How to Have Awesome Improv Classes By Posing Great Debriefing Questions

(a.k.a. — Facilitating Productive Conversations for Critical Reflection)

Improv classes are places of experiential learning. Instructors lead students through specific experiences and then facilitate reflections, or debriefs, on activities to build skills and knowledge*. This process, combined with watching and practicing improv, is the most effective way to empower improv students to learn and grow as performers, and is used in all great improv schools.

Learning is an iterative process and without reflection, little progress will be made in subsequent activities. A skilled teacher, asking the right questions and guiding reflective conversation before, during, and after an experience, provides the necessary opportunities for students to critically reflect on and learn from each activity.

Debriefing is an essential skill for all improv teachers to develop in order to help students make meaning from activities, progress in their learning, and have a positive classroom experience. Facilitating constructive discussions takes many years to master. Posing open-ended questions to students and keeping discussions on topic and meaningful to the goals of the lesson or class often pose the greatest challenges for new teachers.

My conservatory group has been practicing this skill with each other (using an experiential learning process themselves!) and together we brainstormed some great questions for teachers to pose to students to kick-off constructive debriefing sessions.  Go beyond the typical “How did that feel?” with these great prompts!

Great Questions for Kick-starting Productive Debriefing Sessions

  • What did you notice or observe during that activity?
  • Did you notice…? (“good” or “bad” moments, moves, choices)
  • What happened there…? (if you pause a group and want them to describe and reflect on a specific moment)
  • What did you experience?
  • When did you feel the most at ease or the most joy?
  • When did you feel tension or struggle?
  • Why did that happen?
  • When else does that happen?
  • To observers:  What did they do well? ( directly related to lesson goals – remind observers before that activity what to look for)
  • What did you enjoy about that?
  • What thoughts did you notice, if any, you had during that process?
  • With newer students, or reluctant students, it helps to ask for a specific number of responses such as “I’d like to hear from three people — what’s one thing you noticed worked well during that activity?
  • How can you use that? (this is a great follow-up question in a discussion after someone has described something they learned. Always be looking for opportunities to connect lessons to future opportunities for growth!)

Posing these questions immediately after after an exercise or scene will help lead a group to critically reflect on their experience and apply what they learned to their next experience — and even apply these lessons outside the classroom. If part of your class is observing while part is doing, be sure to also pose questions to the observers. We learn by observing others in the same activities that we participate in.  Also, be sure to include both “feeling” and “thinking” type questions, ensuring that you are allowing others to reflect in ways that you are less prone to reflect in.

If you are a new teacher or would like to start teaching, practice posing questions like these and facilitating constructive reflections on activities.  If you are a student, deepen your own learning and progress faster in your improv journey by gaining a better understanding of how you process your experiences and challenge yourself to fully take part in all opportunities to critically reflect on each experience!

Do you have a great debriefing prompt you use or have been asked? Share it in the comments!

* For a comprehensive overview of experiential learning check out this great resource from the Northern Illinois University Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center 

Thanks to my Conservatory group for a great discussion on this topic.  Jon Anthony, Page Carman, Kevin Langdon, Clara Bard, Nancy Langdon, Nixon Morada, Mark Schacchetti, and Suzie Ziser play as “Passenger”.  If you are a looking for a coach for your team be sure to consider one of these great people!

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