Over the years I have frequently done Reader’s Theater with my students. They love to read the scripts I’ve printed out, and I have found no better way to practice fluency as they expressively read the same passages over and over again during rehearsals. This year, I put a bit of a different twist on our reader’s theatre and it worked so well, and like the kids, I can hardly wait until we do it again.
After reading Because of Winn Dixie by Kate diCamillo, my students broke into groups to practice the Reader’s Theatre Script I had printed off for all of them. The script was long so when it came time to perform for the class, each group chose just one scene to do for us. Digging into our class prop box, the students eagerly transformed themselves into Opal, Gloria Dump, Sweetie, the Preacher, Gertrude the bird, and of course, Winn Dixie. After all the performances were over, my boys and girls immediately wanted to do another one. But I didn’t have another one. They were so excited and eager to read and act out another script that I couldn’t say no. So I was flexible, and I improvised, and I told the students that they would have to write their own Reader’s Theater scripts. Squeals of delight filled the room.
Together, we generated a list of all the chapter and picture books we had read as a class this year. Next, the students, who were still in their Winn Dixie groups, selected one book they wanted to turn into a Reader’s Theatre production. During our language arts time the next two days, scripts were written and rewritten using a graphic organizer I had provided. The guidelines were simple–each play needed to be between 3-5 minutes long and everyone in the group had to have just about the same number of lines, even if it meant one person playing a few different roles. I suggested that they use the formatting of the Winn Dixie script they had just read as a model. I stood back hesitantly and watched as students argued over what the narrator would say or how a character would act. As conflicts arose and they looked to me, I didn’t intervene but told them compromise was the word of the day.
What resulted at the end of the second day amazed me. The type of jaw-dropping amazement you don’t expect in a third grade classroom the last week of school. This twist on Reader’s Theatre–an impromptu decision of having the students write their own Reader’s Theater scripts, may have been the best decision I made this year. Group after group went in front of the class and performed well-written, spot-on scenes from Stone Fox, Wayside School is Falling Down, The Whipping Boy, and The Tale of Despereaux. Each script honestly sounded as if they were reading from one which was professionally written. Using materials from the prop box added to the fun as girls played boys’ roles wearing hats and mustaches while the boys happily sported pink tutus and hula skirts to read the roles of female characters. I can also honestly say, that just like my students, I can hardly wait ‘til next time.