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ESL Improv Exercises

By Rosalind Flynn

Here are 29 opening lines—improv starters—to get two-person improvisations jump-started. Each line is created to give the student actors a sense of the characters and setting for an improvised scene. Directions:

  1. Put these Opening Lines into a Google Doc or just use this blog.

  2. Adjust these lines to the ESL level of your students. Change names to the student names, etc.

  3. Assemble student actors into groups of two scene partners.

  4. Explain that one student actor per pair will receive a private Instant Message that has an opening line printed in it. That student actor will need to read and understand the pronunciation of the opening line, but will not reveal the line to his or her scene partner—yet. This line will be the first line spoken in the pair’s improv.

  5. Give one member of each pair their Instant Message. Give them time to read and practice the line.

  6. Remind student actors of the classroom improvisation guidelines.

  7. Have each pair present their improv.

  8. Hold a brief reflection on each improv—“What can you praise?” “What might they polish?”

Opening Lines

  1. I wouldn’t go that way if I were you.

  2. Excuse me, ma’am. I need to return this shirt for a refund.

  3. Miss, I am afraid I did not order a hot dog for dinner.

  4. Look, I know you hate this, but we need at least one good photo of you.

  5. So, Jordan, please explain why Paul’s homework was in your backpack.

  6. Officer, please, no! Don’t give me a speeding ticket!

  7. Do you think Mother would like this crown or the silver one?

  8. Oh! It is such an honor to meet you! Could I get your autograph for my daughter?

  9. Sir, your suitcase will not fit in the overhead bin.

  10. I think our cheer needs a better jump and some words that rhyme with "team."

  11. Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome today’s guest—Pat Perkins—an expert on how to organize your desk!

  12. Look, my muscles are killing me! Can’t we take a break from this workout?

  13. Just rip the paper off! I can’t wait for you to see this totally unique gift!

  14. Excuse me, ma’am. Is that dinosaur skeleton real or is it just a model?

  15. Well, this is what we’ve been training for—the Olympics! Are you ready to earn that gold medal?

  16. I think these shoes make my feet look far too big. Please get me a different pair.

  17. Ugh! All the other parents let their kids see PG-13 movies! You’ve just got to let me go!

  18. All you have to do is step-kick-step-kick-step-kick. Now try it with me.

  19. Behind us is the U.S. Capitol Building, and over there, you’ll see the Washington Monument.

  20. It’s just a little tattoo on my arm! Dad has one! I don’t see why you are so upset!

  21. Mr. Higgins, please tell our viewers how you plan to spend your lottery winnings!

  22. I understand you were an eyewitness to the skateboard theft. Please tell our viewers what you saw.

  23. Oh, I am so sorry, but pumpkin spice latte season ended yesterday! What other drink can I get you?

  24. Did you honestly think that a trail of breadcrumbs would help us find our way out of the forest and back to our house?

  25. Stop right there. You are not leaving this house dressed like that!

  26. Halt right there! You are not leaving this palace dressed like that!

  27. Your teacher tells me that your classroom behavior is inappropriate. What is your side of the story?

  28. I am so sorry, but your credit card has been declined. I’ll need another form of payment.

  29. O woe! O pity! There is no way we shall ever reach the castle by dark!

  30. Ew! I thought you said you could cook!

Simple Scenarios

These are all pretty open-ended with scope for developing (or not). Further development on these can be achieved by giving the actors conflicting objectives. Some of these are more suited to obviously comic games.

  1. Visiting the Dentists

  2. Boarding a bus

  3. First day in a new job

  4. Taking a pet to the vets

  5. Buying contraceptives

  6. Visiting the Doctor

  7. Buying a second hand car

  8. Having a photo taken

  9. Choosing a gift for a partner

  10. Selling your house

  11. Hiring a private detective

  12. Getting a quote from a builder

  13. Having your hair done

  14. Pushing into a queue

  15. Wine tasting

  16. Visiting someone in hospital

  17. Firing someone

  18. Job interview

  19. Ordering a Wedding Cake

  20. On a spying mission

  21. The first men in space

  22. Visiting the parents-in-law

  23. Getting a signature

  24. Hypochondriac at the doctors

  25. Slow service in a restaurant

  26. Police officer pulls someone over

  27. A has just finished decorating when B comes home and doesn't like the colour

  28. Two construction workers find buried treasure

  29. Two army officers deciding who to send on a dangerous raid

  30. Customer complaining to chef about a meal in a busy restaurant

  31. Parliamentary candidate canvassing for votes

  32. Two Jockeys in a stable before a race

  33. Two criminals on the run

  34. Stuck in a car teetering on the edge of a cliff

  35. Gangster who has been shot visiting a doctor to remove the bullets

  36. Helping a friend deal with amnesia

  37. Breaking the news of a dead pet to a friend

  38. Trapped in a lift

  39. At a funeral home

  40. Gym induction

  41. Getting changed in a public changing room

  42. 2 Doctors called to an emergency

  43. On Noah's ark

  44. Two people on a train with the ticket collector coming

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