How to Implement the Reader’s Theater Teaching Strategy in Your Classroom
In a learning activity based on the reader’s theater method, groups of learners are assigned a text excerpt to present to their peers. As opposed to performing skits of the plot, a reader’s theater asks learners to create a performance that reveals a message, theme, or conflict embodied in the content. As learners practice this learning activity, they become more proficient at utilizing the words of the content to depict concepts and ideas. This is an effective way to help learners process dilemmas experienced by characters in a piece of content. This is also an effective activity to use with emotionally compelling content, such as Night by Elie Wiesel.
- Select Excerpts: Depending on how many learners are in your class, you will likely need to identify four or five excerpts or “scenes” for this learning activity. Typically, groups of four to six learners are assigned different sections of content to interpret, although it is certainly possible to have groups understand the same excerpt. When selecting passages for use in a reader’s theater learning activity, keep in mind these suggestions:
- Shorter passages allow learners to look more deeply at specific language than more extended excerpts do. Often passages are only a few paragraphs long.
- Utilize excerpts that contain one main action or decision-making point.
- Excerpts must address an essential theme in the content; they must embody more than just the plotline.
- Learners Read Excerpts: Before groups are assigned scenes to interpret, allow learners to read the pieces silently. This step familiarizes learners with the wording of the content. After the content is read aloud, invite learners to ask clarifying questions about the vocabulary or plot. This way, learners can begin their group work, ready to interpret their assigned scene.
- Groups Prepare for Performance: Assign scenes (excerpts) to groups. In their small groups, learners read their assigned scenes aloud again. As they read, learners must pay attention to theme, language, and tone. You may ask learners to highlight or underline the words that stand out to them. Groups may choose to read their scenes two or three times and then to have a conversation about the terms and phrases they have highlighted. Then groups discuss the scene. At the end of this discussion, learners must agree on the words, theme, or message embodied in this excerpt that they would most like to share with the class. To help format the groups’ conversations, you may provide them with a set of questions to answer. Now learners are ready to prepare their performance. Learners must be reminded that the goal is not to perform a skit of their scene but to utilize specific language (words and phrases) to embody the conflict, theme, or underlying message of that excerpt. Performances can be silent, or they can utilize voice in creative ways, such as by composing a choral reading that emphasizes crucial phrases. Learners can use movement, or they can hold their body positions to create an image frozen in time, much like a photograph. It often helps to give learners a list of guidelines or suggestions to follow when preparing their presentations
- Groups Perform: There are many ways to format performances. Some instructors ask learners to take notes while all groups perform. Then learners utilize their notes to guide their reactions to the performances. Alternatively, instructors may ask learners to comment instantly after each performance.
- Learners Reflect: After presenting and debriefing performances, allow learners to reflect on their learning and participation in this learning activity. How did it feel to perform? How did it feel to receive feedback? What would they do differently next time? Learners can answer these questions in their journals, and then you can allow volunteers to share ideas or questions from what they wrote.