Internet Resources for Conducting Readers Theatre
The Internet can be a valuable source of information for teachers who use or plan to use Readers Theatre in their classrooms. This article provides a brief description of Readers Theatre and its many benefits for literacy learning, and goes on to describe Internet sources for scripts and for information on implementation, additional classroom applications, and assessment. The article concludes with an annotated list of useful Web sites for Readers Theatre.
About Readers Theatre
Readers Theatre introduces the element of drama into literacy learning and magically transforms the classroom into a stage. During Readers Theatre time, the reader is at center stage, totally absorbed in reading. The reader is a star.
Readers Theatre is a highly motivational strategy that connects oral reading, literature, and drama in the classroom. Unlike traditional theater, Readers Theatre does not require costumes, make-up, props, stage sets, or memorization. Only a script is needed, from which students read aloud. Using only their voices, facial expressions, and bodies, they interpret the emotions, beliefs, attitudes, and motives of the characters. A narrator conveys the storys setting and action and provides the commentary necessary for transition between scenes.
The element of drama enables students to realize that reading is an activity that permits experimentation -- they can try reading words in different ways to produce different meanings. Using volume, pitch, stress, and intonation, readers delve into the Readers Theatre text, making printed words come alive and giving their characters life. As they practice their roles, readers are also given the opportunity to reflect on the text and to evaluate and revise how they interact with it (Carrick, 2000).
Educators have long elaborated on the benefits of using Readers Theatre and related strategies for increasing reading fluency and sight-word vocabulary, improving reading comprehension, providing opportunities to interpret dialogue and communicate meaning, and increasing awareness and appreciation of plays as a form of literature. For example, Harris and Sipay (1990) describe script reading as one of the most interesting oral reading activities for children, and Coody (1992) notes that script reading provides a context for purposeful reading. Through this interactive activity the students are energized, actively involved in responding to and interpreting literature (Sebesta, 1997). Readers Theatre reinforces the social nature of reading (Busching, 1981) and provides an opportunity for students of varying abilities to work as a team in a cooperative learning environment (Flood, Lapp, Flood, & Nagel, 1992; Trousdale & Harris, 1993). Because implementation includes many readings of the script, Readers Theatre promotes oral reading fluency (Carrick, 2000; Millin, 1996) and enhances students ability to understand and transform text (Stayter & Allington, 1991).
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Finding and Selecting Scripts
Readers Theatre scripts can be purchased through publishers, book vendors, or script services. However, many scripts suitable for a variety of grade and reading levels and representing a range of genres and content matter are available at sites on the World Wide Web. These scripts are free and can be easily downloaded, printed, and duplicated for classroom use.
Selecting a good script is important for a successful Readers Theatre experience. Scripts must be of high quality, interesting, and appropriate to the age, grade, and readability levels of the students who will be engaged in the dramatic activity. They should offer a rich vocabulary, use proper grammar, and be presented in a font and format that is easily read. In particular, the script should contain lively dialogue. The narrators role is also important, in that it describes the action of the characters, establishes the setting, and paints the picture by providing necessary background.
Many scripts meeting these criteria of quality are available on the Internet. (As with all materials, however, teachers should read potentially useful scripts thoroughly before distributing them to their students.) For example, Readers Theatre K-3 at the Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) Catholic Schools Web site offers many short scripts for readers aged approximately 5 to 8 years, including Fire! Fire! by Bill Martin Jr and Little Black Bug by Margaret Wise Brown. Also available on the Internet for this age group are scripts for A Duck So Small by A.H. Benjamin (at the site of Colonel Walker Elementary School in Calgary, Alberta) and Which Shoes Do You Choose? by Aaron Shepard (at his comprehensive Readers Theatre site).
The Internet also offers many scripts for middle and upper elementary students. At the teachers.net Lesson Bank, a script for Jane Yolens Owl Moon is available. The Princess and the Pea (from Classroom Connections International) and The Hidden One (from Aaron Shepard) are also suitable for this age group. Scripts for middle school students include Aaron Shepards adaptation of Mark Twains The War Prayer and Rick Swallows version of Jon Scieszkas The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, while high school students will enjoy Great Expectations from Kate Rickman of the University of Californias Dickens Project and Romeo and Juliet from California high school teacher Hilary Ford.
Readers Theatre is also a suitable activity for theme units. To enhance a study of poetry, for example, elementary school students might enjoy preparing Readers Theatre presentations of a version of Shel Silversteins Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too, available from the site of Joseph Lee Elementary School of Boston, Massachusetts, and Aaron Shepards version of Ernest Lawrence Thayers Casey at the Bat. Mr. Poppers Penguins (part of an online unit housed on the South Dakota K-12 Teacher Server) and Helen Lesters Tacky the Penguin from teachers.net are two scripts that would complement a thematic unit on penguins. Scripts for a unit on fables include The City Mouse and the Country Mouse, The Lion and the Mouse, and Belling the Cat, all available from education consultant and author Lisa Blaus archive of Readers Theatre scripts, while a unit on multicultural folktales could include the Indonesian story Cicak and Kancil (available from Curriculum Corporation), The Calabash Kids: A Tale of Tanzania (Aaron Shepard), and the American tale Polly Ann and John Henry (Storycart Press).
Creating a script is another exciting option in Readers Theatre. Finding the right source for inspiration is important. Quality childrens literature with spirited dialogue is a good choice; however, poetry or nonfiction texts can also be used (see, for example, a script based on Gail Gibbons Whales at the teachers.net site). Aaron Shepards Tips on Scripting provides information on how to create scripts from books, magazines, and poetry. Teachers of early elementary students may find Michael Grotes (a professor of education at Ohio Wesleyan University) guidelines for creating a script from a book helpful. Christmas Is More Than Presents at the Classroom Connections International site is an example of an original Readers Theatre script written by children.
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Procedures for Implementation
A Readers Theatre project can last several days, with the exact number varying with the length of the script and the amount of daily class time allotted for reading. On average time spent on one script in the primary grades is generally 5 to 10 days. Following is a day-by-day outline of how a 5-day project with a short script might progress:
- Distribute a copy of the script to each student.
- Read the title of the script and its author together with the students.
- Encourage students to make predictions about the story, characters, etc.
- Read the script aloud to the students as they follow along.
- Ask for feedback: How did you like the story? Did this story remind you of another story? What about our predictions?
- With student input, generate a list of vocabulary words from the script. Write the words on the board or on large sheets of paper, and keep the list posted for the duration of the project. Refer to the list daily, focusing on the words pronunciation and meaning.
- Divide the class into pairs. Assign a number of pages to be read -- longer scripts can be divided into several parts -- and a time limit for paired reading. Students should take turns reading every other entry in the script; this ensures that they will all have the same amount of material to read. Pairs can reread the pages again if they finish before the end of the assigned reading time.
- While the students are reading the script, circulate among them to offer assistance in the correct pronunciation of words, reading with feeling and emotion, and reading at an appropriate rate and volume.
- Close the session by doing a group read-around of the script or by assigning roles and having students perform a segment of the script.
Days 3 and 4
- Continue the paired reading and circulating and modeling, until the entire script has been read by all students.
- Once the students become familiar with the script, they can begin working in groups of three or four, with each group member reading an assigned role or roles.
- Option 1: Assign parts and let the students perform informally for their class or for other classes. A reader can read more than one part, especially if there are several smaller parts. Everyone should be given an equal opportunity to read as much of the text as possible, or students with smaller parts may see themselves as poorer readers or may lose interest or enthusiasm.
- Option 2: On certain occasions, the students can engage in giving a major performance. This can be done by assigning roles, transforming the classroom into a theater, and inviting other classes or parents to a special presentation. Such a production may feature two or three groups, with each group reading a different script.
The Internet offers additional resources and ideas for implementing Readers Theatre. For example, Saskatchewan (Canada) Education suggests procedures for using Readers Theatre at the elementary level. Aaron Shepard offers Tips on Reading, and Lois and Herb Walkers Scripts for Schools provides Teacher Tips for primary, intermediate, and teen and adult readers (use the drop-down menu and scroll to Free Teacher Aids).
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Additional Classroom Applications
Readers Theatre scripts can be used to teach a variety of concepts and skills -- and here again, the Internet offers a great deal of support. For example, FictionTeachers.com provides several lesson plans and scripts adapted from Bruce Lanskys Girls to the Rescue and Newfangled Fairy Tales series, suitable for elementary and middle school students. A Student CyberGuide from the Nashville (Tennessee) Schools Web site to accompany study of John Steinbecks The Grapes of Wrath outlines how secondary school students can present their research in Readers Theatre format.
One script at the Aaron Shepard site, The Hidden One, a Native American Cinderella tale, supplies a wealth of content that can be used to teach concepts or reading skills required at about the third-grade level. Activities that could accompany this script include the following:
The already-mentioned Which Shoes Do You Choose? is a lively script suitable for students in the primary grades. It tells the story of Katie, who goes to the store to buy new shoes. The shoe clerks use very descriptive language when they explain the types of shoes they have in stock. This script is ideal for teaching adjectives or descriptive words. Examples of activities include
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According to Dixon, Davies, and Politano (1996), Readers theatre is enhanced by evaluation that supports student learning (p. 97). Evaluation may measure aspects of fluency, such as volume, rate, tempo, and intonation during a presentation, or it may focus on how students work together as a group. Evaluation could also measure skills or concepts that were features of the script, such as characterization and story elements. Evaluation can be self-directed, with the students making observations and reflecting on what they learned and on what they need to improve. It can also include an audio- or videotape of the Readers Theatre activities or the final performance. These tapes can be placed in students portfolios.
Saskatchewan Education offers a sample assessment for oral interpretation -- a basic rating form that can be used for evaluating various elements of oral reading, including pronunciation, rate, volume, enunciation, pitch, word grouping, and intonation. This form can be used at all grade levels and with students of various reading abilities. A sample assessment for Readers Theatre provides an assessment that can be used with middle school and high school students. This tool evaluates a students attitude, use of voice and body, and development of the assigned character. Both assessments are found at the sites Speaking page and can be reached by scrolling.
A specific assessment rubric for presenting Readers Theatre, available from Pearson Education Canada, is suitable for middle school and high school students. This rubric assesses knowledge and understanding of the elements of Readers Theatre, with a focus on thinking and inquiry, communication, and application.
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Energize your classroom! Excite even the most reluctant readers! Raise the curtain! Let Readers Theatre begin!
The Internet allows teachers to acquire the materials needed for implementing Readers Theatre economically, conveniently, and quickly. A recent Google search revealed almost 5000 Web sites that provide scripts, lesson plans, ideas, or useful information relating to using Readers Theatre in the classroom. A few of my favorites are listed below.
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Busching, B.A. (1981). Readers Theatre: An education for language and life. Language Arts, 58, 330-338.
Carrick, L.U. (2000). The effects of Readers Theatre on fluency and comprehension in fifth grade students in regular classrooms. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Lehigh University. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Coody, B. (1992). Using literature with young children (4th ed.). Debuque, IA: William C. Brown.
Dixon, N., Davies, A., & Politano, C. (1996). Learning with Readers Theatre. Winnipeg, AB: Peguis.
Flood, J., Lapp, D., Flood, S., & Nagel, G. (1992). Am I allowed to group? Using flexible patterns for effective instruction. Reading Teacher, 45, 608-615.
Harris, A.J., & Sipay, E.R. (1990). How to increase reading ability: A guide to developmental and remedial methods (9th ed.). White Plains, NY: Longman.
Millin, S.K. (1996). Effect of Readers Theatre on oral reading ability and reading attitudes of second grade Title 1 students. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia.
Sebesta, S.L. (1997). Having my say. Reading Teacher, 50, 542-551.
Stayter, F.Z., & Allington, R. (1991). Fluency and the understanding of texts. Theory into Practice, 30, 143-148.
Trousdale, A.M., & Harris, V.J. (1993). Missing links in literary response: Group interpretation of literature. Childrens Literature in Education, 24, 195-207.
About the Author
Lila Carrick is a teacher in an early intervention reading program for first-grade students in the Plainfield Public Schools, New Jersey, USA, and an adjunct assistant professor at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She recently received her doctorate in reading education from Lehigh University, where she investigated the effects of Readers Theatre on fluency and comprehension of fifth-grade students. Lila enjoys sharing information about Readers Theatre with other educators. She has made presentations on using Readers Theatre in the classroom at several local, regional, state, and national conferences, including those of the International Reading Association, New Jersey Reading Association, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and the College Reading Association. Reach her by e-mail at Lilacarr@aol.com.
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Citation: Carrick, L. (2001, July/August). Internet resources for conducting Readers Theatre. Reading Online, 5(1). Available: http://www.readingonline.org/electronic/elec_index.asp?HREF=carrick/index.html
Reading Online, www.readingonline.org
Posted July 2001
© 2001 International Reading Association, Inc. ISSN 1096-1232