Figurative Language Processing: Reader’s Theater & Drama

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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!

(This post is part of a series on Micro-Comprehension. To start at the beginning, click here.)

The Benefits of Using Drama Activities in Your Classroom

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Next up on the emotional intelligence list is—wait for it…drama in the classroom…the kind that won’t make you nuts! This subject is near and dear to my heart because I have been a community theatre enthusiast most of my life! I suppose I just gravitated toward drama because I liked the fantasy, the story, the chance to be someone else.

Unknowingly, drama was actually helping me become more in tune with other people—on and off the stage. That’s the crux of helping students in the classroom with dramatic presentations. They allow kids the chance to grapple with their own emotions and personalities as they learn how to interpret a character in a play. Kids forge self-awareness skills each time they attempt to interpret a character in a story. These skills spill over into real life relationships.

Self-Management. If there is one quality a teacher wants in students, it’s self-management. Kids who can manage their own practice, their own behavior, and their own reactions to situations have a better chance at success in life. What better platform to practice these behaviors than a play!

Self-Direction. When kids engage in drama, they learn how to explore different parts of their personalities…sometimes parts that are very confusing—maybe even a bit scary. But, the setting for a play serves as a safe-zone by giving them the freedom to try various approaches to interpret their character. Kids who learn how to balance their own emotional needs and wants develop self-direction, in other words, they get motivated. Self-direction is slightly more complex than self-management. Self-directing kids learn not only how to adjust their expectations of themselves, but also that of others. Because drama pushes students to explore their own motivations and the motivations of others, they learn how to direct their own emotional messages and how to perceive the emotional messages of others. What a life benefit!

Fun. While drama does help kids with connecting their emotions with learning, let’s not forget that for many kids, drama is just plain fun! Just as in great novels and stories that kids read, a dramatic or comedic play can have a powerful impact on a kid’s outlook on life. Being involved with others, acting out roles, pretending to be something or someone else is often just what kids need to elevate their self-esteem and grow their confidence.

Give it a Try! To get the drama started in your classroom, search the internet for “plays for kids in the classroom.” You will find more than enough resources to get you going. Also, check out your anthologies and literature sets. Sometimes it is better for you and your students to write your own plays based on stories you all love. However you implement it, take it slow…start small. Then, as you all grow in your ability to interpret the various stories, branch out. I have no doubt you will be pleased with the results you see in your students.

(This post is part of a series on Emotional Intelligence. To start at the beginning, click here.)