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.