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What Is Readers Theater?
By Linda Cornwell

What Is Readers Theater?

Readers Theater is an integrated approach for involving students in reading, writing, listening, and speaking activities.  It involves children in….

  • sharing literature,
  • reading aloud,
  • writing scripts,
  • performing with a purpose, and
  • working collaboratively.

Readers Theater is readers reading a script adapted from literature, and the audience picturing the action from hearing the script being read aloud.  It requires no sets, costumes, props, or memorized lines.  Instead of acting out literature as in a play, the performer’s goal is to read a script aloud effectively, enabling the audience to visualize the action.  Performers bring the text alive by using voice, facial expressions, and some gestures

Benefits of Using Readers Theater in the Classroom or Library?

Readers Theater helps to….

  • develop fluency through repeated exposure to text.
  • increase comprehension.
  • integrate reading, writing, speaking, listening in an authentic context.
  • engage students.
  • increase reading motivation.
  • create confidence and improve the self-image of students.
  • provide a real purpose for reading.
  • provide opportunities for cooperative learning.

Tips for Implementing Readers Theater

  • Model expressive reading often.
  • Introduce Readers Theater using pre-prepared scripts.  Students need to grasp the concept of Readers Theater and become familiar with the format of a script before writing their own.
  • Teach the basic steps of performance: how to use highlighters to mark the parts, how to interpret the part and read expressively, how to hold the script, and when to assume various stage positions.
  • Give the students lots of time to prepare. Emphasize practice.  Readers should practice their roles in different ways: individually and in small groups, privately and in front of others. 
  • Keep a copy of the marked script at school and send one home for parents to read and practice with their children.
  • Rehearse with the readers, providing needed direction and support regarding their interpretation, pacing, expression, volume, positions, and motions.
  • Begin with short presentations.
  • Perform for an audience as often as possible.
  • Use props sparingly.

Selecting Text for a Readers Theater Script

Readers Theater may be performed with many kinds of literature: picture books, short stories, parts of novels, poetry, folk tales, works of non-fiction, newspaper or magazine articles.  Not all literature, however, makes a good Readers Theater script.  Look for literature that ….

  • is interesting or has compelling content.
  • has a strong story line, interesting characters, conflict, plot action, humor.
  • uses dialogue.
  • is not filled with descriptive passages.
  • flows at a steady pace.

Tips for Creating a Readers Theater Script

It is not necessary to use a piece of literature in its entirety.  Excepts can be used very effectively.  Be sure to keep in mind the reading level of the readers in selecting a piece of text.  Choose text that is within the reach of your readers and that they can read aloud successfully, given repeated practice. 

Start with picture books.  Model how to create a script and create several scripts as a class before asking the students to create their own scripts in small, cooperative groups. Once you have selected the piece of text you wish to adapt to script form, show the students how to ….

  • determine what portions of the text to leave in to be true to the story line, characters, or topic and which portions can be deleted. 
  • delete the less critical passages: descriptions, transitions, etc. 
  • rewrite or modify those passages that need to be included but require adaptation.
  • keep speeches and narrative passages short.
  • divide the parts for the readers.

Characteristics of an Effective Readers Theater Reader

An effective reader….

  • Reads with expression, proper emphasis, and clear enunciation, using his/her voice effectively to convey meaning.
  • Projects to the audience.
  • Is familiar with the part and is able to read it with fluency.
  • Paces himself/herself effectively.
  • Uses props, when employed, effectively (the script is a prop).
  • Demonstrates poise and self-confidence.


Linda Cornwell currently serves as the national literacy specialist for the Paperbacks and Classroom Library group of Scholastic, Inc.  She is listed in Who’s Who in American Education and Who’s Who in America.  Ms Cornwell earned a BS and an MS degree in education from Butler University