Friday, April 11, 2008

The Science of Readers Theater

Readers Theater—it’s a fun, easy way to bring literature to life. Elementary teachers and school media specialists have been using it for years to introduce kids to great stories and build fluency at the same time. Young children are natural performers, and they love using their imaginations, so RT makes reading practice an adventure instead of a chore.

Most of the RT scripts available online and in print are based on fictional stories, but many creative nonfiction picture books with science themes can easily be adapted into RT scripts. It’s the perfect way to integrate learning and literacy.

Just imagine students taking on the roles of the sun, the moon, and the planets or pretending to be cells inside the human body. Children are especially excited about playing animal characters, so books that focus on animal behaviors or describe how animals survive in a particular habitat work well. In a recent I.N.K. post, Sneed Collard called these kinds of titles “list books.”

While pretending to be a slithering snake or a little ladybug, students suddenly see the world from that animal’s point of view. As a result, they gain a deeper understanding of animal behaviors and lifestyles. Students also learn how living things interact, and they become more aware of the roles plants and animals play in their environment. What could be better than that?

To find books that can easily be converted into RT scripts, take a trip to your library’s J570 and J591 sections. Look for titles with lyrical language, repeated phrases, and sound effects. Books with two sections of text—shorter, simpler text that conveys a general idea and a longer section with more details—can work especially well.

Here are some good choices:
Animals Asleep and Leaving Home by Sneed Collard

Biggest, Strongest, Fastest by Steve Jenkins and Move! by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Frog in a Bog and Mouse in a Meadow by John Himmelman

Home at Last: A Song of Migration by April Pulley Sayre

Spy Hops & Belly Flops: Curious Behaviors of Woodland Animals by Lynda Graham-Barber

Rain, Rain, Rain Forest and Cactus Hotel by Brenda. Z. Guiberson

When Rain Falls by Melissa Stewart

Here’s how I converted some of the text from my latest picture book, When Rain Falls (Peachtree, March 2008), into a Readers Theater script. You can download the entire script here:

Picture Book Text
If you look at the published book, you will see that in creating the script, I ignored the text on pages 3, 4, and 5. It didn’t work for RT.

Pages 6-7
When rain falls in a forest…
… scurrying squirrels suddenly stop. They pull their long, bushy tails over their heads like umbrellas.

Pages 8-9
A hawk puffs out its feathers to keep water out and warmth in.
Chickadees stay warm and dry inside their tree hole homes.

Pages 10-11
A doe and fawn take cover under a leafy tree canopy.
A red fox family nestles in a warm, cozy den.

Readers Theater Script

Here is the RT script for the section of the book shown above. I converted the picture book text into roles for a chorus, a narrator who is a more advanced reader or an adult, and six different animal characters. I simplified the text in some places, added fun sound effects, and incorporated a bit of humor. Each narrator speech introduces the animal that is about to speak, so struggling readers as well as audience members can follow the performance more easily.

Chorus 1: When rain falls in a forest . . .

Narrator: A scurrying squirrel suddenly stops.

Squirrel: Tsst! Tsst! Tsst! I pull my tail over my head. It makes a great umbrella.

Narrator: Higher up, there’s a hawk.

Hawk: I puff out my feathers to stay warm and dry. Ker-ree, ker-ree.

Narrator: What does a chickadee do?

Chickadee: Dee-dee, dee-dee. I hide inside my tree hole home.

Narrator: A deer takes cover under a leafy tree canopy.

Deer: All the leaves and branches block the rain.

Narrator: Foxes nestle together inside a warm, cozy den.

Fox 1: I could use a nap.

Fox 2: Me too. [Big yawn.]

As you create a Readers Theater script, don’t be afraid to modify or rearrange the author’s text to meet your needs. Cut information that seems too advanced. Focus on animals that live in your area or that you think will resonate most with your students. Your ultimate goal is to create lively, engaging scripts that your students can’t resist reading over and over.

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