Reader’s Theater: Virtual Edition!

Reader’s Theater was a popular in-person program, pre-pandemic. It was actually one of the last programs I ran in person, with our regular season running each February (learn more about in-person Reader’s Theater here, though the process is pretty similar to what is outlined below).

My Reader’s Theater kids are known for their energy, so I wasn’t sure what I was getting into by making this a virtual program. But, in the end, other than internet connection issues, the program was pretty seamless.

Before the Program – Script Prep!

Most of my work takes place before I see the kids the first time, and this was also the case virtually. Personally, I don’t use standard “reader’s theater scripts” that you can find on Google–they often feel forced or aren’t as fun for my 3rd-5th graders. Instead, I look for funny picture books that can be adapted to a reader’s theater style performance. I also have a stash of old Zoom Playhouse Scripts. The Zoom website is no longer available, but some of these can be transcribed from YouTube videos.

Knowing that I both had some new faces among my signups and that I wanted some familiarity, this year’s scripts included the titles below. Click on the links on the titles to download the scripts to use in your own program.

I plan for a full group of 15 kids. Not every kid is in every play. I select scripts that allow for 60 parts total (four per reader). Many picture books allow for multiple narrator roles, allowing me to tweak scripts to fit the number of parts I need to reach 60.

Once I have all of my scripts, I print them all out and highlight the appropriate lines for each part. Then, the sorting begins.

I sort scripts into folders before the first rehearsal. In person, kids then randomly select a folder without knowing what parts are inside. Virtually, I had to distribute folders out the drive thru window pickup service, so I had to pick parts for kids ahead of time. When I had a toss up for who should get a part with more lines, I tended to give it to kids who were aging out of the program this year (especially those who had been doing this a while).

To break scripts down into folders, I try to aim for the following:

  • 4 scripts per folder
  • At least 1 script that is a “lead” role (more lines)
  • Not all parts in one folder are narrator roles
  • If possible, spread scripts out based on the chosen performance order (not all scripts are at the beginning or end)

Each folder has two labels on the front with the parts of the performer and the performance order. I use three-prong folders, so scripts are hole-punched and inserted into the prongs.

Another difference: in person, kids would only get copies of the scripts for the plays they were in. Virtually, each kid got a copy of every script because I new we would have absences and drop outs, and I would need to assign those roles. In person, I handed kids the folder of the absent participant, virtually, I didn’t want to deal with sending links to virtual copies of scripts.

Some other practices to make script assignment smooth:

  • I create a master sheet for me, organized by play, labeling which scripts/performers have which parts. This helps a lot when 15 8-11-year-olds are paying zero attention to which play comes next.
  • I have a jar on hand with the names of each kid inside on a separate slip of paper. If someone is absent, I pull a name out of the jar to evenly distribute extra parts.

Reader’s Theater Virtual Program

This virtual program followed a similar schedule to in-person Reader’s Theater:

  • Week 1: Zoom Scavenger Hunt, Intro to Reader’s Theater, Practice Scripts
  • Week 2: Zoom Scavenger Hunt, Practice Scripts (continued from week 1)
  • Week 3:Zoom Scavenger Hunt, Full Rehearsal
  • Week 4: Performance for family, friends, and more

We started the first three virtual sessions with a Would You Rather question and a Zoom scavenger hunt.

Would You Rather Questions included:

  • Would you rather only be able to get around by hopping like a kangaroo or leaping like a ballerina?
  • Would you rather have ketchup randomly come out of your belly button or your nose?
  • Would you rather be able to only eat your favorite food for the rest of your life, or would you rather never be able to eat it again?

Zoom Scavenger Hunt Items included:

Week 1
1. Something you can wear on your head
2. Something with words on it
3. Something related to dinosaurs
4. Something with wings
5. Something that is meant to get wet
6. Something that makes a sound
7. One of these: rock, paper, or scissors
8. A spoon
9. Something bumpy
10. Something that makes you laugh
11. Something you really want to share
12. Your script!

Download PPT.
Week 2
1. Something you can wear on your head
2. Something related to food
3. A book
4. Something Orange
5. Something round
6. Your script!

Download PPT.
Week 3
1. Something you can wear on your head
2. Something that can hold something else
3. Something related to animals
4. Something purple
5. Your script!

Download PPT.

We only rehearsed one script at a time, so the kids who are not currently practicing are welcome to watch and give feedback, or they can explore some busywork packets–mad libs, dot-to-dots, kawaii coloring sheets, Captain Underpants Name Changer, etc. Download our busywork packet here.

On performance day, family and friends could use the same link to watch the performance. I asked them to mute and turn their cameras off (and did so for them if they did not), and gave them instructions on how to only view the performers on their screens. Everything went smoothly, with a great performance by all!

Reader’s Theater: Virtual Tips

I’ve run this program a lot in person, and I imagine everyone’s experience (virtual or in person) will be very different. Some things I discovered virtually:

  • A lot more kids came once and never returned or never came at all. This meant our final performers ended up with more parts–but it also made things a little more challenging to organize when we got to plays that had more parts than we had performers.
  • “Correcting” kids feels very different virtually. I don’t like to actively correct the kids in any setting, but in person, another kid would more often step in and try to help someone struggling with pronunciation. Sometimes, I would make sure I was seated in a spot situated near someone who needed a little more help reading (or someone who struggled to pay attention to a long script). Virtually, other than through chat, it isn’t really doable to whisper something to one kid without everyone hearing. I mainly only stepped in if someone was really having microphone issues or internet connection problems.
  • Speaking of internet connection problems: they persist, kids can’t always solve the problems on their own, and you can’t always help either. When reading scripts that rely on reading in order and moving through a lot of lines quickly, internet lags can make a 5-minute script take 15 minutes.
  • Figure out, or prepare for, microphone issues ahead of time. I’ve seen some teachers may require kids to keep their microphones on during a virtual class. I didn’t want to require that, but I debated requiring kids to keep them on during a play they were performing in to help keep things moving. I decided not to, for privacy, and that ended up being the best decision. It slowed things down, but one of our particular participants who muted between every line had a screaming baby in the background. It added a few minutes to things, but it was more enjoyable for everyone.

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