In my last post (June 4, 2012), I mentioned Reader’s Theater as a great motivator for classroom reading and writing. And since this is summer, it can also be a playful camp or family experience. Both the group performance and no-need-to-memorize aspects take the stress out of the reading/performing experience for most kids.
And they also love the writing part.
Storyteller/children’s author Aaron Shepherd offers detailed tips on adapting a picture book or story for Reader’s Theater. Here are the basic steps:
1. Look for a book (or scenes) with dialogue, action, and a number of characters. Are there places where you might “create” a role to be filled by a large number of kids so that everyone might participate, not just the relatively fewer kids with bigger roles as primary characters. A pet who makes noises, perhaps? A crowd that repeats a particular refrain? Or a repeating sound effect?
2. Break kids into teams of 2 or 3 people each.
3. Assign each team a section of the story.
4. Have them identify narration vs. dialogue and then identify each bit of dialogue as belonging to a specific character.
5. Assign roles of narrator(s) and various characters.
6. Read and have fun!
But how, you might ask, are students doing any writing if, essentially, they are adapting an already written text?
1. They are learning to read more analytically for certain elements, in this case dialogue, narration, and gesture.
2. They are making careful choices as to what/how/how much to include (for example, details of setting or characterization).
3. They might take a story they’ve written earlier in the year and adapt it for Reader’s Theater, gaining insight into how to improve that first story in the process.
Adults writing for children can also benefit from #3, learning to create more dynamic picture books and stories by examining, performing, and then revising the dialogue/story in various drafts.
I recently saw a performance of a powerful book of poems, I Lay My Stitches Down by Cynthia Grady (Eerdmans 2012). These poems are in the voices of fictional slaves of the 19th century, which students took on at the middle school where Grady is a librarian. The resulting performance was stunning.