Readers’ theater is one of the cornerstones of my reading instruction. I’m not talking about the stand in a straight line and read your parts to the class kind of readers’ theater (though, that’s how we start). I’m talking about the lights, camera, ACTION kind of readers’ theater. It’s fun for me, fun for my students, and the benefits are endless.
Here are just a few:
1) Students gain confidence through repeated readings of the texts.
2) Students improve accuracy, pace, and expression, which in turn strengthens comprehension.
3) Students develop strong oral language skills.
4) Students learn to work cooperatively in team settings.
5) It’s highly motivating and generates excitement about reading!
Check out Dr. Young’s Reading Room and Teaching Heart for scripts. Lots of free content-integrated and holiday scripts can be found on TpT, but A Teeny Tiny Teacher offers whole packages of easily decodable scripts (with large print, highlighting, and picture support) for just a few dollars. Another option might be to try to earn funding through DonorsChoose.org. That’s how I got these readers’ theater box sets!
Let’s talk logistics for a minute!
The key to readers’ theater is finding appropriately leveled scripts, as well as making careful choices about the grouping of students. I teach first grade, so I like to group by ability level early on, as some are still barely reading. We begin with simple scripts or poems, and focus on logistics first, as well as accuracy, pace, and expression. I introduce the scripts within reading groups each Monday, allow time in class for the groups to practice throughout the week, and then have students perform them on Fridays. Once they grow comfortable with their reading (usually by December), we begin working in heterogeneous groups. This exposes them to new collaborative opportunities and helps them push/pull each other forward. We then graduate to adding all the little extra components into the performances that tap into their creative/imaginative sides. It takes about two weeks for students to learn, practice, and produce their plays.
So, let’s rev it up! How do we bring those words on the page to life?
1) Set the Scene: This can be done in a variety of ways and should always be student-driven. Have them identify the primary setting and collectively draw it on poster board, paint it on bulletin board paper, or even design it for display on the interactive whiteboard. Drape cheap red plastic tablecloths from the ceiling for stage curtains. Play music when appropriate, too!
2) Play Dress-Up: Gather up a few simple things from home or hit the Dollar Tree for costume items (the fake mustaches are my favorite). Make silly paper hats or animal ears. These little touches will help bring out the actor in each child!
3) Give ‘Em Props: Have students generate a list of prop ideas. Conference with each team and select a few key items that will best drive the action of the play. Remember, less is sometimes more. Using too many props may serve as a distraction, both for the readers and the audience.
4) Stage Directions: Encourage students to add movements or hand gestures to their play. Give them liberty with this, but be sure to remind them of logistical factors such as facing their audience.
5) Sound Effects: Spice up the narrators’ parts, too! Put them in charge of sound effects.You know those students who are constantly making noises during silent times in class? Well, this is the perfect chance to play to their strengths!
6) Content-Integration: Find plays that coincide with skills/concepts being covered in math, science, or social studies. It’s a great way to bring learning to life. Hold a question/answer session afterward, where the readers and audience engage in dialogue about the material covered in the play.
7) Live Studio Audience: Once students are comfortable presenting within the regular classroom setting, arrange for them to present their plays to other classes, specialists, principals, and parents. I always do some kind of a whole-class poem or mini-script during class parties, and the parents eat it up of course!
8) Make a Cameo Appearance: There is bound to be a student absent during the course of practicing and/or presenting scripts. Take advantage of this opportunity and model, model, model!
9) Lights, CAMERA, Action: Videotape performances. Not only will students feel like movie stars, but it is a great opportunity to provide specific feedback and have them self-reflect.
10) Take it Outside: On nice days, I love having my students practice and/or present outdoors. This gives teams extra space and the ability to speak as loudly as they need. No indoor voices required.
When implemented effectively, this is a wonderfully engaging learning experience that will bring so much energy to your classroom. The kids CAN do this regardless of age, but will certainly need feedback, advice, and help with problem-solving along the way. And remember, you are their biggest fan!
Let me know how it goes and please feel free to share thoughts, resources, and ideas below!