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Improvisation with Shakespeare

Lesson 8 - Improvisation with Shakespeare

Objective: Students will demonstrate their ability to apply improvisational skills to Shakespeare by performing a scene as a class from Henry V without planning it.

Essential Questions:

  • How can we utilize the skills we already have to Shakespeare?
  • How can improv skills help in rehearsals?


Note: This activity can prepare students for a Unit on Shakespeare!


Pass the Snap

  • Set-up: Invite students to stand in a circle
  • Instructions: Explain these rules to the students. This game is about sending and receiving a snap. You receive a snap by snapping towards yourself. You send a snap by snapping towards someone else in the circle. It is important to be clear who you are sending the snap to. The snap can jump around the circle in any order. 
  • Practice passing (sending and receiving) the snap a few times. When you see students understand the basic concept, move on to these next instructions.
  • Instructions pt.2: As we get better, we will create a rhythm with the snaps. It is important to keep this rhythm going. If someone messes up, or if the snap is not sent clearly, try your best to keep on going. Stay focused and continue to send the snap
  • Play this game for a few minutes. Every so often, invite students to go faster
    • Side-coaching: Keep the snap going. Be clear to who you are sending it to. Be aware of the snap. Always be ready to receive. Keep the rhythm. Let’s go a little faster!


  • What skills are you using to be successful?
    • Listening, responding, always being ready, keeping the rhythm, being clear in sending the snap


Explain to students that skills of listening and responding are applicable to all areas of acting. Additional skills that we need to develop as actors are communication, collaboration, creativity, and focus. Shakespeare can be used to enhance these skills. Before we move onto Shakespeare, we are going to practice listening, receiving, and responding with more snapping.


Tell students that you will continue to play Pass the Snap keeping these skills in mind.


Pass the Snap pt. 2

  • Play Pass the Snap, remind students to listen and always be ready.
    • If things are going well, ask them to take it to ‘the speed of fun’ as fast as they can.
  • Inform the students that another layer is being added to the game. This will make the game more challenging and require better listening and responding.
  • Instructions: Explain that you will now be adding text to the game by adding names. You will continue to send and receive snaps. Now, you say your own name when receiving the snap and then say the name of the person you are sending the snap to. What is most important is keeping the rhythm up and not stopping. Invite students to use the name “Bob” if they can’t think of the correct name quickly enough. Keep the snap going! No pauses!
  • Play Pass the Snap with names for a few minutes. If necessary, pause the game and remind students of the objectives and skills.

Pass the Snap pt. 3

  • This next version of the game allows for more flexibility and choice.
  • Instructions: Students will walk around the room and pass the snap to each other. The students can hold onto the snap for a short amount of time, but they need to continue snapping while they have it so everyone knows where it is.
  • Variation of this game
    • Passing the snap with soft focus
    • Passing it with intention and receiving it in the way it was passed
    • Passing it with an emotion and responding to the emotion when you receive it
    • Adding Characters while you have the snap


Tell the students that we have practiced listening and responding, and now we are going to try ‘passing the snap’ with a Shakespearean monologue.

Chorus Monologue Work

  • Pass out a copy of the monologue to each student
  • Read through the monologue as a group. Check for understanding, ask if the students understand the story. Go through phrases or vocab that are unfamiliar. As a resource, you can use
    • This should only last a few minutes. The students might not fully understand every line, but they should understand the general story.
  • Next, put students in groups. 2-3 in each group is usually ideal. Divide out monologue evenly for each group. (Group one gets Lines 1-18, group two gets lines 19-36, group three get the end of the monologue)
  • Have the students create a brief performance in which they have to “pass the snap” energy-wise to the next group. They need to use their bodies and voices to create an engaging performance and make strong choices to enhance the storytelling.


Passing the snap in performance

  • The final activity requires students to ‘pass the snap’ without a planned order.
  • Instructions: Explain to the students that we will now be performing this monologue as an entire class. Only one student speaks at a time, and there is no discussion of who starts and who begins speaking next. Tell them that it is like the first game. You receive the snap and then send the snap to someone else. Every student needs to speak at least once in the monologue: they can speak for a long time, one word, or any length in between, but by the end all students will need to have spoken.
  • This version of the game will require some side-coaching and you may need to go through the monologue multiple times before the students feel comfortable ‘taking the snap’ and running with it. Tell students that if they take the snap, they need to be confident in it and be willing to share it with someone else if someone else decides to start.
  • Go through the monologue once with only speaking and passing the snap. Next, invite the students to make physical choices to enhance the story. Even if they are not speaking, they can create shapes, movements, and sounds to add to the story. This should be like Improvisation! Ask the students to say ‘yes, and’ to their classmates.


Instruct students that we will be discussing how they applied their skills of Improvisation to this activity. Write up the 5 skills of Improv on the board, then discuss each one.

Review Improv Skills

  • Establish a Specific Scene/Given Circumstances: Who/What/Where/When
    • How does this apply to performing with scripts?
      • Given Circumstances can help you make specific choices that are influenced by the circumstances
  • Add Conflict/Further Conflict
    • How does this apply to performing with scripts?
      • All plays need conflict to be engaging
      • Focus on the obstacles and objectives in the script
  • Listening
    • How does this apply to acting with a script?
      • Listen to the choices your partner is giving you
      • Listen to yourself
  • Plan Less/Listen More
    • How can we do this even with blocking?
      • Have specific moments planned so your partner isn’t lost, but be willing to listen and react truthfully. Find you light! Be flexible!
      • If the scene is perfectly the same every time, it isn’t live theatre
  • Yes, and
    • How does this most important rule of Improv apply?
      • Respond/React to the choices your partner is giving you. Make strong choices during rehearsal!