Yes. But… vs. Yes! And…

The following activity is part of a series we created to support students, teachers, and caregivers, during this unprecedented time. If you try this activity with your student(s), we’d love to see what you do. Share your journey via the #Inspired2Learn hashtag on your preferred social platform.

Created by: Jenna Fournel and Aleta Margolis
Discipline:  A useful activity across all disciplines, particularly as a precursor to collaborative learning.
Age level: Elementary through High School
Time:  20-30 minutes
Materials:  None

One of the core tenets of improvisational acting is to approach every scenario you’re in with a “Yes! And…” attitude. This means you take whatever you are given from your partners and you build on it rather than block the evolution of the scene. It turns out this works quite well as an approach to life off the stage too. As teachers, embracing an improvisational mindset can help us think creatively about problems, and building this kind of thinking in our students can do the same for them. 

 

What to Do: 

Invite your students to stand and do a few stretches to get limber. Then ask them to show with their whole bodies, how they feel in the following situations (or situations like these). 

  • When you’ve shared a plan with someone and they think it’s fantastic and want to do just what you’ve described. 
  • When you’ve shared a plan with someone and they tell you they think it’s a bad idea. 
  • When you’ve shared something that’s important to you, and the person you’re speaking to ignores you or just doesn’t care.
  • When you share an idea with someone, they reject it, but then later you hear them sharing that same idea as if it were their own. 
  • When you make something for someone and they absolutely love it. 
  • When you make something for someone and they do not like it at all. 

Have students return to their seats and explain: 

“Think about how you felt when your ideas and creations were welcomed and appreciated. Think about how you felt when they were not. I need a volunteer to help me with the next part of this activity.”

The volunteer comes to the front of the room and you explain: 

“[Name] and I are going to have a conversation about having class outside for an hour. [Name] has a goal, to get me to take the class outside for an hour. Watch and listen to what I say in response to their invitations. [Name], no matter what I say, keep striving to achieve your goal – to convince me to have class outside.”

Your task as the teacher is to say “Yes, but…” in response to whatever the student offers as they try to convince you to go outside for an hour. Here is an example of what the dialogue might sound like: 

Student: Hey [teacher], can we have class outside?
Teacher: Yes, but that’s not the way we usually do class.
Student: Could we try? It would be so nice to be outside in the fresh air.
Teacher: Yes, but there are so many bugs right now.
Student: How about if we bring bug spray. Could we stay longer if we have bug spray?
Teacher: Yes, but it smells so bad, we’d smell like that all day long.
Student: Oh! I have some bug spray that doesn’t smell bad at all. Could we stay out longer if we use that bug spray?
Teacher: Yes, but then it’s going to get so hot. I don’t want everyone to get too hot.
Student: What if we gather under the trees where it’s shady? Could we stay out longer if we stay in shade?
Teacher: Yes, but the ground is pretty muddy over there. I wouldn’t want everyone to get their shoes dirty.
Student: What if we all wear boots, could we stay out longer if we wear boots in the mud? 

Keep the scene going for about 3 minutes. Then ask the class: 

  • What did you notice about this discussion?
    Students may say: It never really went anywhere. You (the teacher) kept coming up with excuses that made it so nothing really happened.
  • How did [Student] work to accomplish their goal?
    Students may say: They kept trying to find a way around the excuses. They were looking for ways to change your mind.
  • What did I do in response?
    Students may say: You were saying yes, but you really meant no. It was like a fake yes. 
  • How did it appear that made them feel? 
  • What did it feel like to watch this conversation?
    Students may say: Frustrating! It reminded me of when I am trying to convince my parents to do something but they don’t want me to do it. – I wish they’d just tell me no, instead of saying yes when they don’t mean it. 

Invite another volunteer to come to the front of the room. Then explain: 

“[Name] and I are going to have a conversation about having class outside for an hour. [Name] has a goal, to get me to take the class outside for an hour. Watch and listen to what I say in response to their invitations.” 

Now your task as the teacher is to say “Yes! And…” in response to whatever the student offers as they try to convince you to go outside for an hour. Your responses build on the student’s ideas and keep the scene growing. Explain in a side note to the student that once the scene gets rolling, they respond to whatever you say with “Yes! And…” as well: 

Student: Hey [teacher], can we have class outside?
Teacher: Yes! And let’s bring out some blankets so we can sit on the ground and not get wet after last night’s rain.
Student: Yes! And let’s sit on the blankets to do independent reading!
Teacher: Yes! And let’s bring pillows from home so when we find those comfy spots we can lie down if we want to and not hurt our heads.
Student: Yes! And maybe we could bring snacks from home too so we can stay out longer and have something to eat if we get hungry.
Teacher: Yes! And while we’re at it maybe we can have our group discussion out there too, if we gather in a circle on those rocks under the trees.
Student: Yes! And that way we can all see each other for the discussion instead of having to be in rows like we are because of COVID in the classroom.
Teacher: Yes! And this is making me think we could even do some writing outside if we charged our computers up well while we’re in here.
Student: Yes! And I bet we’ll be more inspired writing under the blue sky.
Teacher: Yes! And even if it’s raining, I wonder if we could meet under that tent they put up last month.
Student: Yes! And then we could do this every day, rain or shine!

Keep the scene going for about 3 minutes. Then ask the class: 

  • What did you notice about this discussion?
    Students may say: It went a lot faster – a lot happened. Both people seemed more energetic. There was no “Yes, but…” 
  • How did [Student] work to accomplish their goal?
    Students may say: They didn’t have to work as hard because you were always saying Yes! And… They got to their goal right away and kept making it better. 
  • What did I do in response?
    Students may say: This time you didn’t block their ideas. You kept making the idea bigger and better. 
  • How did it appear that made them feel? 
  • What did it feel like to watch this conversation? 

Invite students to find a partner and practice with the “Yes! And…” approach in a discussion with a goal like: 

  • You are trying to start a band. 
  • You want to go on a picnic. 
  • You are planning a surprise party for a friend. 
  • You would like to adopt a puppy. 

Have students play with their scene for about 3 minutes and then call the group back together. Ask them: 

  • Did anyone have a discussion they’d like to share? 
  • How did this activity feel? 
  • What was difficult?
  • What surprised you? 
  • What lessons might we learn from an activity like this that will help us work together in this class? (Consider taking notes that students can see for this last question, these can serve as a helpful reference in collaborative situations throughout the year.) 

Notice, you don’t have students play, “Yes, but.” You demonstrate it as a contrast to “Yes! And…” which students play in order to develop listening and collaborative learning skills.

Extension: 

Once you’ve introduced your students to the idea that “Yes! And…” can be a foundational part of your classroom culture, the doors open to all sorts of other possibilities. Consider this activity from our Instigator of Thought challenges

Inspired Teaching Connection 

Any time you have students improvising, you’re engaging all 4 I’s: Intellect, Inquiry, Imagination, and Integrity. But this activity can serve as a strong foundation for building Mutual Respect in your classroom as well. A Yes! And… approach means the ideas and inputs of everyone involved are valued since moving a scene, or learning experience forward requires a trusting relationship. That trusting relationship benefits both the teacher and student. As teachers we create detailed lesson plans with clear instructional goals that guide learning. Embracing a Yes! And… appraoch when students offer questions, concerns, and ideas, means we have more to work with in order to help meet our instructional goals.

See our instructional model here.

September Inspired Teaching Institute

Teachers can’t control what happens between the time students wake up and when they arrive at school but they have a lot of control over what happens when students cross the classroom threshold. Participants in this fast-paced, idea-rich Institute will learn 20 different strategies for starting the school day!