The students will demonstrate their ability to use varying tone to express vocal gesture with their voice by performing a short contentless scene.


Materials Needed

Copies of the contentless scenes for each student.


Lesson Directions

Anticipatory Set/Hook

How Many “A’s” in a single “A” (Agusto Boal’s Games for Actors and Non-Actors pg. 106)

The students will get in a circle. One actor goes into the middle and expresses a feeling, an emotion or an idea, using only the sound of the letter ‘A’ in any of its possible inflections, plus a movement or gesture that goes with it. All the actors in the circle repeat that sound and action three times. Then another actor goes in and expresses a different idea, emotion, or feeling, and again the circle repeats it three times. And so on.  Repeat the same thing with ‘E’, ‘I’, ‘O’, and ‘U’, then with a single word, finally with a sentence.



Step 1: Discussion

Have the students sit down. Write the word “gesture” on the board. Ask the students to review the definition of gesture according to the physical viewpoints. Gesture for the voice is to put a certain emotion or feeling or idea behind the sound you are making, whether it is an actual word, a sentence, or just noise. This is most commonly known as your tone when speaking. Tell the students that tone communicates so much more clearly the message and feelings that we are trying to convey. The three things that help us communicate are:


  1. The words we say
  2. Our body language
  3. Tone of voice


Ask the students which order they would place them based on which they think communicates the most and the least about what we are actually saying/feeling.

Tell them that it goes in the opposite order as it is listed above.

Talk about examples of how you can usually understand what is going on in a movie that is in a different language if you focus on their body and the tone they use to say it.

What are some different types of tones or vocal gestures? (Maybe refer them back to the exercise at the beginning)

How do we portray tone in technology? (Writing things in all caps or putting “emoticons” at the end of a text message)


Step 2: Exercise – ‘I love you’ and ‘I’m sorry’

Tell the students to find a partner to sit across from somewhere in the room. Tell them that they are going to have a conversation with each other but the only things that they are allowed to say are the phrases, “I love you” and “I’m sorry.”

Side Coaching: How does the gesture of their voice make you react? How can you show that in your voice? Now take that same inflection and say the words to it.


After a few minutes of walking around and observing them, have them stop. Change the words to something they say a lot such as ,”Wow” and “Seriously.” Continue with the observing and side-coaching.


Transition: Discussion

Have them stop again and if possible tell of some examples of good vocal gesture that you heard. Ask the students to share one of the emotions they heard from their partner when saying one of the words. How did they say it to portray that emotion?


Step 3: Contentless scenes

Pass out a copy of the two contentless scenes to the students. Once they have it, explain how a contentless scene works. Read through one of the scripts. Ask the students what happens in the scene. (The character sees something and doesn’t know if they want to do anything about it.) Tell the students that in a contentless scene the script doesn’t tell you exactly the content of what is really going on. You get to make it up. So in this scene for example, you need to decide what it actually really is that you saw and express your reaction to it with your voice. Is it a scary monster? How would you react? Is it a cute puppy? How would your voice show that?


Tell the students that they have 15 minutes to come up with a relationship, location, and decide the specifics of the script. They will be performing them for the class and the class should be able to tell what those three things were.


Step 4:  Performance

Bring the students back and have each partnership perform.

Throughout the performance, pick out good examples or unique examples of gesture as used to portray meaning with the words. Especially point out the vocal gesture examples that aren’t necessarily words but rather noises to portray an idea or emotion.


Closure: Discussion

Point out the fact that every group had the exact same words and we were able to get over 30 different situations out of it because the vocal gesture was altered. Encourage them to go home and listen to someone at home speak and see if you can tell how that person is feeling based on their vocal gestures. Remember that they don’t have to be full words.



Contentless scene performances


Contentless Scene Examples


  1. Excuse me
  2. Yes?
  3. Did you see that?
  4. I saw something.
  5. Are you going to do something about it?
  6. Maybe



  1. Hey
  2. Hey
  3. What are you doing here?
  4. I could ask you the same thing
  5. I wanted to give you something
  6. What?
  7. This