Increasing Our Awareness of Body and Breath

LESSON 1: Increasing Our Awareness of Body and Breath


Educational Objective: Students will demonstrate an awareness of body and breath in vocal support by participating in self-awareness activities and articulating their experience in a think-pair-share.


Standards: Standard L2.T.R.2: Evaluate responses based on personal experiences when participating in or observing a drama/theatre work.


Materials Needed: a small bell, Freeing the Natural Voice by Kristin Linklater, soft/ meditative music, open space


Hook: Voice Jeopardy

Directions: Class will be divided into two teams. Each team sends one person up to the front of the classroom to face-off their opponent in answering questions about elements of voice and their ability to demonstrate them. Whoever knows the answer to the question will ring the bell between the two opponents. They will get 1 point for correct definition and another point for correct demonstration. The other team has a chance to “challenge” and earn the demonstration point if they demonstrate the element of voice better than their opponent. Each team also has one “phone a friend” per game, in which they can ask their teammates if they know the definition of the term they are being questioned on.



  1. Define projection…demonstrate by saying a line from your last scene.
    1. Possible definition: Using the vocal apparatus (including diaphragm, lungs, and air) and not centering sound on the vocal cords to produce vocal sound that can be heard in a large (performance) space.
    2. Challenged? Who can be heard the best– remember it’s NOT yelling!
  2. Define diction…demonstrate by correctly saying and enunciating this tongue twister: red leather yellow leather lavender leather
    1. Possible definition: Using your articulators (lips, teeth, tongue, jaw, etc.) to produce sound that can be heard clearly and distinctly.
    2. Challenged? Who enunciated the tongue twister the best?
  3. Define tone…demonstrate an example of tone by portraying an angry parent.
    1. Possible definition: resonance or quality of voice; influenced by emotion (similar to vocal expression).
    2. Challenged? Who expressed more tone in that portrayal?
  4. Define pitch…demonstrate a variety of pitch in your voice when saying a nursery rhyme.
    1. Possible definition: highness and lowness of voice; for example, boys often have lower-pitched voices than girls
    2. Challenged? Who has a greater range of pitch–lowest to highest?
  5. Define rate…demonstrate an appropriate rate for a girl who is excited to be at a boy-band concert.
    1. Possible definition: speed of speech
    2. Challenged? Who performed did it better?
  6. Define vocal expression…demonstrate vocal expression by giving a “dramatic” reading of a paragraph from the drama textbook.
    1. Possible definition: emotional intonation of speech
    2. Challenged? Who put more expression/ emotion in their performance? In other words, who was the most interesting to listen to?


Transition: Now that we have had a bit of a refresher on elements of voice, we are going to go forward by participating in exercises that increase our awareness of our voice as the expressive instrument that it is. The first step to doing that is becoming more aware of how our body functions as we breathe. I am going to guide you through this exercise through verbal prompts (NOTE: play soft, relaxing music as you lead this activity)


Activity: Awareness of Body and Breath (adapted from “Freeing the Natural Voice,” Workday One and Two)

Introduction: It’s not about what we are doing, but HOW we are doing it that is important

  • Develop physical awareness through specific relaxation and releasing knots of tension.
  • Proper use of voice depends on properly alignment of the body– and that starts with the spine
  • Free your voice by “getting to know your spine and skeleton”


Step 1:

  1. Have students find their own space in the room. Stand with your feet about a shoulder-width apart and close your eyes…in your mind’s eye, picture the bones of your feet…now move up to your legs– ankles, shins, knees, thighs, and hips
  2. Base of your spine (sacrum)
    1. Move up your spine through your back and between your shoulder blades
    2. Picture your rib cage folding around it and your shoulders on top
  3. Feel your arms hanging for the shoulder sockets
    1. Picture your arms– upper arms, elbow joints, forearms, and wrists, then move down to your hands and fingers.
  4. Move your mind’s eye back through your arms and into your neck…shift up to the skull– picture your skull floating, like a balloon, off the top of the spine


Step 2

  1. Focus your attention into your elbows– rotate them forward and let them rise up gently toward the ceiling while keeping the shoulders and forearms relaxed. Let your hands hang loosely
  2. Let your wrists rise toward the ceiling and leave your hands hanging.
  3. Let your fingers float to the ceiling– like someone is gently pulling you up by your fingertips and stretching your ribs and spine
  4. Let your arms float back down and hang loosely from your shoulders– feel the blood coming back into your hands as gravity adds weight to your arms.
  5. Now let the weight of your head pull your chin down towards your chest so that your head and neck hang forward. Slowly and gradually give into the weight of your head and let your shoulders go forward too, then fold forward, vertebrae by vertebrae until your head hangs between your loosely extended arms. Make sure that your kees are relaxed and bent slightly to keep your center of gravity (your weight) over your feet.
  6. Take  moment to BREATHE easily! We are doing this exercise to relax your torso muscles, shoulder muscles, neck muscles, head, and arms.
  7. Now, vertebrae by vertebrae, you are going to slowly restack your spine and stand up straight. Don’t stand up too quickly! Feel the almost float-like sensation of your head on top of your neck.


Step 3

  1. Stand quietly for a couple of minutes and be aware of your spine supporting your skeleton while your muscles hang loosely. Feel the air touching your skin.
    1. As you breathe naturally, tune into the small movements that are happening as you inhale and exhale. Be aware of the breath moving your body, rather than your body moving the breath.
    2. Take 3 deep breaths in and out. Let each inhale fill your body and each exhale help relax your body. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
    3. Now stretch and open your eyes, then gently shake your body all over.


Discussion/ Questions:

  • How do you feel after that exercise?
    • Students may respond that they are feeling more relaxed and less tense.
    • Inform the students that the best actors/ performers are relaxed during their performance– they have no extra tension.
  • Do you know what “being grounded” means?
    • It’s not just punishment from your parents; another definition is that you are in tune with your body– feeling your breath, knowing your emotional state, and being authentic/ genuine. These exercises are starting to form a conscious picture of how the voice works and how it helps us “be grounded.”
  • Connecting the Dots: Your breath is your source of life and vocal sound. Your breathing habits, believe it or not, have helped you develop into being your character– you!
    • As actors, we have the task of letting ourselves into other characters, which means we change behavior, thought, feeling, and even breathing.
    • Know that there is no one “correct” way to breathe that fulfills all purposes of breathing– such as singing, swimming, playing a breath instrument, etc.
    • As we go forward, think about PURPOSE of breath and how we can use our breath to power our vocal expression.


Practice: Human Breathing Machine– Our body has mechanisms or different parts to help us breathe, as follows:

  • Brain (top)—breathing is a “subconscious” action
  • Nasal cavity/ trachea (below brain)—bring air into the lungs
  • Ribs (encase the lungs)—lungs expand on inhale, deflate on exhale
  • Intercostal muscles (around the ribs)—contract and release according to breath
  • Diaphragm (below lungs)—flexes with breath; diaphragm is the base of your lungs; “breathe from the diaphragm”
  • Intestines (below diaphragm)

Now we are going to create a human breathing machine! We’ll need several volunteers to do this… Have one person stand on a chair– this person will be the brain at the top of the “body” we are putting together. Under the brain will be the nasal cavity/ trachea (the brain will put their hands on the shoulders of the person who is the nasal cavity/ trachea). Then the person who is the nasal cavity will have their arms draped around 2 people who will serve as the ribs. There will also have two more people with their arms stretched in front of the ribs– these people are the intercostal muscles. Have someone kneel on their knees below this group with their arms bent into a downward curve (they are the diaphragm.) Then have a couple of people wiggle slowly and gently below the diaphragm– they are the intestines. Here is the role for each volunteer:

  • Brain: send a (subconscious) message for breath– squeeze the shoulders of the person who is the nasal cavity/ trachea.
  • Nasal Cavity/ Trachea: expand with inhale, deflate with exhale– gently lift arms up and down slightly
  • Ribs: expand with inhale, deflate with exhale–gently move with the breath
  • Intercostal muscles: contract and release according to breath by moving arms out and in from in front of the ribs
  • Diaphragm (below lungs)—flexes with breath– rise up and down with inhale and exhale
  • Intestines (below diaphragm) — wiggle gently with each breath

Once everyone knows their roles, we are going to do a few collective breaths as a group (invite those who are not a part of the human breathing machine to breathe together with them as well). After you get the rhythm down with a few breaths, try experimenting with a laugh as opposed to a normal breath, or faster breathing as though you are going on a run. After the activity, reflect on the discussion questions listed in the next section.


Reflection/ Assessment:

            Students will have a few moments to ponder their experience in these exercise, guiding their thinking towards asking the following questions:

  • How can proper breathing help me ground my voice and project?
    • Possible answers may include: having proper breath support helps my voice sound more full and carry over longer distances, breathing properly reduces the tension in my voice and makes it sound more natural, etc.
  • How can I align my body to help me speak more freely?
    • Possible answers may include: good posture helps support proper breathing and reduce tension held in your body, aligning your body helps you feel more “grounded,” etc.

Students will then have the opportunity to share their thoughts with a partner, and then in a group reflection (think-pair-share).