Figurative Language Processing: Reader’s Theater & Drama

Readers Theater with Shurley english.jpg

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. To view the next post in this series, click here.)

Figurative Language Processing and the Writer’s Workshop

Writer's Workshop with Shurley English.jpg

As part of my series-within-a-series for figurative language processing, writer’s workshop might seem like a surprising topic to bring up in a discussion about reading comprehension. But, it’s not. I have worked with many students through the years, many who struggled with reading comprehension. They struggled for various reasons, but I discovered that even the poorest readers could read their own writing.


So, writer’s workshop proved to be a very important step when helping struggling readers to find not only their writing voice, but also their reading voice. When you couple that with showing the students how to nuance their writing by using figurative language, they can then connect that understanding to both reading and writing.


Ben Franklin’s old truism about teaching goes: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” It’s as true today as it was when he first said it. That’s why writer’s workshop is an ideal event where students gain real experience with figurative language.


I set up writer’s workshops just like I set up literature groups. Every other day, students will either engage in a literature group or in a writer’s workshop. During the writer’s workshop, a lesson about alliteration, for example, might have spring boarded from the previous day’s literature group discussion about a tongue twister, like Peter Piper. After having immense fun reading Peter Piper and having discussed alliteration, the topic for the next writer’s workshop is born!


Each writer is asked to create their own tongue twister, which will highlight alliteration as the “skill” to sharpen up. At the next writer’s workshop, students will be encouraged to read their tongue twisters aloud or in pairs. This is just a simple example to demonstrate how simply figurative language can be taught in a hands-on way, using writing as the vehicle.


You might want to try using writer’s workshop to encourage your kids’ figurative language processing skills. Below is a list of types of figurative language that you can explore:

  • alliteration

  • onomatopoeia

  • rhymes

  • similes

  • metaphors

  • personification


If you do an internet search for children’s books and youth’s novels that serve as excellent mentor texts for each of these kinds of figurative language, you will be amazed at the multiple opportunities you can offer your students to dabble with figurative language and truly comprehend it.

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

Micro-comprehension: Figurative Language Processing

Reading with Shurley english.jpg

If you are a reading teacher, or if you have a sweeping love of books, you probably know about literary devices, which include figurative language. In this series about micro-comprehension, I have been touching upon the kinds of connections students need to make with stories they read or hear. Those connections are possible when micro-comprehension is happening in the reader’s mind.


Most of the time, students get asked lots of questions during and after a reading lesson that focus upon macro-comprehension, an overall understanding about a passage. But teachers are often baffled when students perform poorly on comprehension checks and seem to have completely misunderstood what they were reading or hearing. That may be caused by students having poor micro-comprehension. Better macro-comprehension results if we can help students master micro-comprehension strategies.


Up to this point, I have introduced the importance of a rich vocabulary as a starting point. Then, I discussed gap-filling inference and sentence structure processing. Today, I want to get into the nitty-gritty of figurative language processing. 


Figurative language, sometimes called “picture language,” can be found everywhere in our culture, from the lyrics of our favorite songs to tag lines in commercials. But we can find almost every type of figurative language in poetry and in fine literature. Fortunately, many children’s authors use figurative language wisely to help young readers explore their imaginations—to actually see stories. It’s an ideal way to expose students to beautiful language which can be both literal and figurative at the same time. Learning how to process this kind of eloquent language is extremely complex. Figurative language processing pushes students cognitively, encouraging them to think in the abstract.


Notice the following strategies that promote figurative language processing.

  • Group literature study

  • Writer’s Workshop

  • Readers’ Theatre/Drama


Each of these strategies has a common attribute: They all include various kinds of figurative language, such as metaphors, personification, and similes—as well as a host of other types of literary devices. For an extensive list of these kinds of figurative language devices (also called rhetorical devices), check out this site and others like it.


Group Literature Study

In the classroom, literature study unlocks a universe of figurative language. Students of all levels benefit from focused attention about this exciting way of thinking! Be aware, however, that very young students may or may not be developmentally prepared to handle such abstract thought at first, so start small. I’ll get to the younger students later. For now, let’s deal with students who already know how to think in the abstract. Below, I have outlined how I conduct a literature study group:

 1. Establish groups: I like to have literature study groups in lieu of traditional reading groups, which have often been determined by ability. I prefer interest-based arrangements. In other words, I present to the entire class three or four short novels for them to choose from. I make sure the genres are varied and that the books have in-depth story lines with well-defined characters. I present a sort of “Book Commercial” to the students about each book and then have them choose one of the novels to study. Since the study may take up to a couple of months to finish, I strive to be as comprehensive as possible when I “advertise” a novel. I want my students to have a strong desire to study it thoroughly.


2.  Determine frequency: Sometimes, your schedule will allow you to meet every day with your literature group. Since I prefer to have four groups (four novels), two of my groups meet M-W-F one week, and then they meet T-Th the following week. The other three groups are set up with the same schedule with two groups meeting every day. Each session lasts between 30-45 minutes.


3. Pre-read: Pre-read the novels to be studied before your students get into the groups—you cannot talk about what you do not know! However, if you prefer, you can just make sure you stay one or two chapters ahead of where your students are in the books as you go along. The pre-reading phase is all-important because this allows you to make notes in the margin of your book…notes that highlight author’s purpose, unique features of the story, special character attributes, and of course the figurative language the author uses.


4. Reading assignments: During the actual studies, I always want my students to feel free to read aloud during the group meeting, as opposed to round-robin reading. Think of the meetings as the kind of book club meetings you may participate in as an adult reader. Keeping the literature discussion as casual as possible make the study less intimidating. You’re establishing a literacy culture when you do this.

I don’t force my students to read aloud during group, but I highly encourage the risk-taking involved when they do decide to take a turn. For those who do not volunteer to read aloud, make sure you have the chance to hear them read at other times when the stress is low. After a short time of read aloud by the students (10-15 minutes), I assign independent reading before leaving the session for that day. Try to cover a chapter every other day. You must determine the volume of reading you wish to cover with your students. Marginal readers cannot handle as much volume, so go easy at first. Increase their independent reading gradually.


5. Literary discussion: The rich discussion and conversation that results from literature study is the most exciting part! Teachers do well to use a give-and-take approach to help students get the most out of the discussion. I discussed in previous blog entries about the importance of teacher modeling. Modeling a think-aloud is easy when you take a turn to read aloud in group just like you want your students to do. When I take my turn, I strategically “think out loud” about a specific use of language, a specific character’s role in the story, or whatever, so that students can start to pick up on how to think about literature. And, since my focus for this entire blog series is promoting micro-comprehension, let me add that during my own think alouds, I make a pretty big deal about how authors use figurative language. This segues to a review of my overall theme for this blog series: encouraging micro-comprehension.


Next time, I will dig into Writer’s Workshop with you and show you how both Literature Study Groups and Writer’s Workshop serve as a dynamic duo to help students get a firm grasp on figurative language processing.

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