Published Author, Professional Storyteller & Writer, and Educator
Published Author, Professional Storyteller & Writer, and Educator
Published Author, Professional Storyteller & Writer, and Educator

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Using Readers' Theatre as a Teaching Tool

Teaching students how to read is a given in today's curriculum, but too often they sound out the words and read in a stilted fashion. Teachers frequently remind the student to "Read with expression," but this does little or no good most of the time.

Most children in all grade levels love to "act" - take on a role in a play, pretend to be someone else. When using readers' theatre, this is precisely what the student does! While reading a script (or a part) he/she pretends to be that character, using an expressive voice. They can be as dramatic as they wish and not have to worry about memorizing a script. And, unlike a play, they don't have to be concerned with costumes, sets, props, blocking or any of the other theatrical needs.

Some of the valid reasons for using readers' theatre in the classroom are:

  • It allows several kids to participate at the same time.
  • It encourages kids to read smoothly and with expression.
  • It stimulates enthusiasm and interest in reading and in the subject covered.
  • It facilitates imagination, creativity, interpretation, and critical thinking.
  • It's easy to use - requires no staging!
  • It brings characters in a story to life, while enhancing comprehension.
  • It's informal, relaxing and fun!

There is no one way to use readers' theatre, so you'll have to try different ways to find the one that works for you and your class. There are, however, some basic considerations, such as having at least one narrator to set the scenes, describe the action, set the time period and lapses in time. If characters aren't identified they can wear a sign with their character's name on it.

Once the script has been developed, everyone should get a copy. Have a read-through so everyone knows the story. Do it in a "round robin" style with each person reading a part (not always the same one, though). After the read-through, talk about story, with suggestions about expressiveness, possible gestures and facial expressions. (Remember - the performers remain in one place - they do not move around the stage area.)

Practice the script often for comfort and easier reading - repetition is good and fun! Assign character roles - either through volunteers or assignment. Have the characters highlight their roles to make it easier to follow. They shouldn't memorize their lines, but know them well enough to read smoothly and expressively and possibly glace up from the script every now and again.

Once the story is secure, present it to others - other classes, parents and friends, assembly program, retirement homes, etc. Performance space is any open area - you can use boxes, chairs, stools, etc. to provide a variety of levels, heights and focus areas.

Staging is simple - narrators are usually off to one side, the main character is in the center and other characters nearby as appropriate to their roles. Try to avoid having everyone in a straight line - try having some characters grouped, or staggered.

If possible, videotape the performance and let the students see and hear themselves in action. Once they learn the technique of expression reading, they'll insert it whenever they are called upon to read aloud!

Through readers' theatre, you've accomplished what you've always wanted - to have your students read with expression!

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