Earlier this month, I told you a little about Reader's Theater, its benefits, and the way I slightly change its rules when I work with kids on performance. Today I'll go into more detail about how I create a Reader's Theater script. This might be just the summer project you're looking for to promote learning and enjoyment of literature with your children.
To really optimize the learning experience, I believe co-creating a script with kids is best. I like them to choose the book they want to use, but I usually have them choose a few, as some aren't as suitable as others. The way we find out is to try them, one at a time. From experience, I have found that well-known picture books usually make great choices for adapting into a script, especially ones that have repetition, noises, a simple story line, and humor.
Once you and your kids have chosen a book, read it through a couple of times and note down anything helpful that occurs to you. You might notice a place in the story that seems like it would make a good natural break, or discover repeated lines that are very important to the story. Look out for sentences and phrases that build tension in the story, and note that they should be included in the script. Kids might have an "aha!" moment over something in the dress-up box that could be used in your Reader's Theater. Collaborating like this, while it may look chaotic, non-linear, even messy, is a wonderful way for kids to learn about working together for a common goal, and sharing decision-making.
One format that can work when developing a script is to have a part for a narrator who weaves the story together, and then other individual parts for characters in the story. If you have several kids, you can have multiple narrator parts, especially if there's lots of reading. Let's see how this might work in a story like Red Riding Hood. The narrator might begin by introducing Red, who lives with her mother in the woods. The next speaking part might be Red, who explains she is off to take Grandma a basket of goodies. Mother speaks next, warning Red not to speak to strangers. The narrator might help explain the next part, describing Red's path through the forest. And so the script will go, a mixture of narration and dialogue, with your children working out what should be next in the sequence. This is a valuable skill for reading comprehension and writing, but hopefully kids will only be aware they're having fun!
Another useful element to add can be a part for a chorus. This is really handy when you have a bunch of family members that includes little ones. Write a part for them that includes noises, reactions, or warnings. In the Red Riding Hood example above, the narrator might comment on the bird song in the forest and the chorus could interrupt with a "tweet-tweet." Or the chorus could shout "Oh no!" when the wolf appears, and even hold up an "OH NO!" sign, inviting the audience to join in. I've often used gags like this in children's melodramas -- it helps little ones to feel part of the performance and involves the audience in the general hilarity.
Once you have a rough draft of your script, it's good to go back to the original book and check you've included all the important bits. Ask the kids to read their parts aloud and determine whether the reading is fairly shared, with less able readers maybe needing not too big a part as that might be stressful. Make any necessary changes.
Finally, read the script aloud several times. Add movement, emotion, and costuming if you want to go that way. Does the script work as a story? Does it work as a performance? Is it true to the original? If not, maybe the original served as inspiration for a totally new story you've created. I don't think that matters at all. The main idea is to encourage kids to interact with literature, and create something of their own, while developing literacy skills. If you never get to perform for an audience, that doesn't matter either, so long as everyone has fun with it.
Would you consider writing a Reader's Theater script with your kids? Let us know on the Scholastic Parents Facebook page.