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The Benefits of Reader's Theater in the Secondary Classroom

Readers Theater Script-Stories Teaching Ideas

If you are looking for a way to motivate resistant readers, Reader’s Theater could be your secret weapon.  Without realizing that they are actually doing so, students participate in a group learning experience.  Many of my students (the majority of them upperclassmen) describe Reader’s Theater as “fun.”  Any time high-school students make this statement it should be considered monumental.  Yet Reader’s Theater is not simply a fluff activity.  As the students read the written word, they hear the words both spoken and performed.  This process can only improve their reading fluency through oral reinforcement and will most definitely increase their comprehension of the course material.  
Reader’s Theater sessions create an open environment where students feel comfortable asking questions.  I often hear questions such as “What does this word mean?  Did I pronounce this correctly?  Is this story connected to the other story that we read?  Why did this character do this?”  Some may argue that this inquisitiveness cannot be solely attributed to the Reader’s Theater approach, yet, in my experience, it does not occur as much when the students read silently or when I am the sole reader of the text.  My theory is a simple one:  by giving the students a role in their own education, the students have formed a personal connection to the text.
There are several different definitions or styles of Reader’s Theater—not to mention several different spellings.  In theatrical terms, Reader’s Theater is a play without the “frills,” no costumes, no sets, no blocking.  The players must use their voices to convey the necessary drama, and the audience imagines the action.  Furthermore, since the players are allowed to read directly from the script, there is no memorization of lines as in a traditional production.
In an educational setting Reader’s Theater is similar.  Students perform a script orally but often not physically.  Most students are given time to perform many read-throughs of the script and are familiar with its content.  Educators typically ask their students to stand at the front of the class to perform.  Some also allow their students to supplement their oral readings with costumes or even physical action.  As a side note, Reader’s Theater is often confined to the elementary level of education and rarely makes an appearance on the secondary level.      
I have my own personal version of Reader’s Theater, which I consider to be more efficient and more high-school friendly.  In my version I present the students with a script, and they are asked to interpret it cold turkey.  No practice times.  No read-throughs.  Every student sits at his or her desk.  I assign the various parts.  We perform the script, then either quiz or write over its content, and discuss—all within a fifty-minute block.  
This approach may sound more cut and dry, but I have found it to be very effective with the sophomore through senior students that I teach.  Students of any age enjoy to be read to, and high-schoolers are no exception.  Rather than the teacher reading the text for them, Reader’s Theater puts the students in charge of their own education.  They are given “roles” within the text, a part in the common goal of learning, and new sense of empowerment.    
Reader’s Theater allows certain students to perform for their classmates.  In some situations acting out would result in a classroom disruption.  With Reader’s Theater “acting out” is exactly what the teacher desires.  If a student can make a reading entertaining, through the use of a funny accent or personal wit, then they are furthering the goal of education by helping the teacher capture the students’ interest.  While Reader’s Theater can showcase enthusiastic readers, it can also draws out the reluctant readers, who may suffer from a lack of confidence.  Reader’s Theater is a great way to give these readers confidence in their own abilities.

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  • Blair Smith on

    Definitely an interesting post!

  • Helen Mondloch on

    Hello, Zachary and Rachel,

    I love your website and share your passion for readers theater!

    I plan to share your web site with my professional contacts and hope you’ll be interested in sharing my recently published readers theater play. It’s designed especially for English 11 survey courses like the one I teach here in Fairfax County, VA. The play was published last winter by Richer Resources Publications. Here’s a little bit about it:

    Titled, “An American Breeze: A Whirlwind Theatrical Tour of American Literature,” the play provides a lively tour of our nation’s literary heritage from colonial times to the present. The main storyteller is an American Breeze—“a timeless observer of the American experience”—who ushers in writers from the various literary periods to expound their works and the times in which they lived. The motley cast also includes commentators of contrasting character—a droll cynic, a sage optimist, and a rowdy chorus—elements that lend the play humor and perspective.

    Offering vivid snapshots of the American literary scene from the Puritans to the Contemporaries, An American Breeze weaves history, horseplay, and the language of literature into the fabric of our national story.

    In the classroom, American Breeze stimulates student participation in a format that is highly adaptable: Classes can perform the six acts intermittently throughout the year, or as a single production at year’s end.

    As a published author and a high school English teacher of twenty-five years, I wrote the play for my classes and have enjoyed performing it with them. They often say it’s the most enjoyable activity of the year. Each act is accompanied by a study guide, making the play suitable to any standards-based curriculum.

    As a freelance journalist, I have written some eighty feature articles and investigative reports on a wide variety of historical, literary, and human interest topics. My articles have appeared in about a dozen publications, including World & I, American Scholar, and a McGraw-Hill history text, Annual Editions. I currently serve as a regular contributor to Northern Virginia Magazine, writing profile pieces on notable people living in the Washington, DC metro area.

    Here are a few glimpses from my play’s back cover:
    “I am the voice of an American breeze. You have never seen me, but I have stirred for untold ages… I have brushed the cheek of every man and woman who ever tilled the soil, every soldier who marched into battle, and every babe swaddled in the American dream. I have touched gold diggers and trailblazers, both the modest and the proud, and those who yearned only to breathe free…”

    About An American Breeze:

    Batten down the hatches for a whirlwind theatrical tour of American literature. Your guide is the Breeze—a timeless and irrepressible observer of the national experience.

    Your six-act journey begins on a colonial breeze, rises to higher ground on the winds of reason, gusts to Romantic glory, transforms itself in a Transcendental tempest, hits a rugged cold front called Realism, then veers into unchartered territory on a modern El Nino.

    Along this turbulent ride, the Breeze ushers in writers who expound their works and the times in which they lived. An abundance of primary sourced material imbues their voices with richness and authenticity. They are bolstered by a crew of commentators—a sage optimist, a blustering cynic, and a rowdy chorus—who spice this journey with humor and perspective. Offering vivid snapshots of the American literary scene from the Puritans to the Contemporaries, “An American Breeze” entertains and illuminates. It weaves history, horseplay, and the language of literature into the fabric of an unforgettable story.

    “Helen Mondloch has blown us right into each American literary/historical period with allusions to writers, works, philosophies, and events that will gust to life in this reader’s theater tour de force!"

    -Deborah K. Hipes, Bureau of Education and Research

    “From Benjamin Franklin to Maya Angelou, Helen Mondloch weaves a tapestry of American literary delight in a playful and uplifting style. Her work sheds light on how our greatest writers informed our consciousness and sustained our spirit across the ages.”
    -Philip G. Smucker, Colonial American Historian and author of Riding with George


    I look forward to hearing from you!

    Best wishes, Helen

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