Let’s start off with the biggest hurdle many homeschoolers express to using Reader’s Theater scripts: My child isn’t reading yet.
Spoiler alert, your child does not need to know how to read to participate, benefit and enjoy the wonderful world of Reader’s Theater!
Next on this list of hurdles when introducing Reader’s Theater scripts, is Mom’s prior experience. YOU don’t need any experience with DRAMA or THEATER! Reader’s Theater is easy for beginners, or those who have won several Academy Awards.
I’ll tell you what is difficult – finding a clear academic answer for how to spell Reader’s Theater.
Readers Theater or Reader’s Theater.
There honestly does not seem to be a consensus. I’ve even seen Readers’ Theater thrown in for good measure. As someone who has struggled with spelling (and by default, grammar) her whole life, I’m going to go with the possessive – a theater for readers and attempt to be consistent. Wish me luck!
Reader’s Theater is Easy (I promise)
At its easiest, you sit and retell a story, using your voice. This simple act brings the story alive like storytellers of the golden age. Things like costumes, props, and sets are unnecessary to the experience. They enrich the experience, absolutely – but they are unnecessary! To bring Reader’s Theater into your home school, all you need is a script!
Here is a Quick Start Guide to Using Reader’s Theater Scripts in your Homeschool
- Read through the script together with no one taking ownership of any part. Get a feel for everything involved. You can read the script to your children first with the story sticks, or by changing your voice for the different characters. You can also just read it.
- Ask your kids what parts they would be interested in, and let them choose. If it’s not that simple, use a random method for assigning parts.
- Have your child highlight all their parts on the script and create their Character Stick and props if using them.
- Read through the script together, with each person reading their part. Rework as needed for any parts/props not being used.
- Decide how many days you will practice and when you will produce your final performance, even if it is just for each other.
Choosing Readers Theater Scripts
When choosing scripts there are some things to consider – some of which we have already touched on:
Age naturally implies reading level, ability, and interest. Hosting Reader’s Theater in a multi-aged home can be great fun. Non-readers or preschoolers can be props or parts that repeat. As an example, in the Happy Hive Homeschooling version of the Little Red Hen, She has 3 little chicks – this part is perfect for a preschooler (or special needs child) who goes – cheep-cheep-cheep at the appropriate time! If your multi-age family has an age gap of quite a few years, have your middle or high school student do the scriptwriting, directing, or another “adult-like” role.
Reading Level / Ability
We touched on this a bit with age, but let’s dive deeper for those school-aged children who are non or struggling readers. Using familiar books, converted into scripts, is a great way to avoid the need to read. Think of the stories that you read over and over. Your children are so familiar with them, that they can share the story from memory!
Being shy is not an ability or a reading level, but I feel we should address it. Personality styles are not to be overlooked, whether it is a shy child or an outgoing one. By reading the parts together before assigning roles, your child gets to make the decision. They might surprise you. If needed, have a shy child participate by being one of the props, like the watering can in the Little Red Hen. In fact, Props can just have movement or can have sound effects added based on comfort level. Think of singing drip, drip, drip, little April showers every time the watering can has a turn.
Narration can help
I recommend having struggling readers practice with Charlotte Mason Narrations. If you are not familiar with Narration you can read more in our post titled HELP FOR STRUGGLING READERS. (There is even a Free-Bee!)
In a nutshell, a narration is a retelling of what is read, so anytime you read to your child, or they read themselves, have them give a narration. This strengthens their recall, a skill they will use when it comes time to use a Reader’s Theater Script.
Because Reader’s Theater scripts are the simplest version of a story, they are often below standard reading level and easy to read. Practicing for multiple days or even weeks allows non or struggling readers the time they need to become a reader (or to memorize) the simple text.
Number of participants
You may say – but I only have (insert # here) kids, that number is going to be anywhere from 1 – 10, I imagine!
Most importantly, there are no RULES. Choose a script and simply adapt. For example, divide the narrator parts, add a “director”, prop manager… remove parts, etc. Do not let the numbers get in the way. Fill the forest with trees or remove the forest. It’s just that easy.
Please, by all means – Mom, participate. You instantly have 2 people. You can put on the 3 little pigs (at its basic level a 4 part production – 3 pigs, one big bad wolf) by changing your voice and using character sticks. Can you coax the dog to enter and exit on command or by bribing them with treats? It will be delightful when the Dog is the star of the show.
Topic of your Reader’s Theater Scripts
Similar to considering age and number of characters, selecting the topic takes thought. Without a doubt, as a homeschool mom, you know your kids best. With a group of boys, a Reader’s Theater script for Little Women might not be the popular choice. In general, however, I would not let the gender of characters be a limiting factor. Character sticks (purchased or created by the child) and some voice acting allow Reader’s Theater scripts to be versatile regardless of gender norms.
It’s important that the story is appealing to both the participants and the intended audience. If it is appealing to participants, they bring the characters alive simply by telling the story, captivating their audience.
Where practice / performance will take place
I do not want to stray from the simplicity of basic Reader’s Theater. Your kitchen table, couch, or front porch are completely acceptable areas for both practice and performance. A Reader’s Theater script is not meant to be turned into a full-blown production with programs and concession sales. (But alas, if the desire is there, absolutely can be!)
Use your living room and have the reader stand in front of the television. Practice a few times or over the course of a week. Your audience can be each other, the neighbors, or even family and friends over video.
On the other hand, if there is a desire, take your Reader’s Theater up a notch by adding costumes and memorization, then put on a production. We used our backyard every summer to host a different production with cousins, and family friends. From start to finish the event lasted a week. The final show was put on for everyone Friday evening.
Benefits of Reader’s Theater
The benefits of using Reader’s Theater scrips apply across the board. It does not matter if you use them in home schools or classrooms, afterschool programs, clubs, etc., Reader’s Theater scripts adapt to multiple environments.
Foundationally, Reader’s Theater is NOT about memorizing lines – it’s about telling the story. The script is a GUIDE and intended (in my humble opinion) to be a security blanket, crutch, or other support as needed! This is why it works so well with non or struggling readers. They can hold the script and read from it. The goal is to use their voice!
Most importantly, Reader’s Theater is the SIMPLEST version of a story.
Strengthens Reading and Listening Skills
Reader’s Theater can increase your child’s enthusiasm for reading and provide reluctant and struggling readers a way to experience what some consider complicated stories on their own! There are many studies showing the benefits of Reader’s Theater on comprehension (understanding what is being read).
Using Reader’s Theater is an additional tool in aiding listening skills. Even though memorization is not required, your child will learn which sibling comes before and after and remind them in that special way only siblings do when a line is missed or delayed!
Fluency is a buzz-worthy term relating to how well someone reads aloud. Reading and rereading improves fluency – hands down. Reading fluently in simple terms is reading the way you speak. We speak with expression and articulation, without awkward pauses. To that end, the main goal of Reader’s Theater is to read the script and bring the characters to life with voice acting only. When memorization is taken off the table, children are able to relax and fully participate in becoming more expressive. It’s a wonderful trade-off.
Public Speaking Opportunities
Reader’s Theater is a safe opportunity to experience public speaking. Even if the “public” is only your family at first. Using special voices, or wearing a “hero mask” can be just the boost of confidence a shy child needs. Beginning with a small part (or even a non-speaking part) is surely a wonderful way to ease into being “on stage”. If you have a homeschool co-op, you can group children together to say lines (like a chorus). The simple act of having buddies is also a confidence booster. As you continue to use Reader’s Theater in your production, mix up the parts so everyone has the opportunity to experience a “big” part as well as a non-speaking or smaller part.
As you incorporate Reader’s Theater more and more you’ll continue to notice your children using vocal and physical expression being used to help convey meaning. Consequently, this happens with or without the use of costumes or props!
Cross- Curricular Learning Opportunities
Reader’s Theater can be used to teach actual subject matter! There are many scripts available for purchase for this purpose.. You can always write your own, or have your middle school or high school-aged homeschooler write a script as well! Reader’s Theater is an excellent way to experience history, learn science, or live the “real life” of famous world figures! The Happy Hive Homeschooling collection of Fairy Tale Reader’s Theater explores Fairy Tales, Fables, & Folktales and the lessons they teach. You can use them to complement a Fairy Tale literature study as well as for character education.
Reader’s Theater is also a great way to provide drama into your curriculum without the stage and stage fright that often accompany it.
Every group I have ever explored Reader’s Theater with has always changed the script. The conversations go something like this: Mrs. Crabtree… I was thinking. What if… Immediately following, they blurt out their idea for twisting the story in their own creative way! It has been a change in dialogue, a change in character, a change in props, etc. The sky’s the limit. Allow your children to have a voice in the production.
They also get to decide how to act or say things. How the Big, Bad, Wolf huffs and puffs can be “standard” or expected, or creative and unexpected. The word in a sentence that gets emphasis will matter. To illustrate this point, read the following sentences, placing emphasis on the word in bold.
He blew my house down.
He blew my house down.
He blew my house down.
He blew my house down.
Isn’t it exciting to know, your child, the master of the Reader’s Theater production, gets to decide how that line is read? A very empowering experience for an actor of any age (even Mom!)
As a result of experiencing Reader’s Theater, oftentimes children are inspired to turn their favorite book or television show into a script. In this way, their creative writing skills are blossoming as well.
Ways to perform Reader’s Theater
A favorite way of performing Readers Theater in our home was to create a radio show with sound effects. Listening to some old radio shows is a wonderful way to introduce and prepare for Reader’s Theater in the first place, so my kids were fascinated by making the sounds!
You can put on a traditional performance where an area of the room is a stage. You can also simply sit at the kitchen table and give your best reading there. For small families who want to use larger more character-rich scripts, consider inviting friends or family to join you in person or by video chat. As long as everyone has a copy of the script, location really doesn’t matter.
Thanks for stopping by Happy Hive Homeschooling to learn about using Reader’s Theater Scripts
Looking to add reader’s Theatre to your homeschool? Try these great scripts:
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