If you want to build confidence (in your students or yourself), drama is one of the best ways to do so. Some exercises, in particular, are great - I'll share them here.
So here are my 17 proven drama exercises to help you build confidence:
- Loosen Up
- Throw the Ball
- Mirror Sessions
- Collectively Counting to 20
- Run to Center
- Whoosh Zap Boing
- I Know That Hand
- Blind Walker
- Walking the Line
- Circle of Trust
- Safety Net
- The Wulf
- The Chase
- Knee Tag
- Deadly Look
The first 6 games are for warming up and getting into the right mindset. Game 7 to 12 are main exercises that will drastically improve confidence. The last 5 games are cooling down activities.
First, I want to quickly cover some teaching basics you'll need. After that, I'll explain the exercises one by one, in an actionable way for you to use them in your lessons, or your own life.
The Conditions for Confidence
Just before graduating as a drama teacher, I've extensively researched the link between confidence and experiment.
The bottom line of my research is that there are three conditions for creating a safe, playful environment:
But how do you become confident, and how can drama help you with it?
Well, by doing the right exercises - and also by having the right attitude when doing them.
In my research, I linked specific drama exercises to certain qualities. Confidence was one of them.
So in this article, I'll share 17 battle-tested drama exercises that will help you to build confidence (in yourself, or your students). But first, let's set some ground rules.
Fundamentals of Building Confidence
- Building confidence takes time
- Building confidence requires challenging situations
- By keeping it playful, people will accept the challenge more easily
- Group confidence = self-confidence
The best way to build confidence is by successfully placing your trust in someone else. What I mean by this is that you want to show yourself and others that you can be trusted or relied upon and that you can trust or rely upon others.
So, in other words, you build confidence by creating a supportive environment.
The way to teach this is by challenging people. By challenging someone, you provide an opportunity to prove themselves trustworthy.
On the other hand, by protecting someone, you take away that opportunity.
Since confidence is about faith and trust, at some point, you'll need others to develop it. That's why building confidence in your bedroom isn't very effective. It really helps to put yourself out there and interact with others.
So we're looking for exercises that will challenge the players to place trust in themselves and others, while allowing them to prove that trust.
The Teacher's Role
It's up to the teacher to create a safe environment and challenge the students at the same time. Building confidence is a delicate process, so when you're in charge, you should pay close attention.
Some things you could focus on:
- constructive feedback
- no laughing at each other
- be respectful toward each other
- keep a positive attitude
However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't test each other out. It's okay to test each other out, as long as you do it in a mindful way.
Now that we know what's important in confidence-building let's dive into the exercises.
This first exercise can be very exciting for students. The goal is for them to make physicial contact in a mindful way, to prepare them for the upcoming exercises.
|All players split up in pairs, scattered throughout the room
|Physical contact, Caring for each other, Surrendering
The players form pairs and find a spot. Player A unrolls their spine, bending over forward. Player B gently pats Player A's back, loosening up the muscles.
The teacher may want to direct the movements.
Teacher's tip: create pairs of people that don't usually work together or know each other particularly well. I've found that people who are close find it difficult to relax.
Throw the Ball
In this exercise we want people to make eye contact. Some students find this very difficult. It's a sweet and simple exercise to overcome your own shyness.
|Everybody in a large circle
|2 to 3 small balls
|Making contact, Collaborating
Players throw a ball around a circle.
The player with the ball needs to make eye contact with the other player before throwing the ball.
- If things go well, another ball can be added to the game.
- If the group can handle multiple balls, the players can start walking across the room, while throwing and catching the ball (and making eye contact beforehand)
Mirror Sessions is a great warmup exercise that helps students to be attentive of each other and make real contact.
|Pairs scattered throughout the room
|Accepting, Observing, Being present, Letting go control, To connect
Two players are facing each other. Player A starts to move and player B mirrors player A's movements and facial expression as closely as possible.
- A pair in front of audience. They agree on who starts and who mirrors. Then they perform in front of their audience. The audience shouldn't be able to tell who mirrors and who initiates the movements. After the performance, the audience may guess the initiator.
- Both players can both initiate and mirror at the same time.
Teacher's tip: same goes as with Loosen up. Create pairs of people that don't usually work together. Friends often tease each other. Strangers tend to do better (strangely enough). Also, the exercise has a greater impact when the students have to connect to a stranger instead of one of their friends.
Collectively Counting to 20
Focus is an important quality when building confidence. This exercise is a great and simple warmup that greatly increases focus. Also, the students need to collaborate for this to work.
The players form an intimate circle, standing shoulder to shoulder. The players count in random order from 1 to 20. Whenever two players use the same number simultaneously, the game starts over.
Run To Center
One major reason for low (self-)confidence is overthinking. Thinking too much increases anxiousness and can lead to negative narratives about yourself or your peers. That's why meditation and mindfulness tend to help increase confidence and improve self-esteem.
The next two exercises are great for being present and physically aware. They help to stop the thinking mind and reduce stress and anxiety.
|Learning to anticipate, Being present, Surrendering
Everybody stands in a large circle. At any one moment, someone may randomly start running towards the center of the circle.
Whenever this happens, everybody starts running towards the center of the circle.
Ideally, you want the group to react instantaneously to the initiator. For an outsider, it should be practically impossible to see who started the motion.
When students learn that they won't get hurt, thanks to the other students' attention, it boosts group confidence. It also teaches to let go of control.
Teacher's tip: to prevent head-on collisions, make sure the group is focused and mindful of each other.
Whoosh Zap Boing
Whoosh Zap Boing is a classic drama exercise for quieting the mind. It's also high energy and greatly increases focus.
|Form a large circle
|Letting go of control, Having fun, Reacting in the present, Spontaneity, Establishing a connection, Focus
All players are standing in a circle. The game leader picks who goes first. He or she passes a 'WHOOSH' (a sweeping motion with both arms) to another player.
The players pass on the sound to the person beside them. It doesn't matter which way.
After this round, 'BOING' gets introduced. BOING is crossing both arms and facing the person passing the 'WHOOSH'. This stops 'WHOOSH' and will make it change direction.
Lastly, the game leader introduces 'ZAP'. You ZAP by forming a pistol with your hands, pointing it at someone and yelling ZAP! This makes the WHOOSH jump to the person being ZAPPED.
You want to play this game at high speed. If a player moves before they're up, or make a wrong move or sound, it's game over. Players that are out sit down on the floor.
This is the last of the warmup games. Now let's move on to the main exercises.
Most of the upcoming main exercises should be done with closed eyes.
Please note: it's best not to blindfold them. Instead, simply make them close their eyes. This way, they are in control. Moreover, if they are able to keep their eyes closed themselves, it's a direct win for self-confidence.
I Know That Hand
This exercise has a lot of great confidence-boosting elements. It's also a very challenging one.
First of, the players have to keep their eyes shut. Most people find these really difficult when there are other people in the room.
Secondly, the players have to trust other senses, instead of relying solely on vision.
Thirdly the players have to with the unknown.
|Two opposite rows
|Knowing each other's names
|Letting go control, Trusting, Fun, Connecting
Everyone finds a partner. Each pair consists of Player A and B.
Players A form a line and are now team A. Players B stand opposite their partners and are now team B.
- The partners take each other's hand.
- They try to notice and learn things about their partner's hand using touch, instead of sight.
- They then try to remember the things that allow them to recognize their partner's hand.
- After approximately 15 seconds, the game leader asks all Player A's to move one position to the right.
- Here, they once more take each other's hands and try to learn as much as possible using only touch.
- The process repeats until all original partners are again facing each other. All players now have studied the other's hands.
- Now, all Players A close their eyes. Team B gently removes themselves.
- On the Game Leader's signal, all Players A extend their hand. Their eyes remain closed.
- Players B shuffle. Then each player takes a random A's hand.
- Players A have to guess who's hand they are holding.
- If they guess correctly, Player B gently squeezes Player A's hand.
- They then move on to the next player.
- After a couple of rounds, Players B close their eyes and extend their hand. It's now their turn to guess.
Teacher's tip: keep it playful and light. Don't emphasize the need for trust. Instead, emphasize curiosity. Emphasizing the need trust tends to make it unnecessarily heavy.
As with the previous exercise, this
This exercise is great for developing self-confidence and group confidence, because it teaches people that the world doesn't end when you let go control.
Specifically, the Walker has to completely let go control, or rather outsource it. This is the perfect opportunity to be there for each other.
|All players on the floor in pairs
|Letting go of control, Trusting your peers, Being guided, Improving focus, Taking another's lead, Facing danger instead of avoiding it
- Player A closes his or her eyes.
- Player B takes Player A's hand or shoulders and guides them through the room.
- After a while, the players switch positions.
- The same exact exercise, but Player B chooses a spot to stop for a short while. Player B squeezes Player A's hand, after which Player A opens his or her eyes for three seconds.
- A walks and B escorts. When the Game Leader signals, Player A and B switch positions without stopping. A and B continue walking, but now, A is escorting B.
- Player A closes his or her eyes and walks. Player B walks closely behind A, but doesn't touch A at all. Only when A is about to walk into something or someone, B adjusts A. You can combine this variation with a position switch (2) as well.
- A walks around, B guides. Whenever A and B meet Blind Walker C and Escort D, the escorts make eye contact and switch positions.
Teacher's tip: make sure the companion feels responsible for the Walker. The Walker relies on his or her companion. It's important this trust isn't damaged.
Walking the Line
This exercise is a great follow-up and builds on the game. This time, however, the player has to learn to trust the entire group, instead of just one companion.
|Everybody is standing along the room's walls
|Letting go control, Trusting peers, Daring to push boundaries, Experiencing a basic sense of improvisation
All players are standing along the room's walls. One player closes his or her eyes and walks in a straight line.
Whenever he or she is about to walk into something, the most nearby person nudges the player by sending him or her in another direction.
Teacher's tip: if the game goes extremely well, you can choose to add players to the game.
Circle of Trust
The next two exercises may be the most cliché trust-building games there are. But we have to face the facts: they are extremely effective. And students seem to love them.
|Everybody in a circle, 1 player in the center
|Group cohesion, Building trust, Building confidence
- At least six players form a circle.
- Player A is standing in the center.
- The other players focus.
- Player A stiffens his or her body, forming a plank and lets him- or herself fall backward, while his or her feet remain at the same position.
- The players directly behind Player A catch him or her, and push him or her back upright.
- Repeat the process, passing Player A around the entire circle, before switching positions.
|Everybody stands in front of the table or chair, 1 player on top of table or chair
|Table or chair
|Letting go control, Overcoming the fear of jumping into the deep end
Player A stands on top of a chair or table. The rest of the players stand in front of him or her, organized in two rows, rows facing each other.
They cross their arms and firmly grab the opposite player's wrists. In this way, they create a safety net for Player A.
The first time, Player A keeps his or her eyes open. The second time, Player A can close his or her eyes.
Either Player A, or the group, counts down, after which Player A falls forward or backward.
Teacher's tip: make sure that the group feels responsible for the player's safety.
I really recommend trying these exercises, even though they are very obvious. They tend to do really well.
However, please make sure to do some warmup exercises beforehand. The group needs to be focused and have the right (collaborative) mindset for this exercise to succeed.
This exercise is only suitable for groups that are doing extremely well. This is a somewhat more advanced trust-building exercise. So please make sure your group is ready.
I have tried this exercise with several groups, and I still think it's kind of frightening. The runner goes full force, and has to trust his or her peers blindly.
On the other end, it's exhilarating when it succeeds. It's a real thrill if you are able to do this one.
|All players stand in a V-shape in one corner of the room, 1 player at the opposite side
|Overcoming the fear of jumping in the deep end
Player A stands in one corner of the room, with closed eyes. The other players stand in the opposite corner of the room, in a V-shape. They hold each other's hands and form a kind of funnel.
Player A counts to three and runs as fast as he or she dares from one corner to the opposite, into the funnel, where the other player's catch him or her.
Teacher's tip: if you don't whether they're ready or not for this particular game, make this exercise optional. This way, players may decide themselves if they're up for it.
This is the last of the main exercises. Now let's move on the cooling down activities.
Since confidence-building exercises require a lot of attention and can be quite demanding, it's good to end with a high energy game. This helps the players to blow off steam and relax a little.
You want to look for simple, short, and fun games. Here are my favorites:
|Scattered throughout the room
|Letting go control, Trusting each other and the environment, Fun, Spontaneity
The players close their eyes and explore the room and everything they encounter - objects, other players, and so on.
They try to collect as much information as possible. Preferably, they don't use any words.
After everyone has explored for a couple of minutes, the game leader gives a pair of gloves to one of the players. Game leader then says: 'the wulf is loose!'.
Just like other players, the wulf is blind. He or she needs to find the other players. Once you're touched by the wulf, you shout 'Dead!'. Then, you sit down at the side of the room. The game continues until all sheep are devoured.
|Everyone in a circle
|Trusting each other, Positive feedback, Fun, Spontaneity
Everyone is standing in a large circle. One by one, a volunteer steps into the circle. He or she does or says something that takes at least five seconds. In response, the rest of the group applauds fiercely - regardless of what the volunteer did or said. The volunteer steps back into line, and the next one enters.
|Warmup, Fun, Quiet the mind, Getting physical, Spontaneity
The Chase is a tag game variation.
All players stand in a circle, facing the back of the person in front of them.
They keep an even distance between all players.
Each player has to tag the player in front of them.
The players think up a good motivation for having to tag the other player's back.
They also think up a good motivation for not wanting to be tagged themselves.
Ie. if you get tagged, you die, have to get coffee, and so on.
|Everyone is on the floor in pairs
|Warm up, Fun, Quiet the mind, Spontaneity, Getting Physical
Players position themselves facing each other. Everyone uses one hand to tag and one hand to defend. Players want to tag each others knees. With the defending hand, players may protect themselves to try to avoid getting tagged.
|Sitting in a circle
|Warmup, Fun, Quiet the mind, Spontaneity
All players are sitting in a circle with their heads facing the ground. When the game leader signals, everybody looks to one other player. Whenever their eyes meet, they scream out loud and are game over.
So now you know my favorite 17 exercises for improving group confidence.
When building confidence in groups, you might want to emphasize the playful and experimental aspects of the games.
I've found in my own lessons that when you focus on the trust-side of things, students will get way too serious. Sometimes, it gets too exciting for them. In that case, they'll try to undermine the exercise.
So, in conclusion, to get people on board, don't tell them the exercise is about trust - but about having fun instead.