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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Reader’s Theatre

Words are our life. Whether they are found in print, in audio/video formats, or electronically, we work to instill a love of these words in our students. We yearn to inspire students to seek words of new knowledge.  With my first graders every spring I work to inspire them to love the sound of words through Reader's Theatre.

Beginning with  the nursery rhyme "The Three Little Kittens" we practice reading successfully with fluency and enthusiasm.We have story masks for them to hold. These were created by second graders years ago and each year I encourage my group to go create their own story masks.  By the end of the class, students beg for copies of the script so they can try to recreate their theatre experience at home.

The following week we dramatically expand our experiences and learn the script I adapted based upon our Essential Literature title "Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears" by Verna Aardema. Leo and Diane Dillon won the Caldecott Medal for this in 1976, but I still have some teachers who resist teaching this title. Talking about award winning art and developing a sense of movement on a page can be great fun so I am happy to help out the teachers and share this book with the students. I read the entire story in only one voice, but with enthusiasm. At the end I ask whether this story wouldn't be much better with different voices for each of the characters.

The observant students have noticed the file folder of scripts and masks sitting on my lap through the lesson. (It helps that our mosquito mask has pipe cleaner antennae hanging out of the folder.) They clamour for the chance to put on some reader's theatre. Since the language is significantly more difficult, we pair the students with the very best readers being the King Lion character. We incorporate parts for ALL voices several times throughout to help maintain group interest and to give those whose attention has wandered an opportunity to refocus and find where on the page we are.

Students love Reader's Theatre. I have one class that needs to continue to practice their oral reading skills so we will be continuing this project until the end of school. Wouldn't it be helpful if an author produced these routinely on their web sites for books that were appropriate to adapt? Not all are, so it would be even more useful to have reviewers note those titles that have the RT potential. Fortunately there are excellent sources of scripts available online now.

  • Toni Buzzeo offers excellent scripts to accompany her books. Toni has written a book called Read! Perform! Learn! which would make an excellent elementary purchase. You can even find story masks on her web site. When you examine her Publication Vita, you see that she continues to produce reader's theatre scripts in each Library Sparks journal. I can't afford to purchase every professional journal produced and this is one that I have had to share in our district. Fortunately there are other sources of scripts…
  • Author Jan Brett's web site includes several scripts including story masks, links, and the script to The Hat.

There are many more sources of scripts for all ages. I have successfully used choral reading and reader's theatre with 8th graders and there are appropriate scripts available for all groups. Try having your fourth graders branch out to read aloud from Fleischman's book Joyful Noises in alternating voices. Third graders love chiming in on chants like Jump Rope Rhymes. Whatever the age, when you can encourage students to reread for fun and for a purpose, their enjoyment will expand, their reading will improve, and they may try new text imagining how it could sound as their own script.


  1. Toni Buzzeo, MA, MLIS says:

    Diane, what a fabulous way to ensure that you are part of the Reading Team at your school. I believe that Reader’s Theater is the perfect intersection of literacy instruction/support and literature sharing. It’s why there are RT scripts for my books on my website (including the new Our Librarian Won’t Tell Us Anything!) and why I continue to write RT scripts for every issue of Library Sparks as well as a series of Read! Perform! Learn! books (which include author interviews and standards-based curriculum activities for each scripted book–lots of opportunity for collaboration).

  2. Toni Buzzeo, MA, MLIS says:

    In case you need a rationale for jumping into the Reader’s Theater pond for a swim with your students, here are the benefits for ALL readers. (Of course, there are benefits for subgroups such as ELL and challenged readers that are specific to their needs as well.)

    *Repeated oral reading in rehearsals and performances supports text fluency.
    *Fluency is reading smoothly at an appropriate rate with accuracy, proper phrasing, and expression.
    *When performance is the goal, students are motivated to read, repeat, and review.
    *Re-reading is purposeful and fun.
    *Anticipation of an audience heightens the commitment to rehearsal.
    *Repetition enhances retention.
    *Reader’s Theater improves sight word recognition.
    *Reader’s Theater boosts listening and speaking skills.
    *Reader’s Theater improves reader confidence.
    *Effective performance requires focus from all on script.
    *Student ownership and engagement in the process is high.
    *Because fluency and comprehension are closely related, fluent readers are high achieving students.
    *Supports the learning of Bodily-Kinesthetic learners.