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Struggling Readers Can Avoid Embarrassment with Reader's Theater

written by: supersj • edited by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas • updated: 1/5/2012

Fluency is one skill struggling readers need help to develop, yet finding a way to coax these students to read aloud can be trying. How can a teacher bypass the fear of embarrassment and develop fluency skills? Reader's theater gives them the encouragement students need to read aloud with gusto!

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    Setting the Stage

    "But I hate to read out loud!" is the cry of many struggling readers. Good teachers know that reading aloud is one way to help developing readers gain fluency skills essential to reading success, but since public speaking is one of the most common fears, it can be difficult to get a nervous student to practice. With a few tips and a helpful reader's theater script, teachers can bypass the fear of reading aloud, develop fluency skills, and have a great time in the process. For many teachers, the process of creating a great reader's theater lesson seems too complicated, but with a few easy steps, this fun activity can captivate your students.

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    Picking the Script

    The first step in planning a reader's theater lesson is finding the right script. There are many free scripts available on the Internet, and finding a story that will appeal to your readers should be easy to do. Have a class full of sports nuts? Try a script that focuses on their favorite sport. Have an active group of kids? Try a pirate story that allows for lots of swashbuckling adventure.

    Another tip when picking out a reader's theater script is looking for a play that has the right kind of characters for your students. The class clown will shine when given a funny role, and the shy student may need a slightly smaller role to get into the activity. Look for scripts that can bring out the best in your students.

    Finally, be sure the script is something you enjoy as well. Reader's theater takes practice, and if the script bores you on the first read, it will seem interminable by the fifth reading. There's no reason why the teacher shouldn't enjoy the reader's theater process as much as the students!

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    Preparing the Extras

    One of the reasons that reader's theater is so effective with students is because of the multitude of fun props, costumes, and movement that can accompany the reading. While they love moving and trying out various items, students can quickly lose focus if the teacher hasn't planned out how these extras can be used.

    Costumes and props can help the process of learning to read aloud with emotion and emphasis. When you're wearing a silly hat, it's easier to read with less self-consciousness, and it's especially helpful when everyone in the room is participating in the frivolity. Making sure that everyone has a costume piece or prop is important to create a safe atmosphere for the reading, and in your first attempts at reader's theater, it may be helpful to provide props and costumes for the class. These can be as simple as towels for superhero capes; the complexity is less important than the ability to pretend. After the students understand that props and costumes should be simple, they can assist by bringing items from home.

    Movement during the reading should be simple as well. In the Del Sartre method of acting that was popular in the 1800s, simple movements were used to indicate emotions, such as shaking a fist for anger or a hand to the forehead for sadness. This acting method is terrific for reader's theater because it is simple, easy to learn, and effective. When you read through the script, find areas where these simple motions could be added and write them in the margins. It will be easier to direct your students in their reading when you have the motions mapped out.

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    Stepping Onstage

    When your students enter the world of reader's theater, their fears of reading aloud will be lost in the fun of playing a character. With a little planning and a script that fits the needs of your students, you'll soon find that struggling readers in your class will develop fluency skills with lightning speed. Step onstage today!