Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Teaching Kids to Work Together with Reader's Theater

By Rhonda McDonald, Reading Specialist, Guest Blogger

In today’s blog post, I’ll explain how you can use reader’s theater to facilitate social-emotional learning and to help students improve reading fluency and expression. First I’ll explain how you can use a great science fiction script to teach kids to work together to solve problems even if there’s a bully nearby. Then I’ll give some easy tips for you to help students rehearse, record, and show their performance.

One of many benefits of reader’s theater is that several days of rehearsing with students will elicit constructive feedback among peers. Whether students give feedback orally or with a reader’s theater form, it’s important for them to have many opportunities to motivate each other with positive feedback among peers.

Alien Attack is a level O SuperScripts science fiction story about two kids who are chased by a bully and suddenly stumble upon an alien spaceship. After the aliens zap all three with a stun gun and bring them aboard, they need to work together to escape from the aliens. To introduce this play, you can start by having a discussion with your students about bullying and what true friendship should look like. Then assign parts and read the play through the first time.

After the first read-through, ask students to describe their character and spend some time discussing options to solve the problem of escaping from the aliens. Your students may have plenty of ideas about how the aliens talk or props they’d like to use to act out this story. This is excellent because props, masks, and different voices will enhance their performance and motivate students to get into character.

The next day, have the group read the play again. This time, ask them to listen to the flow of the words, focus on where their part comes in, and add expression to the script. If there are troublesome words, practice the correct pronunciation. Repeated readings of the script will help students become striving readers because they’ll practice reading comprehension and fluency along the way.

After the group has gained an understanding of character development in the story, it would be best if the group rehearsed the script with movements for three or four days. On the fifth day, they could perform the play for their classroom or another class. Younger children may require more direction or coaching, but older students should be able to practice in a small group without a lot of teacher intervention.

After students have read through the leveled book a couple of times, I encourage you to record their performance of the SuperScripts play. When students see themselves in a performance, their eyes will be opened as to how they sound and act as a character. Small portable FLIP cameras with a tabletop tripod are fairly inexpensive and easy to operate. I was fortunate to receive grant money to fund this project for my students.

Another easy camera option that you could use in your classroom would be a cell phone positioned in a docking station. You can have one student be the camera person, and his or her role would be to keep the camera still while it records the performance. The camera person should also be reminded that the viewfinder will help determine the best distance to record the action of the play. Over time, students who are interested in this responsibility will be empowered to teach their classmates how to be video technicians.

If your classroom isn’t suitable for the performance, try to locate a place that’s free of noise and distractions when the group is ready for filming. You can have some students work together to make posters to put on the door that say “Recording in Progress.” This will alert others who enter the room to be silent.

After the story has been recorded, your actors can watch the video and then offer constructive comments to their peers. They may also give themselves constructive feedback by saying, I should have read slower. I need to speak louder. I need more expression in my reading. All of these observations are valuable pieces of feedback for kids to express.

To take this recording to another level by involving family members, you can send the FLIP cameras home with the leveled book in a backpack. You would not want to do this with a cellphone. I asked parents, grandparents, or older siblings to practice the story and make a recording with the student in the comfort of their homes. They documented the performance on a chart in the backpack. It was a fun activity to encourage family members to support their children’s reading practice.

If your camera has a USB port, you can easily download the video clips onto a computer. You can give each child a computer file with a collection of dated video clips. Over the course of a semester, they may be able to collect ten to twelve video clips. You may also include video clips with classmates or staff members at the school. Then they can create an invitation for others, and if the person is available, they can respond to the invitation with a suggested time they are available.

At the conclusion of my classroom project, an individual DVD was made of the video clip collection and given to each child. It is amazing to actually view the progress over time in confidence, reading fluency, and expression. Parents love the DVD as a memento of their children and shared reading experiences with different family members, friends, or school staff.

Reader’s theater is a method that improves oral language development, is a great resource to build reading comprehension, and can be an engaging tool to teach kids about growth mindset. When students look forward to a live or recorded performance, they are motivated to put forth their best efforts. I truly believe in this method of shared reading.

Be sure to visit our blog soon for more engaging ideas to use with your students!

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.  Neat Feet Two Voices is the second nonfiction book available in the fall of 2019 in a reader's theater format that follows  Nest Quest Two Voices , both of which Rhonda has authored. If you like what you read here, you can enjoy more by Rhonda on our blog .