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Readers Theater for Kids

reader's theater in the classroom

Reader’s theater is always a hit with students, but it also has many reading benefits. Anything that kids love and that also works on important reading skills, is always a great choice for instructional practice. Here are the reasons why you should use reader’s theater in your classroom and how to make it work.

What is Reader’s Theater?

First, let’s make sure we’re on the same page. What exactly is reader’s theater? Reader’s theater is a classroom activity that involves students reading parts of a story out loud. Typically, students are given a script and work in small groups. Each student reads for their particular part or character. Reader’s theater can be completed on the spot, or you can give students time to practice before they perform their reader’s theater in front of the class. Normally, students practice without props or costumes, but you can always add them if you wish.

Why Use Reader’s Theater in Your Classroom?

reader's theater scripts

Okay, so now that we know what reader’s theater is, let’s talk about why we should use it. Here are the top 5 reasons you should use reader’s theater in your classroom.

Improves Fluency

The first and biggest reason to use reader’s theater in your classroom is that it helps students develop their fluency skills. Fluency, which is the ability to read with proper speed, accuracy, and expression, is a key component of reading. Reader’s theater encourages students to practice all of these skills. One of the best ways to improve reading fluency is to read a text multiple times. However, students often find this tedious and boring (I mean, can you blame them?). The beauty of reader’s theater is that students enjoy reading their part and working on their accuracy, speed, and expression. It’s also helpful for students to listen to other readers who are working to build their fluency as well. This brings us to reason number 2.

Practice Cooperative Learning Skills

Kids often learn best through cooperative activities with peers. I believe that kids are often the best teachers to their classmates for a couple of reasons. First, kids speak kid. They communicate on a different level than teachers to students. Secondly, kids often accept feedback from peers more easily than they do from teachers.

Additionally, in order for a reader’s theater to work well, students need to listen to each other, respond with feelings, and work together. With reader’s theater, students can work on their teamwork skills while also practicing their fluency and reading skills.

Easy to Differentiate for Students

Every student, from kindergarteners who are just learning to read, to fifth graders who are well established readers, can enjoy a reader’s theater with a small group. Reader’s theaters are easy to differentiate. You can choose to use a variety of scripts on different levels. You can also edit certain parts to be more or less difficult. By adjusting the word choice, vocabulary, length of sentences, and complexity of sentences, you can create a scripts that your whole class can enjoy (and, if you’re using our Editable Reader’s Theater Scripts, they’re editable and already designed for differentiation).

readers theater leveled scripts

Engaging and Fun

This one is simple. Reader’s theaters are fun, engaging, and a wonderful change of pace for students. I’ve used this activity with every grade from kindergarten through fifth, and I’ve never had a student not enjoy it. You can pick fun, seasonal topics. You can make them silly. And students will love it.

Develops Listening and Speaking Skills

Lastly, reader’s theater develops important listening and speaking skills. Students have to listen to their classmates to know when it’s their turn to speak. Additionally, if you decide to have students perform their reader’s theaters for the whole class (which can be a lot of fun for everyone), your students need to listen to follow along. Students also develop speaking skills. The “theater” part of reader’s theater forces students to use their voice more dynamically than they typically do when simply reading aloud.

Reader’s Theater Do’s and Don’ts

So, now that you know why to use reader’s theater, here is how to do it. The following are 10 do’s and don’ts for using this activity in your classroom.

Do Keep It Simple

The beauty of a good reader’s theater is that you don’t need anything but the scripts, some students, and a positive attitude. There’s no need for props, a set, costumes, or anything like that. If you want, you can have students wear nametags, put character’s names or pictures on popsicle sticks, or make a headband with their character’s name, but none of that is necessary. The best part of reader’s theater is how simple and easy it is to use. So, don’t overcomplicate it. Keep it simple!

Don’t Make Students Memorize

Reader’s theater feels a bit like a play, but the goal is not memorization. The goal is to practice reading fluency, not create a performance. So, while it’s totally fine to have students read their reader’s theaters to other groups, memorization isn’t the goal.

Don’t Make it One and Done

Since the goal is fluency practice, you shouldn’t only have students read through their reader’s theater script once. Students should read through the script at least 2 times. This allows them to build fluency and get better and more comfortable each time. Personally, I recommend three full read-throughs when my small groups are practicing reader’s theater.

  • First Read– Give your students a chance to read through their part on their own. Have them highlight their parts as the read it.
  • Practice Read– Have students read through their reader’s theater with their group. They should do this at least 2 times.
  • Performance Read– Have students take turns reading their reader’s theater in front of their classmates. Establish and encourage good audience etiquette.

Of course, keep in mind that the goal isn’t to create a full play. However, I find having two small groups listen to each other read is fun for all, and practices listening and speaking skills.

Do Let Them Get Into It

One of the best things about reader’s theater is that it often excites even the most reluctant readers. So, let them get into it. It’s okay if they’re being silly, loud, or overly dramatic. In fact, that’s half of the appeal! The more expression from your students, the better.

Don’t Assume Students Know What They’re Doing

Most students probably haven’t been in a play before. Although a reader’s theater isn’t a play, it requires some of the same skills. Make sure students realize that they only read their parts, that they don’t read any stage directions, but instead act it out, and that they have to follow along. Take the time to model the behaviors you expect.

Do Have Students Highlight Their Parts

One of the biggest tips I can offer is to make sure you have students highlight their parts. Otherwise, you will have a lot of students who don’t know where they are or when they should read. If your students are younger, it might be easier to highlight their parts for them ahead of time. Pro tip: a yellow crayon works just as well as a highlighter marker.

Do Practice Listening Skills

A huge part of a successful reader’s theater is having students who are able to listen while their peers read. After all, if they don’t listen, they won’t know when it’s their turn to speak. They also won’t know how to change their voice to match the plot. I recommend taking the time to model how to actively listen while classmates are reading. They should read along in their script and listen for their time to speak.

Don’t Take It Too Seriously

As with anything in the classroom, you can’t take it too seriously. It is supposed to be a fun and engaging way to practice fluency. Don’t be upset or surprised if students are silly, laughing, and maybe a little loud when they’re practicing. As long as students are truly practicing and engaging, it’s all part of the process. I’ve found the best reader’s theater make kids laugh and give them a chance to be silly.

Do Use it All Year Long

The wonderful thing about reader’s theater is that it works great in the beginning of the year when students are new to your classroom. It works great in the middle of the year during those long, cold, winter months. And lastly, it works well to keep students engaged during the end of the year when attention spans are shortened. It truly is a great tool to use all year long.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Of course you can create your own reader’s theater scripts, but it’s really not necessary to reinvent the wheel. We’ve create a bundle of monthly reader’s theaters that are perfect for your classroom. Each of the 12 months includes 3 reader’s theater scripts at 3 different ability levels. The scripts are written with kids in mind. They’re silly, seasonal, engaging, and fun!

Best of all, they’re editable, so you can make any changes you want to them. If you want to include your current vocab or spelling words, you can add them in. You can edit the parts to have more or less characters or change the names to your own student’s names. If you want to take out or add something to the story, you can do that as well. These reader’s theater scripts are designed to save you time, keep your students engaged, help them practice fluency, and make your life easier. With a PDF and Google Slides version, they can work for in person or distance learning as well.

Bonus: Keep Your Students Accountable

If you are concerned that your students will not take your reader’s theater seriously, you can keep them accountable with a simple student rubric. Simply have students rate their own participation after working with their groups. We’ve create a free, editable student rubric that you can use. Just click the picture below to download it.

An image of a reader's theater student rubric with the text free download next to it.
free reader's theater rubric
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