Reader’s Theater by Dustin Williamson
There are many different comprehensible input activities that can be done while reading a TPRS Publishing novel. My all-time favorite is Reader’s Theater. Nothing gets my students more excited and more engaged than acting out a scene. I find Reader’s Theater is also a great way to camouflage reading and to become the book. (Read You Gotta BE the Book by Jeffrey D. Wilhelm.)
Here are some tips for a successful Reader’s Theater that I have learned from experience and from various conferences such as iFLT. I will also share what I did for a chapter in Bianca Nieves y los 7 Toritos.
What is Reader’s Theater? Take a scene from a chapter that contains lots of action (dialogue is also good) and act it out in class. Sometimes I will act out a scene from a chapter as we read it for the first time, other times we will read the scene and then go back and act it out. A scene that is short and sweet with crazy action and dialogue is the best. In every TPRS Publishing novel, there are many scenes that are ideal for Reader’s Theater. In some teacher’s guides, there are reader’s theater sections.
Reader’s Theater allows students to have an image or movie in their head while reading: that makes a good reader. Acting out what we read leads to greater gains in fluency and comprehension. Plus its fun!
Reader’s Theater Tips:
- Exaggerate the actions! For example, if a character cries, have the student really belt it out.
- Use props! You don’t need many. Some of the best props are homemade out of cardboard by a student.
- Coach the actors. To get what you want and for it to be funny and compelling, keep coaching your actors. I often tell my actors to do it bigger, bolder, and better. The first time a student acts out a gesture is usually not the best. I always make them do it again with bigger emotions and gestures. This also allows for more repetition. The actors also need to synchronize their actions with my narration. And as Jason Fritze says, “be an actor, not a distractor.”
- Use the “behind voice” If a student does not want to speak the dialogue, I will do the voice for them. I get right behind the student, and when I tap their shoulder (with permission) they move their lips. I speak the dialogue with HUGE exaggeration and it is funny to watch from the students’ perspective.
- Adjust the pace Based on the class comprehension level, adjust the pace to improve overall comprehension.
- Use super slow motion This goes along with exaggerating the actions. After a certain action, have the actors do it again but in super slow motion. Go slowly enough so that you can narrate and ask comprehension questions during the action.
- Use name tags. I like to make large name tags of the characters and put them on the student actors. It makes the scene more real and easier to understand.
- Use music. Music really adds to the atmosphere. If there is a fighting scene, put on some intense classical music. If there is a sad scene, put on slow music. Sound effects are also good either from a computer or a student.
- Video/Photograph the scene. Have a student record and take pictures of the scene as it is being acted out. You can use this as a review the next class. For chapter 6 in Bianca Nieves y los 7 Toritos, I made a video from the photos and videos of my classes acting it out. I used iMovie and added dramatic and intense music for the bullfight and sad music for the ending.
Bianca Nieves y los 7 Toritos
We read this novel in Spanish 3 last fall and we had a lot of fun with it. There are several great scenes in the novel for Reader’s Theater. The teacher’s guide contains great reader’s theater ideas. Here is what I did for chapter 4:
Chapter 4 has a great scene between Salomé and Bianca in Salomé’s Dad’s office. There is fighting, emotion, and papers thrown in the air! Bianca enters her Dad’s office and notices Salomé with papers in her hands. Suddenly, Salomé intentionally drops the papers and Bianca gets furious. Bianca’s Dad enters and says that it is just an accident. There is some flirting between the Dad and Salomé so Bianca gets even more furious. For this, I had the three characters and some scrap papers as props. As you can see in the photos, it is a great scene to act out.
Chapter 6 is also fun and has a great bullfighting scene and the entire class gets to be involved. To not spoil the story, I’ll just say that Bianca’s Dad fights a big, mean bull and the battle is intense. My students really got into this as it was very compelling. The next class I showed photos and video of the acting for a review.
If you have never done Reader’s Theater, I strongly recommend it. It is a powerful and compelling way to read and to deliver comprehensible input. It is a staple in my classes.
Dustin Williamson is a French/Spanish teacher at Leavitt Area High School in Turner, Maine. He uses comprehensible input and TPRS in all levels. He also coaches cross country running and Nordic skiing and is a photographer. Follow Dustin’s blog at williamsonci.com.