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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Act Your Age! A Schoolwide Readers’ Theatre

By Peter DeWitt — January 28, 2013 4 min read
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If we can’t have fun in an elementary school, we don’t belong there.

A positive school culture should be a never-ending goal these days. There are so many mandates and changes happening in education. The cloud of accountability seems to follow us as we negotiate our way through the days and weeks. Sometimes we worry about them so much that they take our eyes off what is really important about what we do day in and day out. A positive school culture can help us refocus on our goals of educating students and expose them to opportunities they may not get anywhere else.

One of the ways teachers do this is through readers’ theatres. It helps them make strong literacy connections with students. Readers’ theatres are simple to do, and once you get passed the idea that you don’t need to be Andrew Lloyd Weber to create one, they are a great deal of fun as well. Teachers find a good script (resources below) and students act them out with the script in hand. No need for acting lessons or a big Hollywood production! It gives students a real opportunity to use their voice and practice inflection.

According to ReadWriteThink sponsored by the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English, Readers’ Theaters serve many useful functions:
• The use of Readers’ Theatre can offer a different context in which students are exposed to texts focusing on poetry, science, social studies, or other content-related topics.
• Readers’ Theatre is another way to enhance comprehension of text, as well as to create interest in and enthusiasm for learning.
• The Readers’ Theatre format provides an opportunity for students to develop fluency through multiple readings of the text by using expressiveness, intonation, and inflection when rehearsing the text.

Equal to all of those great benefits is that they are just plain fun.

Teachers can take it a step further and create simple backdrops which will help engage those artists in the classroom. Other times teachers invite parents in so they can watch the readers’ theatre. Most of them only take about 10 to 15 minutes. There are so many scripts available on-line teachers can find a variety of scripts that give the opportunity for each student in a class to have a part. Remember...there are no small parts; just small actors....literally.

School-Wide Readers’ Theatres
We know that there are numerous benefits of having students act in a readers’ theatre. They help expose students to a literature-rich environment and may help foster the joy of reading and acting. What about involving teachers and the principal in school-wide readers’ theatres? There are just as many benefits for students when teachers and the principal perform in readers’ theatres.

The school where I am principal does a few readers’ theatres a year and during these times of increased accountability it has helped us maintain a fun and engaging learning environment in school. Our school culture benefits from participating in these events because they focus on positive stories and students see the adults in the school working together and having fun.

We typically sign staff members up for parts and for some odd reason I always get to play the Good Knight. Perhaps they’re type casting! Our staff has many very funny actors and actresses and from time to time we involve students in the production. If we can’t have fun in an elementary school, we don’t belong there. However, there is plenty of room for a readers’ theatre in the upper grades.

A few weeks ago we did a readers’ theatre for our One Book, One School program. Our theatre setting was the Fairy Tale Wheel of Fortune and the characters...and students had to solve the puzzle to find out what our school-wide book would be. By the end of our acting and laughing session the students were able to solve the puzzle where they found out our book would be K.C. Hilton’sThe Magic of Finkleton.

We are not concerned with memorizing, or even sticking to, the lines on the paper. We carry our scripts on stage and through the audience. There is a bit of upstaging happening but it’s all in good fun. The students seem to really enjoy seeing their teachers, aides and principal in different roles than what they are used to on a daily basis.

I would encourage your school to try one. Besides the One Book, One School program, we focus on character education and in the past have done a few evening events for parents where we also serve dinner. It helps bring the community together and gives parents and students another perspective of their child’s school. Readers’ theatres are a win-win for the school.

Curtain Call
Readers’ theatres are great for building a literacy-rich environment in the classroom but they are equally as important in building a better school culture. Students who see their teachers and principal take risks up on the stage feel more comfortable taking risks in the classrooms. It models a love for learning and reading and highlights the camaraderie between staff.

For more information about Readers’ Theatre, please visit the following resources:

The Best Class

Literacy Connections

National Council of Teachers of English

International Reading Association

Reading A to Z

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.