Circle of Expectation

This is a write up of an exercise called Circle of Expectation. For a description of the theory of Circle of Expectation we recommend reading Keith Johnstone’s books Impro and Impro for Storytellers.

Often when people are trying too hard to be funny, clever or creative they say offers that are disconnected from what’s actually happening and are outside the circle of expectation for a story. When we relax and instead say what’s obvious our offers become connected to each other and inspired by each other, and the story can grow step by step.

How the exercises works

The class gathers around a whiteboard or similar.

At the moment the circle of expectation is infinite, it could be any story with any characters.

We ask for a suggestion from the class, for instance a location.


The circle of expectation is now a bit smaller, we draw a big circle taking up the whole of the whiteboard and write London on the edge. Among this class we all have a certain type of expectation of what might happen in a story in London.

We make another offer to shrink the circle more.

“Being obvious please say a year you feel like this story is taking place.”


Notice that the circle shrinks again, there are certain stories that aren’t happening but the group has a certain expectation of things that my happen in 1964. We draw a slightly smaller circle and write 1964.

“Now in your minds eye tell me what you see, what’s there.”

“A cobbled street with colourful fashionable shops.”

We draw a new circle and write that in.

We keep doing this, exploring the location, what’s there, what characters are there, what they are wearing, what they are doing and more.

At each step we keep asking people to be obvious, to say what they see in their mind, and we constantly adapt to the offers that have been said so that we stay connected to each other.


  • Same as above but without writing it down just saying it and maybe miming a circle.
  • Same as above and then bringing to life and acting out the scene when it’s ready.

Teaching Purpose

  • Being obvious.
  • Circle of expectation.
  • Playing at top of intelligence instead of gagging.


Keith Johnstone.

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