Monday, March 2, 2015

Using Reader's Theatre to Increase Students' Creativity and Inference Skills

I love Reader's Theater. When I am looking for a short play for my class to perform. I often will choose a royalty free reader's theatre piece. For those who don't know Reader's Theater is a great addition to any classroom. It is a great way to engage the students and have them increase their reading fluency and creativity at the same time. Reader’s Theatre can be as simple or as complex as you want. Students can read from their chairs or create a full production. 

Reasons I love Reader's Theater

1. Easily engages all students- most students will pay more attention if they know they must speak at a certain time.
2. Easily differentiates for  different learning styles/levels- the same script can have advanced parts and easier parts so that all students feel successful.
3.  Easy group work- My favorite scripts are ones that have 4-6 characters. You can easily divide up your groups into different plays and have heterogeneous mixture of ability levels and all engaged.
4. Easy whole group instruction- Most plays can either be adapted to fit a whole group or just naturally come with enough parts for everyone in class. This way you can easily assess all student's level of engagement and understanding of a topic. 
5. Increased reading fluency-To be able to perform a play students must practice and rehearse. RT forces students to read their material multiple times. The more often they read a script the more often they see words, the better they will become at reading. 
6. Increases inference ability- Scripts very rarely state things explicitly, instead students must learn to infer emotions, costumes, feeling, props and all other aspects of the story based on simply dialog. Students who become proficient at RT become great investigators who are able to easily infer meaning from texts. 

Hopefully I have convinced you to give Reader's Theatre a try. If you are always using Reader's Theater in your classroom, read on to see how you can use RT to increase student's inference skills.

Character Analysis

Have students create a character analysis of their character. This is a great time to talk about internal vs external traits. I often like to have the students draw a picture of what they think the character's external traits are, then answer some questions on their internal traits. Be very careful not to let any students "off the hook" about character analysis. There are character choices you can make about even the smallest of characters.  You will often things like "my character only has one line I dont know anything about him" Have the student analyze what the character said, where the character lives, how old the character is etc. If they cannot find explicitly in the play an answer, have them make an educated guess then back up their reasoning "I think this character is 27 because they have one small kid". I would also warn you to be aware of the narrator trap. Most RT scripts contain a narrator. You can still do character analysis on a narrator. Look at if the narrator is biased, how intelligent the narrator is, if the narrator enjoys telling the story etc. 

Technical Analysis

Technical elements of theatre include the props, costumes, sound, lighting, and sets used in a production. Often times a playwright does not explicitly say what these elements look like. While they might give suggestions, "this play is set in a one room school house" they often leave the logistics up to the director (how many chairs you want, if you need a blackboard, etc). Allowing students to begin designing the technical elements for a reader's theatre production forces students to use their inference and reasoning skills. For example we recently completed a RT about Tall Tales from the Wild West. In the play John Henry, Pecos Bill, Sally Ann Thunder, Annie Oakley and Paul Bunion all get together to swap stories. Students had to infer the setting (a campfire) the time of day (night) and the costumes. Students did research of the costumes their characters might wear by looking up information on their character. They had to design a nighttime campfire scene to set the play in. We discussed how to make the room look dark without completely turning off all lights because the audience had to see them. They choose to use blue and purple lights to give the effect. Having students create a technical analysis of a play is a great way to build inference and creativity. Keep in mind students can simply propose ideas if you do not have the time/money to actually create props and costumes.

Program Design

Program design is a great way to engage and asses your more visual learners. If you have students who love to draw and create this part of the project is perfect for them. Students create a four page program (front cover) cast list, play synopsis, and back advertisement.  The cover must include the Title, Playwright, and Performance time/place. It also must include a picture that captures the essence of the play and makes people want to see it. Students then write up the cast list and a play summary. The summary is obviously a great way to check for understanding of the key plot points. On the back cover of the program I let students design an add for an upcoming performance. If you aren't holding any more performances let them create an add for a play they would love to perform. Once again this can either be a simple classroom assignment that all students complete, or you can have students design your actual programs for the performance.

Ticket Design/ Poster Design

Another great way to engage students in RT is to allow them to create the posters and tickets for the performance. If you want this to be a classroom assignment you can but I would encourage you to perform the play for someone (even if it is just another class that wants to come watch). Students can create posters and actually hang them up around school to advertise their show. They can also take posters home to parents to display on the fridge. Tickets are another great design piece. If you decide to do this production for parents, letting the students take handmade tickets home to give to parents, then collecting those tickets at the door, really adds a since of flair to the productions. Students get a huge kick out of putting on "a real performance" with tickets. As with the program design students must use their inference skills to find an important scene to display. They need to find a scene that is engaging and important but doesn't give to much away. They need to be able to infer what will make the audience come and see the production.

Reader's Theatre Unit

I love Reader's Theatre. If you are interested in using RT in your classroom, make sure you check out my Reader's Theatre Unit on teacherspayteachers. It has worksheets for all the items discussed in this post. It is a great packet to use with any RT production you might choose. If you need any help coming up with ideas of how to run RT in your class or simply need ideas of plays that might work for you feel free to contact me or leave me a comment. I am always willing to help fellow teachers who are trying out a play!

Have you ever use reader's theatre in your class? What were the difficulties? Did you find that RT engaged your students?

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