An Introduction to Readers Theater
My very first theatrical experience was nothing more than a fluke my fourth grade year of elementary school. A teacher asked me if I would be willing to fill in for a student who got nervous about performing at my elementary schools annual "Veterans Day Play". We all read off of cheat cards, but together we managed to pull off the performance. The following year I signed up for additional performances, and by middle school I was performing in my first community theater play The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
By my sophomore year in high school I became an inducted member of the International Thespian Society, and by my junior year I was an Honors Thespian of the ITS. I soon spread my abilities to the backstage aspect of theater in places such as lighting, sound, stage crew, set design, and even directing. No matter where the stage took me, my favorite memory has always been that first performance in the Veterans Day Play because that was the first time I felt like I was a part of something bigger than myself.
That is the beauty of childhood theater: a group of kids working together to create something amazing.
During my last two years of high school, I had the opportunity to participate in an after school program my high school theater director had started at a neighboring elementary school. The elementary school's art programs had been dramatically cut, and so we volunteered our time every Friday afternoon to teach students the basics of theater. Never in my life have I ever seen such an excitable group of young individuals so willing to be engaged in something that requires reading and other important important skill-sets taught at the elementary level.
It was not until college that I heard of a program that embodies the importance of reading with this drifting art form we call theater. The Reader’s Theater Program encourages students to study repeated texts through scripts and to break out of their comfort zones. In doing so, Reader’s Theater Programs have improved fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary skills. The program encourages critical thinking, teaches vital social skills, and introduces children to new cultures through the scripts. Readers Theater, although most commonly used in reading classes, may also be implemented into other courses as well.
Reader’s Theater gives students a reason to engage in the repeated readings of texts, one of the most efficient ways to improve reading skills in young children. Most children rather not sit and read the same stories repeatedly, but with Reader’s Theater it gives the student a more interesting reason to do so, knowing that in the next day or so they will be performing the text for their peers. Students read their stories out loud, similar to a play, but normally without props or costumes unless the teacher decides otherwise as a way to entertain the students and interest them further.
In each Reader’s Theater script the parts are color coded. Each of the characters of each individual story are for different levels of reading, allowing teachers to group more advanced readers with younger, less experienced readers. For example, one student who is a more avid reader would be given the role of a character that uses more advanced words or phrases, allowing that particular student to increase his or her own vocabulary while the less advanced student is able to read from the same script with a role not requiring a substantial amount of new vocabulary. The less advanced student will still have just as big of a role and speak just as frequently as the more advanced reader, but with simpler words and phrasings that are appropriate to his reading capabilities.
Readers Theater can be adapted to more than just elementary reading classes. If elementary teachers work together on a Readers Theater script, other courses can get involved. Imagine this scenario: a group of elementary teachers get together to begin a course focusing on a Readers Theater script. The script these teachers have chosen is a comedy about the old west. The reading teacher has children studying new vocabulary that will appear in the script. In history class, students gather information on their characters by researching the type of characters they will play; Little Susie is playing a train conductor in the play and so she is given an assignment by her history teacher to research train stations in the old west while Bobby, who is playing a postman, gets to study about the pony express and present his findings to the class. In math, students are studying measurements and so are held responsible for building "flats" for the backdrop of the upcoming show. In art, the students paint the flats for the background of their upcoming play. All of this time put into a single production encourages students to read, and re-read their script.
Of course, not all schools go to such lengths to expand the Readers Theater Program to other courses, but it can be done, and it adds meaning and pride to the students performances.
Readers Theater is a remarkable program. Ask your child's elementary school whether or not they have considered implementing Readers Theater into their reading courses today!