The reading improvement class slouches into the library. Although their teacher reminded them when they left their classroom, Surly Sixth Grade Boy has managed to leave his reader’s notebook and his pencil behind. When he did the same thing last week, I told him that no one ever needs to arrive at the learning space in the library unprepared. Paper, pencils, and other school supplies are conveniently located right next to the entry door on open shelves and I sent him to get what he needed. Now I make eye contact, and Surly Sixth Grade Boy stares right back at me. In the interest of picking my battles, I decided to ignore his challenge so I begin by pointing to the purpose question for our lesson on the whiteboard: How can I choose books that will help me grow as a reader?
Another student blurts out, “Are we going to do a play today?” When I nod yes, Surly Sixth Grade Boy is jolted out of his studied disinterest. His hand shoots into the air and there is something close to a smile on his face.
What has suddenly turned apathy bordering on defiance into a demand to participate? It’s the chance to perform in a readers theater.
I’ve taken a few pages of Sara Pennypacker’s The Summer of the Gypsy Moths and transformed it into a two page play featuring anxious foster child Stella, her street-wise and cynical foster sister Angel, and two narrator parts. Surly Sixth Grade Boy is chosen to be a narrator, and he eagerly stands in front of the class with the rest of the cast while I review the simple expectations for actors. Read loudly and with expression. Stand still and hold the script with both hands while you are waiting to read your part. Follow along so you can come in on time and not have to be elbowed in the side by the actor next to you.
The actors do a sound check, each saying the name of their character to check their volume level. The easily distracted class is silent, their attention fixed on their classmates, who begin to read their scripts. Surly Sixth Grade Boy reads eagerly and mostly fluently. I see his eyes grow wide as he reads a bit ahead to the part where Stella and Angel find a dead body, but he maintains his composure and smoothly manages his next lines.
At the end, I count to three and the entire class claps one time, loudly and all together. Classmates volunteer their observations on what the cast did well, and the cast members add their own compliments. Since I’ve dramatized an exciting section, there are lots of inferences, observations, and questions. “Why does Stella think her Mom will come back?” “What are some clues when Stella gets home that something isn’t right?” “What are they going to do with the body?”
So many students want to check out that book that there are several single round bouts of rock, paper, scissors to decide who gets it first, even though I have three copies.
In the April issue of School Library Journal, Marybeth Kozikowski writes:
“The Common Core Standards emphasize training ‘students who are college- and career-ready in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language,’” says children’s literature consultant Judy Freeman, author, with Caroline Feller Bauer, of The Handbook for Storytellers (ALA Editions, 2015). “Readers Theater is the closest thing to a silver bullet that we have to help make that happen, and it doesn’t involve high-stakes testing or drill-and-kill worksheets. It’s so ridiculously easy to implement, it’s a wonder it hasn’t become part of every classroom’s curriculum.”
In a future post – a few ideas on how to make readers theater happen in your classroom. Already trying it? What has worked well for you?
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