Tag Archives: reader's theater

Reader’s Theater

I am not a theater person. That isn’t entirely true–I love watching productions. However, I am not a fan of performing in them, nor do I have any background in theater or drama club beyond that one play in middle school and a scattering of elementary full-class productions.

For unknown reasons, within days of starting my current job, I was told I would be the partnering librarian for the monthly reader’s theater program. Fifteen kids ages 8-12 attended a one-hour weekly rehearsal for three weeks followed by a performance for family and friends during the fourth week. We would take a two week break, and restart the cycle with a new set of scripts and (potentially) a new batch of kids.

This program has grown on me, and evolved, over time. It is still quite bare bones for a theater/acting program. I only see the attendees for three hours ahead of performance day, and this program has no budget beyond the folders that hold their scripts and a roll of masking tape. However, the kids enjoy the program, the simple structure works for me, and the low budget makes this easy to replicate.

Before the Program

Most of my work takes place before I see the kids the first time. 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.

Some of my favorite picture books I’ve adapted over the years include:

I’ve also been creating a jokes script that all the kids can perform in at the same time (mostly pulling from the Just Joking series).

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. Kids then randomly select a folder without knowing what parts are inside. This doesn’t let me control which performers get which parts, but it does allow for scripts to be more evenly distributed and leads to less arguments from kids (and parents) about favoritism.

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
  • Folders generally stick to one “gender”. I try to use gender neutral names when possible, but if I am stuck with a few more obviously gendered parts I try to keep them together. (I was so proud of my group this last round–this was the first time that we had boys as Cinderella and girls as Princes and not one complaint or argument about switching parts from kids or parents.)
  • If possible, spread scripts out based on the chosen performance order (not all scripts are at the beginning or end)

After (or during) the script organization process, I create the performance order. Once that is set, I create labels that list which scripts are in a particular folder as well as a second label listing the performance order. Both labels are put on the front of each folder, and then the folder is filled with the appropriate scripts, in performance order. I use three-prong folders, so scripts are hole-punched and inserted into the prongs.

Some other practices to make script assignment smooth:

  • Scripts are all labeled with a letter.
  • I create a master sheet for me, organized by play, labeling which scripts have which parts. Eventually, I change script letters to the name of the performer. This helps a ton 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.

During the Program

Each Reader’s Theater session follows the same 4-week structure:

  • Week 1: Intro to Reader’s Theater, Basic Stage Terminology, Random Script Distribution, Rehearsal of First Half of Scripts
  • Week 2: Script Folder Exchange (optional), Rehearsal of Second Half of Scripts, Practice any scripts from week 1 that now involve props or a lot of entering and exiting
  • Week 3: Full Rehearsal
  • Week 4: Performance for Parents

Before the kids arrive, I set up our stage, by running a piece of masking tape to block off a chunk of the room. This is the easiest “stage” creation, and everyone understands the distinction.

The first three weeks begin with a theater game, normally either Bippity Bippity Bop or Splat. I’ve never been too successful with other theater games. Normally only 2-3 kids out of 15 are actual current or future “theater kids”, and at least a few will shut down if I try to get them to dance in front of their peers or do something that could be seen as embarrassing. The kids are generally already full of energy after school, so I also avoid any game that encourages running as it is hard enough to get them to not do that on their own.

We only rehearse 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.

On performance day, kids enter our Activity Center first for one last talk through before we invite friends and family inside. I give them a hodgepodge of cheap dress up items we have on hand to help them get the theater vibe and feel a little bolder when performing in front of a crowd. I introduce the performers to the room, and we run through our scripts for our audience.

Once the initial work is complete, this program is easy to setup and roll out each week, with little prep needed week-to-week. I currently run this program once a year (instead of monthly), and while I don’t see this as strongly with the less frequent programming, there is a notable improvement in the kids reading skills and confidence reading out loud over the course of the month. It also fills a gap in our programming–we regularly offer tech programs and quite a few art programs, but there isn’t an alternate offering that fits that “performing” space. Between helping interested kids test out their stage skills on an easy audience and the direct connections to reading fluency, Reader’s Theater is always a winner.