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Students Embrace their Inner Frog, or Robot


Think fast. Move. Trust each other. Those are things Godfrey-Lee students must do during improvisation games. Most of all, have fun, said Kelly McGee, the district’s media specialist and theater director.

McGee had Early Childhood Center second-graders stand in a big circle, which he named the Lake of Trust. A classmate pushed, or “sailed,” a closed-eyed Chance Williams across. Other students were heaved through the circle too, challenged with avoiding collision. “Josiah, quit turning that way!” one student yelled.

Avery Parmeter plays robot freeze tag
Avery Parmeter plays robot freeze tag

Chance, despite his wayward friends, came “ashore” safely on the other side.

“This is your basic introductory, teamwork, get-used-to-each-other improv,” said McGee, who has introduced improv techniques to older students in the Lee High School Drama Club. “I just wanted to see if it worked for the young kids.

“Really, it’s about getting the kids comfortable with who they are and about getting them comfortable with their classmates.”

Improvisation, or improv, is reacting without previous preparation. Many people are familiar with the comedic technique used in the TV series “Whose Line is it Anyway?” and as performed by local theater troupe River City Improv. McGee and Sarah Wood, district technology and media integration specialist, have led improv sessions for elementary, middle and high school students, sometimes with younger and older grades working together.

Second-grader Josiah Sutton sails through the Lake of Trust, pushed by a classmate
Second-grader Josiah Sutton sails through the Lake of Trust, pushed by a classmate

“I like that you get to work with people and they have to trust you,” said Keniveah McAlpin.

OK now, Hop to It!

Students played freeze-tag as robots, who when tagged had to say the name of their favorite TV show. (They’ve also played by naming science vocabulary terms). They played Frog in the Pond, which requires the mental and physical dexterity to make amphibious-like motions to the commands, “frog in a pond!,” “frog in sand!” and “frog in space!” They also played games that required them to recall letters or numbers when pointed at.

McGee, who has directed musicals at Lee Middle-High School including “Shrek the Musical” and “Little Mermaid, Jr.,” wanted to introduce improv not as a way to recruit future actors, but simply as a brain break for students and teachers during the school day, or as a way to build camaraderie, collaboration and public-speaking skills and character.

Kelly McGee, media specialist and theater director, tags a second-grader during his improv session
Kelly McGee, media specialist and theater director, tags a second-grader during his improv session

“Improv is meant to be fun,” he said. “It lets you get rid of your inhibitions and allow you to be who you are, say the first thing on the top of your head and just react.”

For elementary students, it’s all about getting to play robots, beeping and booping, or hopping like frogs. Said second-grader Avery Parmeter, “It really brings out your inner energy.”

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SNN Story about Teacher and Improv Actor

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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