Using script-stories (also known as Reader’s Theater) is a highly motivational learning strategy that blends oral reading, literature, and drama. Unlike traditional theater, script-stories do not require costumes, make-up, props, stage sets, or memorization. Only the script and a healthy imagination are needed. As students read the script aloud, they interpret the emotions, beliefs, attitudes, and motives of the characters. A narrator conveys the story’s setting and action and provides the commentary necessary for the transitions between scenes. For me it’s the best way I have found for making literature come alive for students. For more on why to use script-stories, see this previous post.
This post will focus more on how to use script-stories in your classroom!Implementing a new style of learning (even for a single lesson) may seem daunting at first; however, script-stories are not difficult to use. In fact, they streamline the oral reading that most teachers do already. Many teachers read aloud to their students, and many also call on their students to read aloud. Script-stories simply streamline that process by dividing the story into parts. This breaks up the work for the teacher while engaging the students on a deeper level.
In this post I have included some frequently asked questions about incorporating script-stories into the classroom.
What exactly are script-stories?
Script-stories are adaptations of works of literature broken down into reading parts.
- Script-stories are not traditional plays with scene breaks, stage directions for movement, costumes, scenery, etc.
- Script-stories have a strong narrator part that describes the action of each scene.
- Script-stories have a certain number of speaking parts for students to read aloud.
- Script-stories’ speaking parts have stage directions such as (softly) or (yelling) that indicate how some lines should be spoken.
If script-stories are similar to Reader’s Theater, why don’t you use that term?
The name script-story summed up what we are hoping to achieve: a story in script-form with multiple reading parts that allows the students to become part of the story. The term “Reader’s Theater” can mean several different types of performance. During some Reader’s Theater performances, students act the script out much like they would a play (moving about a stage, using full-body acting, etc.). Script-stories are designed to be read in-class with no physical acting necessary, only verbal.
How do you stage script-stories in the classroom?
Teachers should use script-stories in a whole-class setting. Hand out photocopies of the particular script for that day. (Note: It is perfectly legal for you to photocopy enough copies of any materials you receive from this site for classroom use.) To make things run more smoothly, certain copies of the scripts could be highlighted for particular characters, so that whichever students you pick to read parts will have their lines readily available.
What do the students do while reading a script-story?
Every student will read along in the script while students with reading parts will read these parts aloud. (Some teachers who use Reader’s Theater require their students to stand when reading their lines or even incorporate physical acting, but I do not.) Students with a reading part should be strong readers, who are able to interpret and put inflection into what they read. All students in the group are encouraged to make the sound effects that pop up in most scripts such as (fanfare) and (sounds of an angry crowd)—although there have been times when I have given the specific job of making all the sound effects to a student who did not want a speaking part but would still like a specific part. I have a collection of noisemakers that make common sound effects: a tambourine for musical effects, a recorder for a flute noise, a plastic trumpet for fanfares, coconuts for hoofbeats (a la Monty Python), and a couple of woodblocks for gunshots or other booms. I give these to certain students to use. Otherwise, students can make the noises with their own voices.
Who reads the narrator in the script-story?
I almost always perform the part of the narrator because I enjoy being a part of the story with my students. Since the narrator part typically drives the action of the story, if I am reading that part, I am able to stop and discuss important parts of the story. One benefit of script-stories is that every student is literally on the same page. At any given moment I can stop and discuss the meaning of certain vocabulary words, ask anticipatory questions, check for comprehension, or discuss theme. Many students give me feedback that these stop-and-discuss moments really help them discuss the story.
How do you structure a class around script-stories? How often do you use them?
Too much of a good thing can be bad. In my own classroom I do employ the script-stories frequently—in some units we read three or four scripts a week—but I do supplement them with silent reading, notes, classroom activities, and self-created worksheets. Some of these activities are posted on this website.
How do you make sure all students follow along and listen?
A quick reading quiz after the completion of a script is an easy way to assess comprehension. In my own classroom I ask five questions that hit the high-points of the story. The teacher guide included with each script-story for sale on this website comes with five recall questions for this purpose. A technique for informal assessment is classroom discussion. How well students discuss will tell you how well they have comprehended the story. Also every script-story available here comes with discussion questions at the end. These questions have seen success in my own classroom.
How do I prepare for a class period where I will be using a script-story?
Make enough copies of the script-story for all of your students. (If you are doing the script-story with multiple classes, you will not need more than one class set.) For each speaking part highlight the speaking part lines in a specific script. Keeping the highlighted script-stories separate, ask for volunteers at the beginning of class and distribute them as you see fit. More often than not, students will eagerly volunteer for these reading parts. If you are going to incorporate noisemakers for sound effects, you will need to round these up beforehand. These are not a necessary edition though; they are just for fun!
Do students need to memorize their lines beforehand?
Script-stories are designed for students to read them for the first time in your class. Students do not need to prep beforehand.
How do you deal with reluctant readers?
Script-stories are the perfect antidote for reluctant readers. If your experience is like mine, you will see your least enthusiastic readers turn into your most enthusiastic. Almost every single group of students I have taught in thirteen years has preferred reading script-stories to reading silently.
Could you provide a detailed, step-by-step process of how you stage script-stories?
- As students come into class, I have the highlighted script-stories with certain reading parts highlighted separated from the others—ready to hand out to specific students.
- I ask students as they sit down if they would be willing to read a certain part. (Students do not sit any differently than they would on any given day.)
- When all the parts are distributed, I give every other student a non-highlighted version of the script.
- I read the title of the day’s script and the “cast list,” which has descriptions of the characters who have speaking parts.
- If we are reading the continuation of an ongoing story, I ask the students to remember what previously occurred in the story. (This happens with longer, multi-part stories like The Scarlet Letter or the Trojan War. Many script-stories are stand-alone stories though.)
- We begin reading the story aloud. (As I stated before, I typically read the part of the narrator, but a student could read this part if need be.)
- As we read, I stop periodically to check for comprehension, point out literary terms, and ask students to predict what they think will happen next. (The scripts available on this site have a list of “teachable terms”—metaphors, similes, symbols, etc. that occur in that particular script.)
- When we reach the end of the script, I give a five-question reading quiz. I distribute small squares of paper recycled from old worksheets for the students to use for their answers. I ask the five questions orally, and they write their answers on the paper.
- After this I collect the quizzes, and as a class, we discuss the discussion questions at the end of the script. (To mix things up I sometimes ask the students to write their answers to the questions instead.)
- The script-stories available on this site are designed for a 50-minute period, and we are able to complete this process all in one day.
- Some longer stories like Moby Dick or the Odyssey encompass several script-stories, and the unit will take several days to complete; however, each individual script-story within that unit is designed to fill one 50-minute period.
I hope this will encourage you to give at least one script-story a try in your classroom! You might find the experience transformational—like we have. For a list of free script-stories available on this site, look below:
Free Script-stories available on this site:
- An Egyptian creation story
- The Making of Enkidu from Gilgamesh
- The Arrival of Beowulf
- “The Pardoner’s Tale” from the Canterbury Tales
- A Dramatization of the Pilgrims’ Journey to the New World and the First Thanksgiving
- A Native American myth about Niagara Falls:
- The Scarlet Letter Part I
- The Last of the Mohicans: Part I
- "Feathertop" (A Short Fable by Nathaniel Hawthorne)