Reader’s Theatre is something I do with my classes at least once while reading a class novel. My classes range from 25 to 35 students depending on the level. Last year I taught 6 classes and my smallest class was 28. This year the biggest class I have has 28 students. The goal for Reader’s Theatre is to provide tons of comprehensible input using a different reading strategy, and engaging all learners.

Every class novel that we read is full of scenes that would often times be better if acted out in class. Reader’s Theatre is a great way to break up the monotony of reading and pull students into the book. Scenes we’ve enjoyed acting out include (CAUTION! SPOILER ALERT! Seriously, if you haven’t read the following books, don’t spoil the suspense! Skip to the next paragraph.) Emilia eavesdropping on her parents’ conversation in La hija del sastre, Carlos breaking into the restaurant to search for his missing mother in La Calaca Alegre, the moment the moment Laney finally meets La Llorona de Mazatlán, the moment El Juli gets injured and rushed to the hospital in Bianca Nieves y los siete toritos, of course, the famous bus scene in Frida Kahlo when she’s impaled by a handrail, the disappearance of Raúl in La Guerra Sucia, and the death scene of Analía in Vida y muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha. Before teacher guides were available I got in the habit of writing my own Reader’s Theatre scripts for the scenes I wanted students to act out in class. Now there are SO MANY awesome teacher guides for the novels and many of them include Reader’s Theatre scripts for our use.

When writing my own script, I try to use as many actors as possible and include descriptions of the scenes in italics for a narrator to read. This engages more students in the activity. Many of the scenes are dialogues between 2-3 people, so I like to add in some interaction from outsiders, maybe a waitress in a restaurant scene, or bus driver, or talking tree, etc. For example, in La Llorona, Laney receives a bracelet from her boyfriend which turns out to be the same bracelet that was given to her friend Desi by the same guy. I used the dialogue in the book La Llorona de Mazatlán by Katie A. Baker, but I added an entire dialogue between Laney and Luis that wasn’t in the chapter as a way to engage more students in the activity.  Attached is the script I wrote for La Llorona chapter 11. For each script I write, I include a list of characters and props and sometimes I separate the scripts into two different scenes to get more bang for my buck.

At the beginning of class I choose actors. If more than one wants a certain character, we play rock, paper, scissors to determine who gets the part.  I select a narrador, always a native or heritage speaker or a student that can read well in Spanish. To give the introverted kids an opportunity to participate, I ask for volunteers to do costumes, sound, lights, props and set design (3-4 in each group). The costume group scans the script and dresses each character according to the scene (there may even be costume changes). The sound group scans the script and finds sounds to play in appropriate parts of the scene, (i.e. crowd noise during a bullfight, or a scream when someone falls off a cliff), the light crew scans the script to see when it would be appropriate to dim lights or use their phones for spots to create drama, the prop crew finds or makes props that are appropriate for the scene, and the set designers arrange my classroom for each scene (i.e. putting 4 desks together for a cafeteria scene, or arranging chairs for a bus scene). If you have a class of 30, the script I have attached has 4 actors, 1 narrador, 1 director and 16-20 crew members. This leaves only a few students that end up as the clean up crew after the performance.

Once the actors and crew are chosen, I choose a director that is in charge of making sure they are all doing their jobs. This person can be chosen first, but I like to wait until the end because there’s always an actor or type-A personality that lost at rock, paper, scissor game but craves that spotlight.

I give the class 10-15 minutes to plan, practice, decorate and direct. I will even step out of the room and sit in the hallway (sticking my head in often to make sure they’re on task) to give them some ownership. They work well under pressure with a deadline so set a timer. Sometimes they are so into it that they’ll beg for more time, but you don’t want to give them too much time for this part or you won’t have time to film and then show them the video.

When it’s time to perform, I act as the film crew. I like to film instead of assigning this job to a student  so I can include EVERY student (even the clean up crew) in the video so everyone has a cameo appearance in the video. Sr. Wooly would DIE if he saw how I film. I do everything wrong. I’m all over the place. I get close ups, zoom in and out, walk around to make sure I don’t miss any of the lighting or sound effects. Sometimes I coach the actors and interact with the crew. This also makes it very entertaining when we watch the final product. To film, I use a FlipCam (not sure they make these anymore). I like to use the FlipCam because it only requires AA batteries, and plugs directly into my computer via USB. Now that the school has provided us with MacBook Air laptops I could probably film with my phone and airdrop it, but I’m old school. If it’s working, why try to fix it?

Filming takes about 5-7 minutes. Then the students get to watch their video. It’s so important to publish their work whenever possible. I have attached a video we did when reading La hija del sastre by Carrie Toth. The script the students are reading comes from chapter one of the teacher’s guide. It’s the scene when Emilia overhears her parents talking about hiding her father in the basement during the Spanish Civil War. You can see the crazy costumes, my horrible filming skills, and how it all came together for this Spanish IV class. Sometimes, if time allows, I will MovieTalk the film or ask questions about the story as a formative assessment.

This is truly a triple dose of CI! Students are reading/hearing the script (chapter 11) 3 times, once in preparation, once while reading along with the actors, and finally hearing it during the video. This is an extremely engaging interpretive CI activity that is a BLAST to do with students!

La Llorona Chapter 11 Reader’s Theater Script created by Darcy Pippins based on Chapter 11 of La Llorona de Mazatlán by Katie A. Baker. Copyright (c) 2013 Fluency Matters.

Darcy Pippins The 2015 Oklahoma World Language Teacher of the Year, the 2016 SWCOLT Regional Teacher of the Year, and candidate for the 2017 ACTFL Teacher of the Year, Darcy Pippins is a National Board Certified Teacher with a Masters degree in Education from the University of Oklahoma. In 19 years, she has taught all levels of Spanish, currently teaching Spanish III, IV and AP Spanish Language and Culture at Norman High School. She presents at the state, regional and national levels. She strongly believes that accomplished teachers should not work in isolation and could not imagine teaching without the support of her professional learning community.

  • carol gaab
    Posted at 16:55h, 11 January

    I loved this blog post so much that I re-read it a third time and bolded some key points to remind myself later. Darcy’s tips are awesome for maximizing input! I don’t always do a Hollywood production when I do Reader’s Theater. Sometimes we spontaneously put one together, usually due to difficulty with comprehension OR a result of student requests. Many thanks to Darcy for sharing this ultra helpful post!

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