Fluency (defined for the non-educator and lay-person) is the ability to read aloud smoothly. Fluency, however, for a student in the throes of elementary or middle school can be a nightmare. Nerves, natural ability and a classroom full of staring eyes probably have something to do with it. As an educator there is something you can do.
Reader’s Theaters could be the answer.
A reader’s theater is similar to a play, except for a few things. There are no costumes, no props and no fancy back drops. And there is no memorization. For a reader’s theater, you READ your lines…many, many times.
Research has proven that to improve reading, students should simply spend more time reading. Research has also proven that repeated readings of the same text improves fluency. But 7 years of experience has taught me that if I simply ask students to re-read a story or even a paragraph more than once, I will be met with stubborn resistance and more than a few eye rolls.
Again, reader’s theaters could be the answer. With the purpose of a performance to prepare for and the anticipation of an audience before them, repeated readings now take on a new urgency in a student’s mind.
Reader’s theaters can be found by simply searching the internet or you could create your own, by modifying the text of favorite picture books or excerpts from novels being studied in class. You can also purchase books of reader’s theater collections at a targeted reading level from educational companies like Scholastic. I have used reader’s theater scripts from all of these resources, but I prefer to make my own to maximize the connection to classy content.
Perhaps my favorite part of reader’s theaters is the student reaction. After a reader’s theater performance my students are almost glowing with pride. They even have commented, “I like reader’s theaters because they are fun and they make me a better reader.” They inevitably ask when our next performance will be. It is also great to see students who may normally struggle with paper and pencil tasks shine in this format. Overall, I feel that reader’s theaters are beneficial and positive for everyone involved.
Follow these steps when doing a reader’s theater.
1. Choose reader’s theater stories and assign roles.
2. Students read the entire script silently.
3. Tell students their roles and have them highlight their lines and then read them silently.
4. Discuss expression (using emotion in your voice) and then have students write in an emotion next to each line.
5. Practice the entire script as a group.
6. Create content related activities that require students to look at their scripts. Possible ideas include sequencing events, looking for rhyming word pairs, dissecting chosen vocabulary words or discussing character motivation and inferencing.
7. Choral or partner read sections of the script. (read lines together)
8. Require students to read their lines aloud to a parent.
9. Silently read lines. (again)
10. Practice the entire script as a group. (again)
11. Secure an appreciative audience. I usually ask an elementary class to sit in for my middle school readers. They are impressed by the “big kids'” performance and are more forgiving of mistakes.
By the end, your students will have been tricked (for their own good!) into reading the same lines multiple times… and with enthusiasm I might add. They will have improved their fluency and enjoyed themselves as well.