Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Benefits of Reader's Theater for Your Students

By Rhonda McDonald, Reading Specialist, Guest Blogger

When teaching reading for fluency and expression, you need to look for material that will engage your students. Reader’s theater is an exciting way to motivate struggling readers. When kids fulfill a role in a play, they immerse themselves in rich opportunities to strengthen their reading skills. In today's post, I'll explain how you can engage students with reader's theater with books at reading levels I through M.

Kindergarten and first grade students come to school with fertile imaginations. They can easily get into the heads of characters, especially animals. After reading a narrative text aloud, ask children to retell the story as if they're one of the characters. You may want to ask them to invent a new ending to a familiar story.

You'll discover many familiar traditional tales, such as Three Little Pigs , Cinderella , The Gingerbread Man , or Little Red Riding Hood , within Story World Real World . These leveled readers range from levels I through M. To help students get into the mood of acting and into the characters' heads, have students make character masks or headbands.

You'll immediately see how much fun students have as they plan decorations for their masks and use recycled materials found around the classroom or at home. You can have them attach their mask to a craft stick or use string to wrap around their heads and attach to the ends of the mask. Use a box or crate to store a variety of masks for students to reuse when acting out different stories. It's amazing to see a shy child transform into the character they're portraying. If this is a regular part of your classroom routine, kids will quickly become familiar with theatrical retelling of stories.

For older students, a series called SuperScripts is a great resource you can use to engage striving readers with stories written in a play format. The interest level for these plays spans third through twelfth grade for students who are reading at guided reading levels M–P. Truth or Dare is a level M story from this collection about children attending a summer camp. While practicing skateboarding tricks, one of the children brags about his skills. He dares the others to try a dangerous trick. They reluctantly agree, but the trick goes wrong when the braggart falls off a ledge. In the end, he admits to the others that he can’t do the trick either.

You can introduce the play with a discussion about bragging and bullying. Talk about how it is wrong for someone to dare another person to try something that they know is dangerous. Assign parts and read the play all the way through for the first time. Ask students to describe their assigned characters. Spend some time discussing how students can solve an instance of bullying. Then ask students if they have suggestions for props to act out this story.

The next day, have students read the play again, but ask them to listen to the flow of the words and focus on where they need to read the lines of their characters. Encourage them to add expression while reading the script. If there are troublesome words, practice the correct pronunciation. With repetition, students will become confident with their parts in the play while participating in engaging reading comprehension practice. 

It is important for kids to know that the result of so much practice will be a performance in front of an audience. This sets a purpose for the activity and gives them a reason to give their best effort. As the process becomes a normal activity throughout a school year, you will be pleasantly surprised at the acting abilities of your students. Fluency and confidence will grow with each play.

Practice sharing positive comments to encourage constructive feedback between students, such as I like the way ___ did the voice of his character. ___ did a nice job of ___. The group did a nice job making props for their play. I thought ___ was funny when she ___.

You may also want to create a reader's theater review form to use after each performance. Students and their audience could record their feedback on the form, which gives everyone an opportunity to be engaged with every performance. This could also be helpful for you to monitor participation.

One suggestion to manage the rotation of reader’s theater within a classroom would be to assign a play every fourth week. On the other weeks, the students can participate in their usual guided reading groups. It may be interesting to assign the same play to two groups of students, and then let their creative interpretation guide their practice and performance. The rest of class could compare and contrast the performances, which gives incentive for students giving their best efforts.

One of the key elements of reader’s theater is to make it fun! Students who are motivated to put forth their best efforts will be engaged in the entire rehearsal and performance process.

Be sure to return to our blog often for great ways to engage your students as they develop a love of reading!

Rhonda was a Title 1 Reading Specialist in Botetourt County Public Schools, Virginia. She now substitutes and visits schools and libraries to lead writing workshops, story time, and parent workshops. She is also an author of children's books and several titles in our  Kaleidoscope Collection  and Zoozoo Animal World  series. If you like what you read here, you can enjoy more by Rhonda on our blog .