these skills can be developed appropriately.

 Links of the summary and full report can be found here: http://www.britac.ac.uk/policy/State_of_the_Nation_2013.cfm

FACTS, FICTION and PHILOSOPHY – drinks reception

The LSE Language Centre is pleased to invite you to:


  • A short dramatized student performance of classic comedy The Clouds by Aristophanes featuring no less a figure than Socrates himself.
  • A short documentary on Philosophers and Writers
  • Students’ thoughts on Literature and Philosophy
  • Prof Luc Bovens (from the perspective of an expert on the Philosophy side)
  • Dr Angus Wrenn (from the perspective of a specialist on the Literature side)
  • The Director of the Language Centre Nick Byrne – overall conclusion

Tuesday 19th February at 18.30
LSE Atrium Gallery

Supported by the LSE Annual Fund and the Department of Philosophy

LSE Arts Public Exhibition

The exhibition Facts, Fiction and Philosophy is devoted to the link between literature and philosophy from the ancient world through to the great writers of the twentieth century Sartre and Camus, and the contemporary writers Kundera and Stoppard. Fascinating information!

There will be an evening celebration 19 February, 18:00, which will include a short student dramatized performance of classic comedy featuring no less a figure than Socrates himself, as well as audiovisual footage relating to the exhibition. Drinks reception.

Date: Monday 21 January – Saturday 2 March 2013
Time: Monday-Friday, 10am-8pm
Venue:  Atrium Gallery, Old Building

More information: http://www2.lse.ac.uk/publicEvents/events/2013/01/20130121t1000vATRIUM.aspx

Dying for Dreams (Morir de sueños)

dying for dreamsSpanish in Motion offers tomorrow Tuesday 22nd January it’s next event. A must for those interested in Spain and the Civil War. Dying for dreams is a short film which will be followed by an introduction to the project and a panel discussion with the writer Lala Isla and Professor Paul Preston.

Date: Tuesday 22nd January 2013
Time: 18.30-20.30
Venue: The Wolfson Theatre, New Academic Building, LSE, 54 Lincolns Inn Fields, WC2A 3LJ

Please check here for further information: http://www2.lse.ac.uk/language/Projects/SpanishProjects/SpanishinMotion/Screenings/22January2013.aspx