Monday, September 28, 2020

Resources for Educators: Readers Theater

More and more, teachers are requesting educational resources that go beyond traditional teachers guides and activity sheets. So while I do still have those kinds of materials on my website, I’m also offering resources that delve deeply into the nonfiction reading and writing process from an author’s point of view. 

Some of these resources focus on books I’ve written and describe various stages of my creative process in detail, while others provide more general information  and highlight books written by a wide variety of nonfiction authors.  

On Mondays this year, I’m going to be sharing some of these resources and providing ideas for how they might be used in the classroom. Today, I’m going to focus on the Readers Theater Scripts.

Readers Theater is a reading activity that employs theatrical techniques without the hassle of props, costumes, or sets. Instead of memorizing lines, students read directly from scripts, using intonation, facial expressions, and gestures to create characters that transport the audience into the story.

This fun, whole-class activity has many benefits. For starters, it builds fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension, and studies show gains carry over to new and unpracticed texts. In addition, Readers Theater promotes cooperative interaction among students, improves listening and speaking skills, and helps even the shyest students develop self-confidence when reading aloud.

Children get excited about Readers Theater because they’re natural performers and love using their imaginations. This activity allows emergent, struggling, and more advanced readers to participate in the same performance with equal success. Perhaps most importantly, it gives repetitive reading a purpose because students want to do well during the performance. 

Using Readers Theater to introduce and reinforce life science concepts can be especially powerful. Here’s why:
—Students are more likely to retain ideas and information when they’re incorporated into a fun activity.
—Students feel a connection to the creatures they portray and may learn to see the world from the animals’ point of view.
—Students gain a deeper understanding of animal behaviors and lifestyles.
—Students discover how living things interact.
—Students become more aware of the roles plants and animals play in their environment.

While many Readers Theater scripts include just ten or twelve parts, the ones I’ve created have twice as many roles, so no child is left out. The parts vary in complexity to accommodate students at a variety of reading levels, and the scripts include a variety of choruses to keep everyone involved and engaged throughout the reading.

Recently, Minnesota teacher Pam Patron Warren suggested another great use for the scripts on my website. She uses them as paired passages with the book they accompany. This approach allows students to see examples of the same information being presented in two different ways.

For example, the books Feathers: Not Just for Flying and Under the Snow have a lyrical voice, while the readers theater scripts are more lively and humorous. Students can compare the two texts and discuss why I wrote them differently.

Because the animals become characters that speak in the scripts, students can also discuss how the shift in point of view turns the writing into informational fiction, while the books themselves are expository nonfiction.

Pam says these paired-passage lessons are “fun and accessible to all the kids in my class.” I encourage you to give this teaching strategy a try.

For more information about Readers Theater, including tips for writing scripts based on books you love, check out this article.

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