Reading fluency, comprehension, prosody (the highs and lows of the voice to convey emotion), —these facets of reading sound like a bunch of educational mumbo-jumbo, but they matter! As I continue to poke around in figurative language processing, these components have to be mentioned because many readers need us to teach these skills directly, at least until they get the idea. Sounds like a lot to manage? Not really—not if you root these skills in an activity that rightly brings each area to the forefront in a kid’s thinking.
I am talking about Reader’s Theater and other dramatic activities. Because I am a nut about drama and all things related to the stage, these kinds of strategies allow me to use my passion for words, expressions, figurative language, poise, elocution, drama…blah, blah, blah, and enable me to get kids excited about them, too. In Reader’s Theater and plays, reading, of course, is a demanded skill, but because the focus is not only reading, but also “how” to read with expression, fluency, prosody, and breathing techniques to create dramatic entrances and pauses. This kind of reading is sneaky because it rehearses the important reading skills kids need, but it does so under the guise of performance. The dramatic arts allow students, who get tunnel-vision by the minutia of reading, to experience a major boost in their reading ability and overall confidence.
Reader’s Theater and plays take on many forms. Sometimes a solo, sometimes a duet, sometimes a whole group; it doesn’t matter how you configure it. It only matters that the reading material sparks students’ interests. Plays, of course, take the skill further by adding a dimension of memory work and blocking of characters.
When I was in the fourth grade, I will never forget Mrs. Hollmann, who challenged our whole class to memorize Paul Revere’s Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. She arranged all twenty-four of us into various-sized groups and set us to practicing the poem. In those days, we didn’t add in special sound effects or fancy inflections, but we performed it together as a class after all that rehearsal. You see, it was during the hard work of learning the poem, reading it over and over, memorizing a large part of it, that many of us found a voice—our own voice. And in doing so, we also improved our reading skills without realizing that it was our reading Mrs. Hollmann was pushing us to improve. We just thought it was exciting!
Later in school, drama on the stage afforded me the same kinds of rehearsal. When I carried that knowledge into the classroom, the results were truly “dramatic”! Never underestimate the value of good classroom drama.
I don’t have enough space here to publish all of the possible ways for you to incorporate Reader’s Theater or classroom plays, but if you do an internet search for the key words: reader’s theater or student plays, you will discover no end to the amount of amazing material available to get you going! Be sure to choose works that are just slightly more advanced than your students’ current readability levels. You can use any one of the online reading scales to check for grade levels most suited for a particular piece. In addition, you can go to the following site to access ideal literature for Reader’s Theater and this site for scripts students can use in their classroom plays. In no time at all, you can have your students reading and performing!