Word At A Time

By | August 2, 2010


Word At A Time Story.


Please form a circle.


Word At A Time is both an exercise, a handle and a structure that can be added to another structure. Here we discuss the exercise version of this structure.

Each player contributes one word at a time to create a sentence. For example, the first player may say “Once.” The next player in the circle could say “upon.” This process continues until a complete sentence is created. “Once upon a red mat.”

For beginning improvisers the leader will usually stop at the completion of each sentence for a quick repeat before moving onto the next sentence. Run on sentences can be a problem. Run on sentences can usually be controlled by encouraging the players to avoid using “and” or “but.” These conjunctions are a bit of a scourge in Word At A Time story.

Another challenge with players is trying to be funny. Improv comedy happens best by accident. Players should try and hit the next most likely word, not what they think is the funniest word. Word At A Time quickly exposing funny words because of how they disrupt the story more than help it. The leader should be careful to not squash creative spirit, but guide the players towards being boring and predictable.

Every element of LACE (Listening. Accepting. Commitment. Expand.) can be observed quite acutely in this structure. Clearly players must be listening to the preceding word. The results are stronger if the player is also listening to the emotion, and context of ALL the preceding words. Players that are challenged with accepting offers will often contribute words that don’t fit or try to steer the narrative in a preconceived direction. Pausing between words can be due to self judgement and immediate responses help work on commitment. The benefit of expanding versus exploding offers can be demonstrated by the strength of cumulative small steps letting the comedy happen by accident.

Word At A Time allows the leader to expose and play with notes regarding the tool LACE. Be careful not to extinguish the joy of discovery by hammering home super duper important learning points.

As players become more experienced the leader can focus on elements of narrative using this Word At A Time. If players are exercising LACE and the stories are still falling short it is likely because of missing narrative elements. Learn Improv uses the narrative tool STEPS (Setting. Ties. Exploration. Propulsion. Sort). Initially the players can pause after each sentence and discuss which element of STEPS the sentence contributed to.

Word At A Time allows the leader to expose and play with notes regarding the narrative tool STEPS. Be careful not to extinguish the joy of discovery by hammering home super duper important (to you) learning points.

Does grammar matter? Does it ever? The story works better in the correct tense. However most of us cannot write using the correct tense. Some groups will insert punctuation as the next word. This is fine and it is especially good for audiences and early learners.

If a player is having a difficult time with this exercise make it clear that they can insert a gibberish word or a grunt instead of a word. It is remarkable of how little impact this has on comprehension of the sentence created.


  • None


  • Two groups of players have a Word At A Time conversation.
  • Play in pairs instead of a circle.
  • Cross Circle – All players must listen because the next word is randomly assigned.
  • Gibberish – This structure can make sense in gibberish.