5 Improvisation Rules Applied To Peer Tutoring

Upon starting classes at Second City back in October, I was surprised to find A) how quickly I fell in love with this cult, and B) how much improvisation applied to my everyday life – peer tutoring, in particular.

Unlike Scientology, there were no weird ’90s video montages, no dictator of the Galactic Confederacy named Xenu, and unfortunately, no John Travolta. But there was a lot of this stuff…

“Yes, and”

“Yes, and” is the most foundational rule you learn about improvisation. It’s all about hearing everything exactly as it was given to you and responding to it. Without listening, your response sounds stupid, and without responding, your scene goes nowhere. The same goes for tutoring. It’s easily to find yourself zoning out during your fourth appointment in a row, but I’ve found myself conducting much, much more helpful appointments once I really “tune in” to absolutely everything my writer is communicating to me so I can give feedback to the best of my ability!

Play to the height of your intelligence

To go along with doing things to the best of your ability, “playing to the height of your intelligence” is a big thing to keep in mind during your appointments as well. As tutors, we often feel like we’re repeating ourselves over and over again – especially with those fellowing written feedbacks. To be honest, it’s hard not to sometimes. But taking a moment to reach into the smartest parts of our brains (not the part that holds all those facts about the hit sitcom “Roseanne”), and give your writer the best of what you’ve got. Don’t be afraid to try something different just because it’ll take a little more work, or because it’s unfamiliar!

Focus on relationships

No, this is not an excuse to get off-topic and relay your bitter feelings about an ex to an unsuspecting writer. I’m talking about building rapport with them! In an improvised scene, we really don’t care about much if there isn’t a relationship established and developing, and the same goes for our appointments. Get to know your writer right off the bat and make them feel comfortable with you. All of a sudden, their interest has peaked in what you’re going to accomplish in the appointment, and your job is much, much easier!

Always give examples and always tell us why

In improvisation, this forces us to display emotion and make things all the more real to draw an audience in, but in peer tutoring, this gives your writer a better idea of what needs fixed and why. We can all agree that getting negative feedback with no text-specific examples, and no reasons why things need to be fixed is the least helpful thing a professor (or tutor) can do. Our job, then, is to fill in the blanks for them and give as much specific information we can to assist in the revision process.

Make it all about your partner looking good!

This is undoubtedly our job as peer writing tutors. At the end of the day, it’s about molding better writers (not better papers) and making them look good! In an improv scene, if you’re not focused on listening to everything your partner has to say and giving them gifts to play with, then you may miss a gift they give you, and you leave them in the dust! Always be listening to your writer’s priorities, set goals from there, and give them transferable tips that can help them in their writing process later!

Every day I see new ways that I’m integrating the rules of improvisation into my own life, from simple things like making more eye contact with people, to bigger things like focusing more on the other people in my life and accepting/responding all that life has to hand me! We could all learn a little from improvisation – even in UCWbLand!

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Emily Power says:

    Thanks for another great post Shelby! I know a number of people do improv at the writing center, and it was interesting to read the parallels you draw between what you do in improv and the writing center. It reminds me of Remy’s final project for WRD395! I thought it was interesting when you pointed out that our priority as peer writing tutors is to mold better writers and not better papers. I agree, but I think our work leads to better texts as well. This is in line with the improv scene analogy as well. If you make your improv partner look good by listening and and responding effectively, you ultimately make a “better” or funnier scene. As tutors, when we’re similarly listening and responding, we can more effectively comment and help the writer understand why a certain revision might improve their text.

  • Nick E. says:

    This is great Shelby! As a fellow comedian I have also found my training at the Second City to be immensely helpful when it comes to tutoring. My UCWbL philosophy is based on “Yes, and…” because I find that those two words sum up our job as peer writing tutors so well. Perhaps the writing center should require a class at Second City to help get the job or maybe a potential inservice. But, most importantly, it’s vital to remember that the writer needs to feel welcome, and a part of the wonderful world of UCWbLand. It’s impossible to do this if they feel excluded, or being taught to. That’s why I always lighten the mood with jokes, and humor to get them to relax, and to build that relationship. Even if I build that relationship by listing off all the facts I know about the hit show “Roseanne.”