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ACT AS IF Improvisational Activities for Social Communication Review by Jodi Galland

Laura Wahl McAlpine & Lisa Jan Sherman
ACT AS IF Products
1499 Chain Bridge Rd. Suite 202
McLean, VA 22101

Many children and adults experience difficulty with communication skills. Understanding other people's experiences and emotions does not always come easily. Practicing skills can make a world of difference in the quality of life experienced by those who struggle to express themselves or those who have trouble empathizing with the feelings of other people. Authors Laura Wahl McAlpine, M.Ed. CCC-SLP and Lisa Jan Sherman, an actress with a BA in Theater and Speech have written ACT AS IF Improvisational Activities for Social Communication.

The ACT AS IF Improvisational Activities binder measures 9.5”x8” and costs $87.50. This social communication skills program includes thick, color-coded cards consisting of 21 Warm-ups cards, 24 Rehearsing Skills cards, and 28 Stage Work cards. Each card type is preceded by an At-A-Glance index card. These indices list each numbered activity, identifying which areas of communication are correlated to each card. At the beginning of a session, the facilitator will choose one card of each type that can be removed and placed in pockets inside the front or back covers of the three-ring binder. The front of the card explains how the activity is done. This includes a suggested materials list, states how many participants are needed, and what the players will do to complete the task. The reverse of the card has a sample dialogue (if applicable) pertaining specifically to that card.

Participants are encouraged to first learn the Core Skills Tools of FEE (Face, Eyes, Ears), NESS (Nod, Eyes, Silent/Speak, and PESH (Posture, Eyes, Smile, Hello). These tools are explained right off and used often throughout the activities included in the ACT AS IF program. There are also some drama terms and stage directions that will be important to understand. The ACT AS IF Improvisational Activities for Social Communication binder is designed for use by all ages. While not specifically created for homeschoolers, this program is easy to implement at home and the majority of the activities require only a minimum of three people to complete.

Rehearsing and inviting responses from others involved in or observing the activity aids the participants in learning and practicing communication skills. The feedback allows students of all ages to develop confidence in a non-judgmental setting with an adult facilitating the activities.

You will want to have a few household items to complete many of the activities. Two boxes, one medium and one a bit larger, are necessary to hold cards or objects. Photo cards of some sort depicting everyday objects, people, or animals will be used in some activities. You will also want to have a ball that will be passed among participants and an object to be used as a microphone. Some cards will list paper, envelopes, index cards, popsicle sticks, or other various miscellaneous items. An entirely optional set of three Core Skills Tools posters are also available on the ACT AS IF website for $22.

Through drama exercises, students will practice emotions, mirror body movements and expressions of others, improve interpersonal skills, and work through issues they might be experiencing in communication. As you use these cards with your family or students, I am sure you will find some activities that will become regular favorites while there may be a few that just do not work for your group. One day, I might decide to work on body language. I would select a Warm-up from the index card, possibly the yellow #9 Paired Mirror activity card. Next, I would look for something on the Rehearsing Skills index. I choose the green #10 Slow Mo Speak card. Finally, looking at the Stage Work section, I choose the blue #16 Empathic Listener activity. Looking at the materials needed, I see I do not need anything for the warm-up, the rehearsing skills card calls for a box and topic cards, and the final activity also requires no props or materials. I then store the three cards in the binder pocket until we are ready to complete the activities.

Each of these cards requires three or more participants. These participants include the facilitator, so I only need two cooperative children. The Paired Mirror activity is quite fun, with the boys very slowly mirroring each other’s movements. Participants of Slow Mo Speak will take turns drawing a topic card that we created from the Mystery Box. He uses slow, drawn-out speech to talk about a personal experience related to the topic until another person figures out what the topic is. Lastly, if I have not lost my willing participants, we will move on to spend some time on Stage Work. Empathic Listening requires a listener and a speaker. The speaker uses a partially scripted dialogue, “The other day, I _____ and felt _____.” They fill in the blanks with an upsetting experience that occurred recently. The listener uses body language that conveys active listening and responds to the speaker with an appropriately supportive reply.

Like a new deck of cards, these activity cards are a bit slippery and hard to turn individually while in the binder. I think with use, this will become less of an issue. Because the binder is so full or the cards so thick, I have had a few issues with the binder snapping opening while trying to flip through the cards. Neither of these minor inconveniences takes away from the value of the ACT AS IF program.

Product review by Jodi Galland, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, October 2019