In my personal and professional life, I’m a teacher. I teach improv and college writing, and I’ve realized, in both cases, improvisers and writers benefit from knowing front and center what they’re doing well and what needs improvement. While there are real differences between improvising and writing– improvising is less permanent and tends to be more collaborative– these creative mediums share a similar focus on getting and giving good feedback.
I’ve started to blend what I do as a writing teacher with suggestions from Lauren Morris at AdLib Theatre. (I’ve been reading her blog and you should, too.) She offers teachers and coaches practical tools for giving feedback that’s direct, focused, and supportive, and that keeps improvisers curious about learning.
Here are two phrases I borrow from my writing classes to help improvisers figure out what to concentrate on. You can use them when teaching or coaching, or advise students to use them when responding to scenes in class.
Starting with something positive and specific.
It’s nice to hear the good news first. Positive feedback boosts motivation and confidence. When feedback is positive and specific, it can let students know exactly what’s working well. To generate discussion that’s focused on learning and growth, I encourage students to use the following sentence starters, which I first discovered through the work of Donald Daiker:
- “I like the way you. . .”
Starting with this phrase promotes feedback that identifies what students are doing well- strong initiations, good scene-editing, helpful emotional choices- so they can do it more often. It’s easy to jump to what’s going wrong or what we would do differently if we were in the same scene. Directive feedback (“Do this. Don’t do that.”) doesn’t facilitate growth as easily as feedback that highlights the choices students are making in scenes. “I like the way you. . .” encourages facilitative responses that emphasize what students are already contributing.
- “I’d like to learn more about. . .”
It’s also important for students to understand what’s not working well. Framing this kind of feedback as something to be explored develops curiosity and a sense of openness. After watching a scene, students might emphasize moments when more information, details, or emotional responses, would add to the scene. Instead of “I didn’t like the scene,” students might say, “I wanted to know more about the characters and who they were to each other.” Or, “I wanted to know more about why your character had that reaction.” These kinds of responses can help improvisers anticipate the audience’s questions and build potentially fuller scenes.
The same improv scene won’t ever be performed again, yet practicing giving and getting good feedback can strengthen students’ choices and habits for future scenes. I’ve found that exploring feedback together gets students thinking about what they want to do and why, which helps with developing their own style and voice as improvisers.