Teaching the Key Components of Reading–with Reader’s Theater

Brian Smith, a teacher and great presenter from North Carolina
Brian Smith, a teacher and great presenter from North Carolina

By Brian Smith

From the summary of the research by the National Reading Panel, we know that there are five components of reading–phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. As  experienced teachers,  we know the one that can be the hardest to work on is fluency. Fluency is the ability to decode and comprehend text at a consistent speed. There are fluency “fixes”, but when we look at mastery of any of the five areas of reading, organic practice is the most influential in a student’s retention of that skill.

Reader’s Theater is the most ideal way that I have found to work on fluency with my beginning readers. Since I am not a fan of the typical fluency “fix” of sending home passages and having students do timed reading to see how many words they can read in the set amount of time, I decided to see what the research said. In Carla Hymes’ research  Analyzing the Effects Readers Theater can have on Fluency she found, “The findings indicate that implementing Readers’ Theater within an elementary classroom on a regular basis can improve all aspects of fluency with students who have varying reading levels and abilities.”

Every teacher can easily implement reader’s theater in their classroom by remembering four simple tips.

All the World is a Stage – Find the Right Script
There are so many great scripts out that cover a variety of fiction and nonfiction topics, including historical figures, holidays, folktales, science, math and poetry. And because there are scripts that cover almost every topic, working on fluency throughout the day is super simple.

Become a Great Director – Empower your Students
Poor readers typically know they struggle. Reader’s theater is a great way to give these students reading practice. Grouping students by ability level isn’t necessary when working on a script. If you work with the struggling students before you begin with the rest of your cast then you they will actually be working on reading fluently while the other fluent readers are reading the script for the first time. That is differentiation at it’s finest.

Providing Props – Less is More
The best advice that I can give is to find one prop for each character. One defining piece of costuming or obvious prop makes your students take their role more seriously but doesn’t distract from the purpose of reader’s theater which is of course to work on reading skills.

A Captive Audience – The Product
It doesn’t matter whether your audience is the rest of your class, a class down the hall, or a room full of your class parents, they are important. If you don’t allow your cast to perform their script for an audience, when you use reader’s theater in the future, they won’t “buy-in” to this fantastic instructional strategy and therefore the benefits of reader’s theater may be diminished.

Brian's students illustrate his point about having quick costumes or props.
Brian’s students illustrate his point about having quick costumes or props.

Hymes, C., Analyzing the Effects Readers Theater can have on Fluency, http://www.eiu.edu/researchinaction/pdf/Carla_Hymes_Paper.pdf

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