Using Reader's Theater in the Elementary Classroom


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  • In this presentation I will describe what reader’s theater is, how it can be part of a balanced literacy curriculum, and how the process can be altered to suit the needs of a wide range of learners.
  • I will describe what reader’s theater is, how to implement a RT over the course of a school week, and how the process can be altered to suit the needs of a wide range of learners.
  • During a RT, students use scripts that can be adapted from literature, informational texts, or poetry. Students could also create their own scripts through the writers’ workshop process. The focus of RT is on the process of reading and performing using fluent, expressive reading. The performance is about reading, not costumes, sets, or memorization skills. This means that the learning and instructional time leading up to the performance is always focused on literacy. A RT production could be a small group or a whole class.
  • Educator Tim Rasinki has published widely about using readers’ theater in the classroom. He cautions that much instruction designed to build reading fluency focuses disproportionately on speed while neglecting vocal expression, intonation, and phrasing, which are integral to comprehension. He writes that readers’ theater offers an authentic means of working toward fluency and that “students are more likely to practice or rehearse (assisted or repeated readings) if they know that they will be performing a reading for an audience. Moreover, such rehearsal is not aimed at reading speed but at reading with meaningful expression” (2009, p. 5). Through the use of drama, students take a more active role in the reading process by engaging multiple modalities. In dramatic expression students recreate experiences through facial expressions, intonations, and body movements. Students actively participate throughout the process as opposed to passively taking in information.
  • Listening to how students read is one way to assess their comprehension. If a student does not use proper phrasing, emphasis, or intonation, then it might indicate that they are word calling or decoding without understanding. RT increases fluency through repeated readings and this increased level of automaticity frees up students to devote mental energy to the higher level thinking that is necessary for comprehending the text at a literal, inferential, or applied level.
  • In an second-grade RT project completed by Peck and Virkler, the researchers concluded that “Students were immersed in literature for longer durations and for different purposes than when engaging in the usual guided reading and literacy centers. Students engaged in silent reading, reading to rehearse, choral reading, and reading aloud in turn to enact a script. They embraced the sincerity of purpose for reading as they prepared for the culminating event
  • Students typically enjoy performing RT, especially when the process is designed to support all learners. They are motivated by the performance and so the repeated readings are infused with an authentic purpose. Also, the cycle of learning in RT incorporates many different learning styles and so those students who prefer movement, listening, reading, cooperative work, or speaking have the chance to learn through practicing those skills.
  • While it feasible to create your own scripts, there are many free reader’s theater scripts available online. This presentation concludes with resources to explore. In addition, using RT offers an opportunity to bring literacy development into other curriculum. There are nonfiction scripts available to connect with many curriculum areas or students can write their own scripts.
  • Finally, our instruction must always lead back to our national and state learning standards. RT supports meeting an essential literacy standard that remains consistent throughout much of the elementary years: Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.
  • Now I will describe how a RT can be implemented in a second-grade classroom. Lousy, Rotten, Stinkin’ Grapes is a book by Margie Palatini in which she retells the fable the Fox and the Grapes.
  • On Monday, I would lead an interactive read aloud using the picture book with the group. This story has characters with very distinct voices. I would focus my mini-lesson on noticing details in the text and illustrations that inform us about characterization. For example, what detail words does the author use to tell us about the fox’s personality? The objective for focusing on this skill is to support the students in figuring out how to read their roles with appropriate expression. The group would then do a choral reading of the script. For homework, students will reread their scripts and think about what role they would like. The script can be used for rereading homework throughout the week.
  • On Tuesday, students will work cooperatively to select roles. When RT is a new process for the class, the teacher will need to take a very active role in helping students to decide who gets what roles. As students become more accustomed to the process, they can implement self-management strategies like using rocks, paper, scissors, or drawing names from a hat.
  • Wednesday is dedicated to rereading in order to work out any individual problems students are having decoding words or understanding word meaning. As automaticity increases, students can focus more on prosodic features like using expression, appropriate volume, intonation, and phrasing. Focusing on prosody is were students sharpen their understanding of the text. A reader who conveys the snarky, bossy voice of the fox really understands who his is as a character. This work can be accomplished individually, but also with peer and teacher coaching. One method to use during this phase of the process is the neurological-impress method. With this method, a strong reader sets a steady, quick enough pace and also reads with appropriate prosody. This method helps less proficient readers mimic the features of fluent readers. It helps less proficient readers get used to the pace and sound of fluent reading.
  • Thursday is focused on whole group rehearsal and final tweaking to get ready for the performance. Facilitating group cooperation will be important at this stage as well.
  • Friday is performance day. This should be a fun experience that celebrates the hard work of the group. Part of the process can also include self-reflection. Ask the students, “What was hard? What reading skills did you practice? What did you enjoy? What would you like to do differently or the same for our next readers theater?” The performance can be just for the classroom or you can invite others in. Some teachers also use password protected sites and post recordings of the RT. This is an excellent way for families connect with the classroom and one way to track progress over the course of the year.
  • By it’s nature, RT is a natural fit for Universal Design for Learning. The process is flexible enough to easily provide accommodations and modifications and to differentiate for individual learners.
  • Selecting scripts offers an excellent way to meet the needs of individual learners. You can select scripts that contain roles with a variety of reading levels. You can also support emergent readers with scripts that have choruses during which everyone reads together. This would allow some readers to be supported with the neurological-impress method thoughout the process. Scripts can be altered to meet the needs of individual learners with low-tech interventions like highlighting, increasing font size, and reducing visual clutter. Another idea is to send students who cannot read the script at an independent level home with an audio recording of the story. This should go home Monday and be available throughout the week. You could either use CDs or post a podcast recording on your classroom website.
  • There are many options for grouping students in readers theater. For example, a more proficient reader can lead during choral reading sessions when using the neurological-impress method or you could group students who have an affinity for a particular author or topic. Because the RT process involves a lot of cooperative work, it is important to be mindful when creating groups. If a particular student struggles with staying on task, he or she should be grouped with students who can attend to the task at hand. Also, any tools that a student uses to stay on task, for example an organizer of tasks broken down into smaller chunks, should be used at this time.
  • The variety of reading levels within a text make it easy to modify the RT process for individual students. If a particular student is an emergent reader, his or her objective might be to participate in choral reading by matching the pace and prosody of the other students. If another student is reading word-by-word, her objective might be to improve her phrasing and read more smoothly. Another student might be working on increasing attention and his objective might be to sustain attention in order to follow along. By it’s nature, the RT process does not establish one learning objective, but rather encourages all to participate in the learning process at their individual level.Thank you for listening to this presentation on reader’s theater. I hope you are inspired to try it out!
  • Using Reader's Theater in the Elementary Classroom

    1. 1. Using Reader’s Theater inthe Elementary Classroom
    2. 2. Overview •Why use reader’s 1 theater? •Reader’s theater in 2 action •Reader’s theater 3 adapted and modified
    3. 3. What is Reader’sTheater? Scripts are usually adapted from literature Minimal or no costumes Minimal or no sets No memorization! Actors read from scripts Flexible group size
    4. 4. RT Encourages Fluency Emphasizes accuracy and speed (steady rate) Emphasizes prosody (using vocal expression, intonation, and phrasing) Research published by Tim Rasinski supports using RT to increase fluency
    5. 5. RT SupportsComprehension  Students who read with appropriate expression understand text  Fluent readers can devote attention to more complex comprehension
    6. 6. RT Includes DifferentPurposes for Reading Silent reading Rereading Choral reading Reading to perform
    7. 7. RT Is Engaging  Performance is an authentic rationale for repeated readings  Incorporates multiple modalities: auditory, visual, kinesthetic
    8. 8. RT Is Flexible  Scripts are widely available  Scripts can be any genre: nonfiction, fiction, poetry, etc.  Students can write scripts
    9. 9. RT Supports Common CoreStandards CCSS.ELA-Literacy. RF.1.4, 2.4, 3.4, 4.4, 5.4  Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension
    10. 10. Instructional Sequence:One week in Grade 2
    11. 11. Monday Guided reading: mini-lesson focusing on comprehension skill Choral reading Students reread script for homework
    12. 12. Tuesday Students select roles Teacher facilitates group cooperation in choosing roles
    13. 13. Wednesday Students work on word meaning, decoding , and prosody individually and with peer/teacher coaching Use neurological- impress method (NIM)
    14. 14. Thursday Practice with group Reading with automaticity Cooperation to tweak performance
    15. 15. FridayPerformance! For class For other students For larger community Multi-media
    16. 16. RT Is Flexible Accommodation Differentiation Modification
    17. 17. Accommodation and Differentiation: Scripts Select scripts based on content area, reading level, student interest, literary elements, text features Alter text: highlight, increase font size, reduce visual clutter Provide audio support
    18. 18. Accommodation andDifferentiation: Grouping Balance groups heterogeneously or homogeneously depending on purpose and focus Facilitate group work with careful pairing
    19. 19. Modification  Performance expectations match learning objectives
    20. 20. References Kelner L. & Flynn R. (2006). A dramatic approach to reading comprehension. New York: Heineman. Peck, S. & Virkler A. (2006). Reading in the shadows: Extending literacy through shadow-puppet theater. The Reading Teacher 59(1), p. 786-792. Young, C. & Rasinski, T. (2009). “Implementing readers theatre as an approach to classroom fluency instruction. The Reading Teacher 63(1), p. 4-13.
    21. 21. Resources 2/readers-theater/