How Improvisation Integrates Learning

Want to make people from centuries ago leap off the Bible’s pages? Want to relate Bible characters to the lives of your twenty-first-century students? Try immersing participants in their challenges, emotions, and stories through dramatization, and watch those characters spring alive and become a part of their experience.

Amazingly, this technique can be used successfully with all ages. The approach can be adapted to match capabilities of the group. Basically, this is how it works.


To help class members learn Bible stories and realize that the characters were real people.To help class members experience the emotions, challenges, defeats, and triumphs of biblical characters.

To help students understand the principles and lessons of the stories.

To enable adults to discuss their experiences in portraying biblical characters and the significance of the event in which they participated.

To make learning interesting and enjoyable.

Selecting the Story. Choose a story that contains conflict. The conflict may between two or more people, between a person and God, or between people and the forces of nature, such as the storm that nearly capsized the disciples’ boat.

Are there plot points in the story? Can the things that happened in the story be placed in sequence and clearly stated?

Select one with an appropriate number of characters for the size of your group. The exact number is not necessary. Besides humans, characters may be God, angels, and animals, such as the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem. They also may be things, such as the rushing wind at Pentecost, or an object, such as Jesus’ tomb. Still other roles might include those who would encourage or discourage the central character. In a larger group some students may comprise the audience in one session and become the actors in the next session.

Does the story present a message understandable to the age group you are working with? Can it be succinctly summarized for students to remember?

Presentation options. 1. The facilitator gives a printed synopsis of the story, including setting, brief character sketches, points in the plot, the climax, and the ending. Class members are invited to consider which character they would like to play. 2. The facilitator reads the story from the Bible and asks the students to list the characters, what they are like, the story’s plot points, the climax, and the ending. This approach takes longer and requires greater maturity and skill.

Casting. Sabbath School members may volunteer to play any part, regardless of sex, age, appearance, or a character’s negative or positive thoughts.

The final casting rests with the teacher. However, the story could be improvised again with a different cast or at another session.

Preparation. The facilitator reviews the main points in the plot. The spirit of the story must be preserved. Participants should express their parts with words and emotions appropriate to their characters, staying in character at all times.

In stories involving elements of nature it is interesting to ask, for example, if the students were the wind, how they would move. Ask what sounds they would make. Have all of the participants simultaneously interpret that element physically and vocally, and then individually.

The teacher warms up each person to his or her role by asking what the character will do in the scene and by having the actor move and think aloud in that part. In the case of the positive and negative voices, the teacher can ask what the character might be thinking. For example, David might become very frightened when he sees Goliath. The negative voice could say, “He’s going to kill you like a fly” while the positive voice might say, “You can do this with God’s help.”

The Action. Once the improvisation begins, the action should continue unless it veers off in an inappropriate direction. Those speaking the negative and positive thoughts may interact in whatever way seems appropriate.

Unpacking. All participants are asked to share their experience of the improvisa­tion and how their portrayal of a character or other aspects of the play relate to their own lives and/or current circumstances. The audience may also express their observations about the person’s portrayal of the story. Superintendents or class facilitators may ask individuals and/or the group specific questions about the action and about how the Holy Spirit may have impressed them through the dramatization.

The group discusses the meaning of the story and the lessons learned. They also should be allowed to express how that lesson might help them in relationships and actions.

At first shy participants may be reluctant to participate. If so, give them a small part or a nonspeaking character. After participating in a few improvisations, even the most shy persons will find the experience exhilarating.

Once your participants have played a certain part and participated in telling the story, they won’t forget the plot or its message.

Wanda Vassallo
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists