“Excuses Excuses” is a hilarious short-form improv that is great for family play and classrooms alike. This game is all about perspective-taking, creative thinking, and collaboration. Kids are creating dramatic, funny, and high-stakes scenarios and acting them out through charades.
“When children play improv games, they learn to trust their instincts, take risks, and make bold choices. These are essential life skills that will serve them well in any future endeavor.”
– Viola Spolin, Theater Educator
How to Play “Excuses, Excuses”
Set up a scenario where someone is late! For example, they could be late to school, the dentist, the Pyramus and Thisbe rehearsal, or the Constitutional Convention, whatever makes sense for your kids.
Your cast of characters includes:
- A Late Person
- An Authority Person (i.e., a boss, a teacher, the president, etc.)
- Helper/s (depending on how many players you have!)
Before the game starts, the Late Person leaves the room, and everyone else comes up with an excuse for why they would be late. Then, once the group has decided, the Late Person comes back in and has to guess why they themselves are late.
However, the Helpers can only use charades to communicate the excuse when the Authority’s back is turned. At any moment, the Authority can turn around and “catch” the Helpers mid-gesture.
I love “Excuses, Excuses” because it is like an elevated game of charades. Since the “Why are you late?” scenario can be so imaginative, it allows kids to be super creative. The changeable context of Authority-Late Person also provides a flexible format so you can be responsive to the themes your kids are passionate about.
Tips for Creativity and Improv in Play
Brainstorm unique relationships ahead of time, write them down, and pull them from a hat when it is time to play! Some relationship ideas include: “Teacher/Student,” “Coach/Athlete,” “Ringmaster-Circus Performer,” etc. You can get even more specific with the Authority as a figure from literature or mythology like Ms. Trunchbull, Zeus, or Lady Macbeth.
Kids can get creative about the excuses themselves. These should be specific, physical scenarios with a healthy dose of drama. Here are some examples:
- My pet turtle escaped, and I had to chase him down the street.
- Aliens took me to their spaceship to study me for a while.
- I was trying to take a selfie with a squirrel, and it just wouldn’t cooperate.
- The floor is lava!
- My dog ate all my shoes.
Switch up the power dynamics with the youngest family member getting to play the Authority, holding a parent or teacher accountable for being late!
Making the most out of the Improv
- Read my tips for Improv Games at Home: Simple is the Best Way to Silly
- Physical staging is important for this game. Arrange the players, so the Authority is between the late person and the helpers. At any moment, they can turn around and catch the helpers trying to tell the person why that person is late.
- Make sure the excuse doesn’t get too wild – it should be something the kids can act out and realistically guess.
- Set a time limit on the game. I like two minutes for the guessing to happen. If it has yet to happen by then, give clues or the actual excuse to keep the play moving and get everyone a turn.
- Encourage group participation. If the idea is that “a bus ran over your stuffie,” then everyone should act out a bus. Encourage kids to work as a team, but help them see how great it is when they work as a team and how likely their friend is to guess what they tell them.
- Encourage strong “given circumstances” and a location to create a clear scene between the late person and the authority figure. The Helpers can also improvise when they are “caught” making signs behind the authority figure.
Why Teachers Love “Excuses, Excuses”
In Child’s Play NY Theater residencies, I partner with schools to bring theater into the classroom and tie it with curriculum. This game has been beloved here’s why:
Social-Emotional Learning in the Classroom
Teachers can use “Excuses, Excuses” to spark empathy for characters in literature and social studies. It is a stellar way to make Social-Emotional Learning present in the classroom since kids have to take on different perspectives and look at situations from points of view they would not normally have.
Creative Writing and ELA in action
This kind of creative thinking supports students in their creative writing. After getting into the improvisational flow, they will feel more liberated to brainstorm and free-write. As a writing exercise, ask them to develop the relationships and the scenarios. It is a great opportunity to practice using high stakes, specificity, and humor.
Beyond just writing, social studies and ELA curriculum comes to life with “Excuses, Excuses.” I’ve seen classroom teachers adapt this to what their students are learning to reinforce facts, increase student engagement and cultivate belonging. Some examples include:
- King George and the colonists
- The White Witch and Pevensie Kids
- A Lion and Anansi the Spider
Some teachers like to generate a list of vocabulary or facts that the Late Person and Authority have to interject throughout their improvised dialogue. They can get a point for using the term or fact inside their improvised dialogue!
This game is super collaborative, physical, and expressive. It is all about teamwork. Like all good improv games, it contributes to positivity and belonging in the classroom.
I look forward to hearing how you play it with your kids. Reach out with any questions and let me know how it goes!