Script-Stories: Making Reading an Experience Instead of a Struggle
You’ve heard of the Elephant Graveyard, right? Too often high school is the Reading Graveyard, where the love of reading comes to die—if it didn’t already die out in middle school. Many teachers have wondered why young children love reading, yet they lose this love along the way. Many fine authors have attempted to explain why this happens—check out Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide—and many of them have ideas about how to resurrect the love of reading. Well, I have my own solution, and I have nearly fifteen years of teaching proof that it works.
Reader’s Theater script-stories are common in the elementary grades, but almost virtually absent from the upper grades. I’ve often wondered why. I guess the most apparent answer is that teachers assume high-schoolers are too jaded and apathetic to connect with “reading aloud,” or that silent, individual reading is the only way upper-grade students should learn. I guarantee you that just the opposite is true. Script-stories are more than effective; they’re transformational.
Script-stories is a term I use instead of Reader’s Theater, although the two are synonymous. For some the word theater automatically implies costumes, sets, stages, etc. and puts them on the defensive. So, for my purposes, script-stories better describes how this technique works in my classroom.
Just because in a traditional classroom students may be able to find the answers to multiple-choice questions by picking through a “reading” passage—ironically, without actually reading it—is this really what reading is all about? It may be a good test-taking skill, and it will hit the standards that we are supposed to cover. But what about those deeper, personal “standards” that we have secretly inside us? What about those of us who want our students to love literature? Or those of us who want our students to experience the greatest stories of all-time? When I realized that what I really wanted was for students to connect, learn from, and love literature, it tore down my pre-conceived notions of what reading in the classroom should look like.
Just as deadly as student burnout is teacher burnout. When was the last time you enjoyed—truly enjoyed—teaching a lesson? It’s easy to become frustrated with students’ lack of excitement or engagement. Yet with script-stories I look forward to teaching, and my students are often eager to experience the next story. I know this technique doesn’t just work for me; it can work for you, too. After making materials available on the internet, I have received feedback from teachers from all over the country. One teacher recently commented:
“This has completely transformed how I teach Beowulf in my classes….Not to mention I had the added bonus of kids begging to read--something which has never happened in my experience with Beowulf!”
My wife, who is a phenomenal English teacher and consistently puts me to shame, received a thank you note from one of her students. It was one of those moments that make teaching worthwhile. Included in the note was the student’s response to the script-stories.
“You’ve always gone above and beyond to give us the best learning experience possible. Instead of handing us a ten-pound book to read, you gave us script-stories. My ability to recall characters and details from stories we read (or should I say performed) absolutely astounds me. The way you let us get creative, get loud, and get silly in class helped me learn so much. Your room is one of the only places I felt I could get in front of a room full of people and let my personality flood out. I’m a lot less shy with presentations these days, and I owe it all to those script-stories.”
Just as further evidence, I would like to include some responses from the sophomore and junior students I am currently teaching. Many of them I have never had in class before, so this year is their first experience with script-stories. School has only been in session a few months—we began in August, and it is now November. Remember: This is just my current group of 93. The majority of them are not motivated readers, not on the Honors track. Many of them could be labeled as struggling readers. I gave them the following statements and asked them to Agree or Disagree or remain neutral. Here are their responses:
- I enjoy reading on my own in my spare time: 35%
- I get frustrated when I have to read silently: 39%
- I find it easier to discuss or write answers to questions about a story that we have read aloud than one we have read silently: 90%
- I think script-stories are entertaining and hold my attention: 88%
- When we are reading a script-story as a class, I am more likely to ask a question about the story than if we were reading the story silently: 62%
- Reading the part of a character in the script-story makes me feel like I am more involved with the story: 81%
- Script-stories have made me like reading aloud more than I have in the past: 61%
I also left an area where they could comment on what they liked most about script-stories. I left these comments unedited—just the way I received them—as you will see!
- I love acting out a part in a story and really getting into it. maybe using an accent or just having some fun while i'm reading because otherwise school is redundant and boring.
- What I like best about reading out loud is the fun that comes with reading the story. Everyone always enjoys it and that helps with remembering what the story was about.
- I like how we all get done at the same time and are all on the same pace. when reading silently you worry if you are too slow and that you might not be as smart as the rest of your class because of this. You tend to try and read faster and this causes you to not absorb as much information. Reading together in class helps me understand the story more and not feel like I am behind.
- Reading out loud makes it easier for students to be involved in the story. If a student is playing a part in the story, it almost feels as if they are in the story. Additionally, when students are able to add-lib (within reason), it helps them and other students to enjoy and remember the story.
- I understand what I am reading better if we read out loud. When I read silent I fall behind and get frustrated.
- What I like best about reading out loud is we get to express ourselves and say things in different voices and act things out to help us remember what has happened throughout the story.
- It is entertaining, which holds my attention better and makes me understand the types of stories that we are reading. Also If we don't understand something, somebody can explain it while we are reading.
- I like the fact that I'm actually having a little bit of fun while reading instead of being bored out of my mind and dosing off.
- I like the different voices and the fun people have when we read.
- The best about reading out loud is that I can put different voices to different people. Like when Nate is reading a part and Eli it is much easier to put the two characters apart.
- In my opinion, it gives more of imagery inside the brain.
- What I like best about reading out loud is that everyone is involved in it and no one is left out. Also if it's a script I feel like being a part of the story makes everyone get a few kicks out of it.
- Its less like work and its fun
- We get to interact and talk about the story as we go.
- i like reading out loud because the words actually make sense, when i read silently i may have to go over the page 5 or 6 times just to get it to make sense to me.
- I like the people who are confident in there parts of the play. I think they can be funny. Especially Sam. She's the best.
I also gave my senior Honors English IV students the same survey. Many of these students read on their own and are planning to attend college. Here are some of their responses:
- The best thing about reading the stories out loud is that it makes them come to life and helps me understand the story better. It's also a chance at the end of the day to have a little fun.
- The best thing about reading in class is that it keeps me focused. It makes me pay attention and discuss what we read, helps me understand the story better.
- I really like reading aloud because I think it gets everyone involved in the discussion. If there are some things people don't understand, they would be more likely to ask questions if the whole class is involved. I like my class, so I think we get to know each other better when we read our parts.
- The best thing for me is the friendship we gain when doing this activity.
Using Reader’s Theater script stories in my classroom has helped me achieve the following “teachery” standards:
- The students are engaged.
- The students grasp the key points of the reading.
- The students ask content-related questions as we read.
- The students score better on quizzes that utilize recall questions.
- The students can analyze the text on a deeper level.
Now here are some of the more important effects—that you won’t find listed on teaching standards.
- The students are taking ownership of their own learning.
- The students are encouraging one another to try their best.
- The students are eager to participate.
- The students are expressing themselves.
- The students are performing their best for their classmates.
- The students are interacting with one another.
- The students are interacting with the teacher.
- The students are laughing at their own mistakes as they read aloud.
- The students are experiencing the text.
- The students are having fun…and learning.
I hope I have convinced you that this technique could work in your own classroom. I am planning for this to be the first of a series of posts about how you can incorporate script-stories and how they will benefit your students in a variety of ways. But rather than waiting around for that to happen, I strongly encourage you to try one script-story in your own classroom. There are several available for free on this site. Find a day between units and just give it a shot. See what happens!
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
If you want to make reading an experience instead of a struggle, give these resources a try!