Setting the Stage for Reader's Theater
Three ingredients are essential to successful Reader's Theater: scripts, costumes, and props. In this section, I offer advice on gathering and organizing those supplies.
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5
One of the greatest benefits of Reader's Theater is that is does not require special, expensive materials as traditional plays often do. Rather than using elaborate scenery and costumes, in Reader's Theater performances, the story is conveyed mainly through readers’ voices and facial expressions. The most important supplies for Reader's Theater are copies of scripts for rehearsals and performances. Once you’ve chosen or created a script:
- Provide multiple copies of each as “rehearsal scripts.” Students will use these for reading, practicing, rehearsing, and making notes for performances.
- Create a set of “performance scripts” which are always kept in the classroom and are used only during performances. This ensures that there will be copies for performance day even if students lose or forget their own copies. Each set of scripts should include a highlighted copy for each role. Lois Walker (2003) suggests:
If possible, place cast scripts in colorful folders. Ring binders allow for smooth and easy page turning. If ring binders are not available, staple cast scripts along left-hand side into simple cardboard folders. Crease the pages about a half an inch inside the staples for easy page turning.
- Make available the book upon which the script is based. When students are rehearsing, they will use the book as a resource for planning performances. When performances are introduced, the students will show the book to the audience. These books should stay in the classroom. If possible, keep a copy of the book in the classroom library as well. (Remember, students always like to read books that have been performed in Reader's Theater.) If you have only one copy of the book, be sure it is returned to the Reader's Theater center each day.
COSTUMES AND PROPS
While you should choose (or write) scripts that convey information through words and not objects, simple costumes and props can help performers get into character and aid in audience understanding and enjoyment (Wolf, 1993). Important rules of thumb for costumes and props are (a) keep them simple so they don’t distract the audience or performers, (b) be sure that they don’t interfere with the performer’s ability to perform or read the script, (c) let the script guide the kinds of extras you use. Students are generally able and happy to make costumes and props at home, so there might not even be a need to use class time for this.
Performers usually only need to wear simple character nametags made of tag board rather than costumes. Students can decide if they need additional items to enhance their characters, such as hats, glasses, and animals ears. In How to Eat Fried Worms (Rockwell, 1973), the characters can wear items that signal they are active boys, like baseball caps and bandages. If one student plays two parts, costumes can help the audience to distinguish between the two characters. For example, when performing a script of Miss Nelson is Missing (Allard, 1977), the change from Miss Nelson to Viola Swamp could be signaled with a simple dark wig (made of yarn, black opaque pantyhose, or butcher paper).
Simple masks can add interest and help a shy student feel less nervous about performing in front of an audience. Be sure masks do not cover students’ mouths and do not interfere with their ability to hold scripts.
Bobbi Salinas’s Los Tres Cerdos/The Three Little Pigs (1998) gives easy directions to make a braided wig for Mamá Pig from a pair of black pantyhose. Ears and noses for the pigs and wolf are made from paper cups and construction paper, and held in place with yarn.
A few props can add visual appeal and help convey important story details. Always be on the lookout to collect items that students might use to enhance their performances. For example, in the story “Fox Escapes” in Edward Marshall’s Fox at School (1983), it would be helpful to have a bell to use for the fire drill. A typewriter would be an important prop for performing the story Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin (2000), though an old computer keyboard could be a stand-in. (Most schools have them hidden away somewhere.) Chairs and bowls would add interest to a performance of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”
Organization is a key to Reader's Theater. Designate a Reader's Theater center in your room or set aside a cabinet or bookshelf for your supplies. Include scripts and items for simple props and costumes. Also, include space for a bulletin board or charts with reminders and announcements. Keeping all of your materials together and easily accessible makes things go more smoothly and helps to avoid “surprises,” such as lost scripts and missing props.
For more about fluency, including lessons, strategies, and ideas, see Your Complete Guide to Reading Fluency .