Reader’s theater is an activity that helps young students develop reading fluency and build reading confidence. It also offers an opportunity for students to learn to read aloud with expression.

Although reader’s theater typically involves reading aloud parts in scripts, memorization is not needed. It’s not necessary to use a script, either, but a text with plenty of dialogue is best for developing expressive oral reading skills.

How it works

Reader’s theater works especially well in language arts classes, but can be adapted for use in social studies and science, as well. The following steps are a basic guideline:

Select a story or script that can be divided into parts, and introduce it to the class. Solicit students’ initial thoughts and predictions about the story.

Read the selection aloud to the class and explicitly demonstrate how to use intonation, volume, pitch, and inflection to bring the story to life.

Ask feedback questions and refer back to students’ predictions from the beginning to encourage engagement and reflection.

Write some important vocabulary words on the board and discuss them with the class, recording the definitions as well so that students can refer to them during the activity.

–Pair up students and have them read the story aloud to each other, taking turns reading each part. Then have them switch and read the text again, so that each student has a chance to read every part. Circulate around the room to offer assistance wherever needed.

Divide the class into small groups based on the number of reading parts available; for instance, if the story contains four parts, divide the class into groups of four.

Assign a reading part to each student and have students independently read through the text one more time to familiarize themselves with their part within the whole.

–Get the students to do a practice read-through of the text as a group, taking turns reading aloud their parts and paying attention to using an expressive voice.

–Have each group present their story to the class.

Differentiated instruction

To adapt reader’s theater for students of varied reading levels or for those with learning disabilities, consider some of the following ideas:

–Provide students with the text far in advance and encourage them to practice reading it during free time in the classroom or at home with family members.

–Assign shorter or easier-to-read parts according to students’ individual needs.

–When assigning pairs, keep in mind that more advanced readers can assist struggling readers while strengthening their own skills.

–Print copies of the text in larger font if appropriate.

–Give students the option of writing their own script (with plenty of guidance and/or a template); this activity is great for more advanced readers.









Image: “CORI Middle School Reading” by John Guthrie (CC BY-SA 3.0).