Excerpted from Actively Engaged:Theater Games as a Dynamic Teaching Tool in the Classroom, written by Priscilla Kane Hellweg and due out in 2016.
Notes: This is a fabulous game for developing concentration and focus, and for exploring what Stanislavski (the great Russian director who developed The Method style of acting) said is the essence of theater -- Acting is Believing. The moment when the imaginary ball becomes real is pure magic.
The Imagination Ball is also a quiet game, and can be useful for settling down a very an active group. I have played this game with students Kindergarten to Learning in Retirement, and every age in between. I’ve played it with young adults with mental illness, and adjudicated youth in detention centers. Teachers often tell me it helps their students with ADHD focus. It’s a perennial favorite. Even middle school students think it’s cool!
Object of the Game: To pass an imaginary ball around the circle, maintaining its consistent size, shape, and weight.
Recommended for: Groups in Grades K – Adult. Time Needed: 5-15 minutes Room set up: A cleared space with room for group to stand in a large circle. Materials Needed: None
Facilitator stands in the center of a circle and lifts up an imaginary ball – the size of a basketball – for participants to see. Give them a moment to see it. Tell them the object of the game.
COACHING NOTE: I coach my students by displaying the ball in front of them and saying, “I’m holding an imaginary ball. Can you see it? I’m holding the two sides. Can you imagine the top and bottom? If not, look closer. Challenge yourself. Use your imagination. It has weight. It has mass and volume.” If they’re still not buying it, I cajole them further. “ I’m not crazy. I know there’s no ball here! My job is to make it real. Acting is believing. We’re going to pass this ball around the circle as actors, pretending the ball is absolutely real."
Explain that the challenge of this exercise is to keep the ball a consistent size – to not allow it to get as big as a beach ball, or as small as a softball. Demonstrate the changing sizes as you instruct them.
Begin to pass the ball, by handing it, from person to person, around the circle. If one person is holding the top and bottom, the next person should take hold of the two sides.
Side coaching is helpful to keep the ball visible and consistent. Point out moments when the ball is particularly clear. Note when the ball gets larger, or smaller. Encourage the players to take their time to feel the weight of the ball.
Once the group is able to hand the ball from person to person around the circle maintaining focus and size, try incorporating simple passes – a chest pass, a bounce pass, a roll, an arch pass. As you introduce each type of pass, discuss the basic physics of the move. Encourage them to notice the amount of force used in the pass, in order to judge how quickly the ball will travel. Pass the ball around from person to person, trying different throws.
An important key to this game is eye contact. Encourage the students to be intentional in their actions, and make it clear to whom they are passing the ball.
Extension Activities: For students in grades 4 and up.
With practice, this activity can develop into a full-fledged imaginary ball game.
Volleyball: Start this extension with the group in pairs and have them practice volleying the ball back and forth. Take the time to set clear court boundaries. Set the height and length of the net. If you expand the game to a larger group, proceed slowly to be sure there is only one ball in play. Practice watching the ball move from person to person. The outcome can be pretty amazing in terms of cooperation and team spirit.
Basketball: Pay attention to the placement of the baskets, and the fact that there is one ball on the court among several players. Practice dribbling and moving around the court.
Baseball: Follow the trajectory of the baseball from the moment the ball hits the bat to the moment it’s caught in the outfield. Practice with a pitcher and a hitter.
Four Square: Focus on the contained space and the constant transfer of the ball from person to person.
Badminton: Focus on establishing the length of the racquet and relative speed of the flying birdie as it travels over the net.
With each of these games, the object of the game is the same. Concentrate on making the imaginary ball real by communicating time and space as a coordinated, cooperative team.