Readers Theater Webinar, one hour and 40 minutes
Teaching reading can be more dynamic and compelling when it is acted out. Specific coaching techniques for even the least stage-friendly teacher.
Hire Karen Rowan to train on Reading Strategies in the World Language Classroom
COMING SOON! Reader’s Theater for the World Language Classroom, by Karen Rowan, published by Teacher’s Discovery
Reader’s Theater as a Reading Strategy: One Perspective
A Beginner’s Guide with video links
List of novels with possible Reader’s Theater scenes at the bottom of this page. (Are we missing any? Let us know and we’ll add them!)
By Karen Rowan
There’s this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other; you get immediate feedback. You know that what you need to do is possible to do, even though difficult, and sense of time disappears, you forget yourself, you feel part of something larger and once the conditions are present, what you are doing becomes worth doing for its own sake. Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Why do Reader’s Theater?
I was teaching a Spanish class in South Bend, Indiana Memorial BrainWorks, a division of Memorial Hospital focused on brain health. They asked if they could hook me up to a portable machine that measures brain waves while I was teaching. There is an optimal state that people reach when involved in a pleasurable activity like playing the piano or reading a good book or eating chocolate. This is a measurable state that Csikszentmihalyi calls flow. (Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. 1990.Flow: the psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper & Row)
I am in flow while teaching Spanish. I am in a state of perfect contentment, happiness and bliss … while teaching.
My goal, though, is for my students to join me in that state. They should forget they are listening to a different language. They should not perceive it as work, but rather as a pleasurable experience. Stephen Krashen says that “language acquisition is effortless and involuntary.” The brain craves more exposure to things that put it in flow, so my students naturally, unconsciously are driven by their brains to seek out more comprehensible input in Spanish. They do that because it feels good.
Why Reader’s Theater Instead of Decoding and Translating?
This is not a state that can be arrived at through decoding, which is what Wilhelm in You Gotta Be the Book (Wilhelm, Jeffrey D. (2008). You gotta be the book: teaching engaged and reflective reading with adolescents. New York, NY: Teachers College Press)says we spend most of our time on. We teach students to decode words, to sound them out, to figure them out. That’s not flow. Flow creates imagery. We want students to see pictures in their heads. We want them to create mental imagery around what characters look like and what scenery looks like. We want to bring words to life.
What would it take to get students to forget that they are reading in another language?
When I see a movie based on a book, my first thought is often that the way I imagined the character is not consistent with the appearance of the actor. This is because I can see pictures in my head. I visualize the story as I am reading it. This is a habit my students often do not have. They focus too much on the words and not enough on the images. This very often makes reading an unpleasant chore for them.
Rather than decoding or translating or reading to decipher, Reader’s Theater, acting out reading selections, is an alternative that brings my students into flow with me. My goals are for my students to experience reading as pleasurable, so that they will want to continue to read independently and for them to see pictures in their heads.
Choosing a Reader’s Theater Selection
This article focuses specifically on books that I have written for four reasons: First, I eliminate copyright issues associated with using selections and translations from sections of readers. Second, because I am most familiar with these books and have taught them, specifically, more than most other people. Third, because either I or a student in my classes has videotaped short segments of my classes, giving me video to rely on, study and share. Fourth, because I primarily teach adults instead of children, I did not have to concern myself with parental permission slips and can easily use the videos.
However, Reader’s Theater can be done well with many readers. My first exposure to Reader’s Theater was at a National TPRS Conference in Naperville, Illinois in which Blaine Ray read Casi se muere while Jason Fritze and Joe Neilson were the actors. Successful Reader’s Theater depends a lot on choosing the chapters that naturally lend themselves to being acted out.
Useable scenes contain exciting or interesting action and motion, involve more than one character and often involves dialogue. When no dialogue is present, it can often be invented. What would he say? What would she say?
Reader’s Theater isn’t limited to readers, though. Any story with a plot, even the lyrics to a song, can be acted out.
Props and Setting
Choose props that help students to visualize the scenario. They can be realistic or ridiculous. A hat can serve as a steering wheel while someone is driving. Feathered boas, children’s toys, hats, Halloween costumes and even cardboard boxes can be used to make acted-out reading selections easier to visualize.
Set the stage so that imaginary locations are stationary. The house is on the right. The park is on the left. Maintain those locations throughout acting out the story. Cars must move to another location. People must open car doors before getting out. This makes the action easier to visualize for those watching.
Pre-teach the new vocabulary through Total Physical Response, TPR Storytelling® or Ashley Hastings’ Movietalk. Each new vocabulary word or structure should be presented in context multiple times. I pay particular attention to high frequency vocabulary. I want the reading selection to be entirely comprehensible before we even begin reading.
• Choose student actors to dramatize the roles.
• Bring them to the front of the room.
• Actors and students in the room are holding and reading the readers.
• Provide the actors with costumes and props, whenever possible.
• Begin reading out loud in the target language while coaching the actors to dramatize the action.
• Stop to ensure 100% comprehension by both the students in the class and the actors. (What does “wind” mean? / ¿Qué quiere decir “viento”?)
• If pre-taught words are still not entirely comprehended in the moment, it is okay to write them up on the board in both languages.
• Encourage actors to act enthusiastically and dramatically.
• Coach and direct actors who perform unenthusiastically until they do it with energy.
• Insist that actors follow the directions as you read precisely, so that each sentence is completely comprehensible to students. If the actors do not understand the input, they won’t be able to act in a way that makes the input comprehensible to the rest of the class.
Here is an example of Reader’s Theater using Chapter 3 of Las aventuras de Isabela.
Isabela and her mother enter a church in Mexico to take pictures. Mom warns Isabela not to touch anything with her hands. She follows these instructions literally.
Script for the selection in English:
I also touch all of the statues. I don’t touch the statues with my hands. I touch the statues with my feet. I touch the statues with my head. I touch the statues with my belly button. I want to touch the statues with my tongue. But my mom looks at me. My mom is not happy. She says to me, “Isabela, why can’t you look and touch like a normal little girl.”
“I am not normal. I am famous. It’s obvious.”
The actor on the left is playing the part of the statue, so he stands on a chair to make him higher than “Isabela”, the actress. The third actress plays the part of Isabela’s mother.
Look for these things:
How actors are coached / directed
How dialogue is handled
How comprehension checks are conducted throughout
How actors are supported and their success is guaranteed
How questions are asked of the actors and the class
Repetition of vocabulary and sentences
The objective is to make the selection comprehensible, but also to make it compelling so that students will pay attention and be entertained. If the actors are doing a good job of this, the class will occasionally be laughing. Ideally, all of my students are having such a good time, that they are forgetting that this is in an unfamiliar language.
0:52 Yo quiero tocar… What’s quiero ? Class: wants.
Coaching / Directing
1:08 Yo quiero tocar las estuatuas con mi lengua. (Hand on shoulder) Mira. Mira. Mira. (Look. Look. Look. Coaching “Isabela” to look at her mom before saying the next line) “Pero mi mamá me mira.” (My mom looks at me.)
(In English to the “mom”) Let’s see your best mom look. Mira.
(In English…) Okay, like this…. Yo quiero tocar la estatua con mi lengua pero mi mama me mira.
Actors are coached in their body language and their enthusiasm and their position on the stage.
1:45 What’s está contenta?
La mamá está contenta o no está contenta? ¿Por qué no está contenta? (The mom is happy or unhappy? Why isn’t she happy?)
Coaching / Directing:
2:45 Showing the mom how she would whisper because she is in a church.
Coaching actors. Handling dialogue. Guaranteeing success.
Mom starts to speak and nothing comes out. I say her line for her. Then we do it again. Notice how dialogue is directed. Students who are unable to or do not want to speak, don’t have to. (We do not force output beyond the level of acquisition.) I turn her shoulders to face the crowd. I speak the words. She mouths the words.
3:33 What’s puede?
Question to class
¿Por qué no puede mirar y tocar como una niña normal?
Ali: Es especial.
Coaching / Directing
3:57 Isabela le dice… (Isabela says) “Yo no soy normal.” No, como Isabela. (No, like Isabela.)
Isabela says it again. Coaching again to not be a whisper.
Isabela says it again.
Con emoción. (Say it with emotion!)
Interacting with the class / Positive Feedback
4:42 (Before giving the statue a high five) ¿Se mueve o no? (Asking the class if the statue had moved or laughed.)
4:50 ¡Un aplauso! (An applause!)
All the World’s a Stage
When we finish Reader’s Theater, I’m not even halfway done, and we are not yet ready to really read independently. The actors so far have had a vastly different experience than the rest of the class. When we are physically engaged with the language, we remember the language for longer. There is memory in muscle. Just as, according to Dr. James Asher, TPR helps students retain vocabulary, being actively involved in acting out a story deepens physical and tactile memory, as well. I want the entire class to act out the story. However, the class would be long and boring if every student acted in front of the class. The “All the World’s a Stage” technique allows each student to participate actively.
I break the students into groups of three. Each person in the group plays a role. One is the statue. One is Isabela. One is the mother. The entire room acts the scene out simultaneously while holding their books. Every third student is standing on a chair.
I walk around the room reading aloud dramatically while the students act out the scene they have just seen acted out in front of the class.
•Mark Mallaney also filmed himself teaching the same chapter using Reader’s Theater.
•Here is another example of “All the World’s a Stage”:
Isabela captura un Congo
•This example of “All the World’s a Stage” was done with a song.
•This song, and others from Gale Mackey, are available from www.tprsbooks.com I also found this independently created Lego Youtube video set to the song.
•El cuento del gato (Gale Mackey, lego video / All the world’s a stage)
We’re ready to read! By this point every word has been pre-taught. The selection has been acted out once in front of the class as I have done comprehension checks and asked questions. Then the students acted out the story themselves in small groups while I read the story again.
Now students will read.
They will ask each other if there is a word they don’t understand. If between the two of them they don’t understand they can ask me or write it on the board in the target language and I will define it in our common language. This particular class included a group of participants whose first language was Turkish. When they discussed amongst themselves, they used Turkish, not English.
Their first semi-independent reading should be a successful experience for them. They should feel proud and pleased that they are understanding the reading and it is not difficult.
This is what pleasure reading feels like. This is flow.
Adding Advanced Skills
For a discussion of advanced skills, I will switch books. Don Quijote: el último caballero, is a better book for expanding upon some previously mentioned strategies and adding new ones. Chapter 3 is translated into English and printed with permission on the final page of this article. There are a lot of additional resources to use with this book and it has fight scenes, death scenes, and declarations of love that are even more interesting to act out. Because it is in the present and past tenses, it is easier to teach in a multi-level class, as well. I add a number of specific additional strategies while referring to Don Quijote. However, Reader’s Theater can be used with most readers or any short story, song, or poem with a plot.
The teacher is the one who determines the placement of those directions — not the students, because the timing is important. Remember that your goal is to make reading fun and memorable and to make pictures in their heads. It’s also to give them lots and lots and lots of comprehensible input.
Here is a video of several of these advanced skills being incorporated and presented by Jason Fritze.
What’s different about upper levels / advanced / native speakers
1. Very often, easy readers skip over a plot point that will seem to the students to be missing. We brainstorm what could have happened and what the characters would have said in the “Missing Chapter” and then act that chapter out while making it up on the spot.
2. Ashley Hastings’ Movietalk. This chapter is also available in a cartoon version. Ask questions and narrate while viewing the clip.
Readers’ Theater – Vol. 1
Quijote – Part 1
Quijote – Part 2
FF Reader’s Theater Las aventuras de Isabela Statues
Reader’s Theater list of novels by authors other than Karen Rowan. This is not ALL novels. This is all the novels that either the author or teachers who teach with the novel suggested when I asked. This is the very last chance to offer editing suggestions. I will submit it tonight and updates will be maintained on a website.
Reader’s Theater is one of many ways to bring reading off the page, creating rich images and colorful pictures in the minds of the readers. Battling boredom and fostering an environment of joy and laughter with reading, we can accomplish our primary goal of creating pleasure readers, who will seek out more opportunities to read for pleasure in the target language if they find the experience enjoyable.
There are many ways to perform Reader’s Theater and many different strategies and techniques. Variations that accomplish the same goals of providing ample comprehensible input in the target language and fostering an environment of play in order to create pleasure readers, are equally legitimate and should be explored. Remember that we are trying to get our students into FLOW so that reading activates that pleasure center of the brain.
Karen Rowan attended her first TPRS Workshop in 1995. She has taught high school, middle school, elementary school, college and adults, at both public and private schools, domestically and internationally since 1995. She was the director of the National TPRS Conference for 5 years and created the first TPRS Coaching workshops. She is the author of the TPRS ancillaries for Realidades and Paso a paso, as well as the Isabela series of readers (Las aventuras de Isabela / Les aventures d’Isabelle; Isabela captura un congo / Isabelle capture un singe hurleur; Carl no quiere ir a México), and Don Quijote, el último caballero as well as several yet-to-be published books. She has also been the editor of IJFLT (ijflt.com) since 2005.
She is available for school district in-services on teaching with Comprehensible Input, TPRS, TPR, reading strategies and creating CI programs. She teaches Spanish to adults as a full-time teacher for Fluency Fast Language Classes. Contact Karen Rowan.
Don Quijote, el ultimo caballero, Excerpt, English translation,
Chapter 3: Giants by Karen Rowan, Published by Command Performance Language Institute, www.CPLI.net
One day Don Quixote and Sancho Panza were traveling through Spain. Don Quixote saw an army of giants. They were enormous. They had four long arms. The giants were about to attack Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
Sancho said to Don Quixote,
“What’s wrong, Sir?”
Don Quixote was confused.
“Don’t you see that army of giants with four long arms?”
Sancho didn’t see giants. He only saw windmills. He saw big windmills.
He said to him:
“I don’t see giants, Sir. I don’t see big giants with four long arms. I see windmills. The windmills have four long blades.”
But Don Quixote didn’t listen to him. He ran toward the windmills and attacked them. Sancho didn’t want to leave Don Quixote, so he also ran toward the windmills. A blade hit Don Quixote and raised him in the air.
When he fell to the ground, Sancho helped him to get up. Don Quixote looked at the giants again. He admitted that now the giants were windmills. He said to Sancho that the giants were enchanted and they all of a sudden changed from giants into windmills.
List of good Reader’s Theater sections in Spanish and French novels provided by authors and teachers:
Fairy Tales or simple cultural legends
The 3 Little Pigs, Goldilocks, Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel
Books by Anonymous
Vida y muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) when (spoiler) is shot.
Books by Katie Allison Baker
El Ekeko: “The chase scene at the beginning of the story; Paco takes the Ekeko from his sister and she cries; Nicolas and Mateo steal the statue and the witch comes out to help Paco; The tale of Isidoro, Paulina and the blockade of La Paz.”
La Llorona de Mazatlán: the moment Laney finally meets La llorona.
Books by Rita Barrett
Libertad, Chapter 4. Schoolyard fight; Chapter 5 argument between Dionisio and dad. Teach student actors how to fake slap; Chapter 6 Rowing, trying to escape from Guardia Costero, getting hit while entering boat; Chapter 8 Protest in La Habana; Chapter 10 Family in separation, kids crying, police shouting, husband leaving family — add some hugs; Chapter 10-11 blockade of Florida coastline (some students are Florida, some are US ships, some are rafters)
Books by Mira Canion
Agentes secretos/La France en danger: creepy, dark chapel scene chapter 5; romantic scene in chapter 6; male character as princess on Ramblas in chapter 8; explosion in chapter 9 (Spanish version only); car chase chapter 10 (French Ch 9), running of the bulls chapter 11 (French Ch 10), bullfight chapter 12 (French Ch 11) foot chase chapters 13,14 (French Ch 12, 13).
Tumba: the climax scene where Alex saves Sergio.
Fiesta fatal: the car crash scene; long chase scene from chapters 3-6
“The car crash in Fiesta Fatal was best readers theater I’ve had in my classes.” – Brian Peck
La Vampirata: tons of pursuit, humor, foot chases, boats, thick jungle pursuits– starting with chapter 3
El capibara con botas: portions of chapters 3, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 13 are all easily acted out.
Piratas: (with Carol Gaab) Henry Morgan captures Carlos; Raquel runs up to Antonio and slaps him in the face. Fight scene on the boat.
Books by Carol Gaab
Esperanza: Chapter 1, the mysterious caller, using toy phones.
The border crossing scenes, chapter when Esperanza and children take bus and soldiers enter bus demanding money and to see travelers’ documents. I put chairs in formation of bus and ALL students either have specific parts or are passengers. I give students props: cabbage patch doll babies, hats, flowers, beanie baby chickens, Monopoly money, baskets, papers (documents), etc. Roads are bumpy so passengers act that out also. ? (Rita Barrett)
Chapter 6, when Esperanza and children take bus and soldiers enter bus demanding money and to see travelers’ documents. I put chairs in formation of a bus and ALL students either have specific parts or are passengers. I give the students props: cabbage patch doll babies, hats, flowers, beanie baby chickens, Monopoly money, baskets, papers (documents), etc. The roads are bumpy so passengers act that out also. (Contributed by Cynthia Hitz )
Felipe Alou: Whole class Reader’s Theater scene when he was on bus and could never get anything to eat. I randomly assigned students to be black or white, regardless of their actual race–those who were assigned to be white got to go into my office and get candy, those black waited in line, but never got any. Wow! What a experience of injustice. I could hardly even do the scene it was so mean. I made it up to the kids the next day, but yes, I let it burn that whole class period. Got to debrief that one. -Rita Barrett
Books by Robert Harrell
Pirata del Norte / Pirate de la Mer du Nord / Nordseepirat: The beheading of Claus Stoertebeker at the beginning of the book.
Books by Bryce Hedstrom
La Llorona: Bryce Hedstrom has written an embedded reading on La Llorona which works well for Reader’ Theater. I wrote a script to go with it that used words my students mostly already knew. We elaborated on the back story to give La Llorona a motive. (We acted this out, too.) We called her Maria. She had two small children. Her husband left her, but she stood at the door every day waiting for him to come home. Finally, a neighbor told her that he had left her for another woman. She had no money. Her children were starving (children, on their knees, wail and cry). Her family cannot help her. Her neighbors cannot help her. She has no way to feed her children and they are hungry. Lots of dialogue from the children here about being hungry. Maria goes for a walk along the river with her children and suddenly, desperate, she throws them into the water. She instantly regrets her choice and throws herself in after them. The legend says that her ghost still walks the banks of the river, crying for her lost children.
Books by Virginia Hildebrandt
Los sueños de Xóchitl: Scenes with chupacabras. Some teachers have had contests for the most likely sound a chupacabra and have shared their recordings with other schools.
Las lágrimas de Xóchitl: The mean girl scene at school, chapter 4.
Books by Jeremy Jordan
La Estatua / Le Estatue When the brother and sister have the water fight.
Books by Nathaniel Kirby
La Guerra Sucia: the disappearance of Raúl
Los Bakers van a Perú: the Price is Right scene.
Books by Chris Mercer
Casa Dividida: when the family brings the baby to the hospital and are aggressively refused care. Chapter 5 when Carlos and Rolando capture prisoners and then lead the attack on Batista’s troops. Antony saves Carlos from a grenade by tackling him behind a tree. Chapter 13, when Luisa drives into a battle zone, her jeep hits a mine and she saves a little girl.
Todo lo que brilla: When José dramatically slips on the banana peel to attract the attention of Emilia….and it works. When José and Ignacio are robbed and wake up surrounded by natives with spears. Ecuavalley scene. Lots of sports action, trash talk and an inspirational finish to the game.
Books by Verónica Moscoso
Los ojos del Carmen, Chapter 5 when Daniel gets pickpocketed by Carmen’s friend and Carmen runs away. Later when Daniel sees the thief stealing another person’s wallet and makes her give it back.
Olivia y los monos
Books by Inga Patterson Zuniga
Cinco Pesos: airplane scene (fight over ipad), bus scene (surprise in sandwiches), when they ask a foreigner for directions, the turnstile scene.
Ahorita: scene where Paco is brushing his teeth while texting Wyatt that he is “leaving now”. All the shop scenes – barbershop, tortillería, Oxxo shop, panadería, taquería.
Books by Kristy Placido
Frida Kahlo: the famous bus scene when she’s impaled by a handrail
Robo en la noche: when Makenna escapes the kidnappers
Noches Misteriosas en Granada Going to do some Karen Rowan-style Reader’s Theater tomorrow for a couple chapters of Noches Misteriosas en Granada (thanks Kristy Placido!). We’ll do fast forward, pausing, and rewind of action parts; team “chants” when the antagonist and protagonist’s names are mentioned; props/costumes; and my favorite, a class photographer so later we can review pictures as a class (because everyone loves seeing themselves, right? haha). Chapter 3 Best props: tennis rackets borrowed from tennis team members, a student moving the laser pointer back and forth represented the ball, and red tissue paper was Kevin’s bloody nose.
Kevin peeks through a “window” into a cave in Sacromonte in Granada. He sees Alfonso with his falcon. Kevin makes eye contact and is blinded by a terrible headache, falls unconscious and wakes up the next day in front of his host family’s home. Props: Bird mask . Spooky suspense music from YouTube.
Books by Blaine Ray and Pat Verano
Pobre Ana bailó tango when Ana confronts the girl who she thinks stole her shoes
Books by Blaine Ray and Lisa Ray Turner
Casi se muere, the choking scene in the cafeteria. This remains the best reader’s theater scene of all time. Best prop is silly string that is not revealed until the final second, when Ana performs the Heimlich on the school bully.
Vida o Muerte en el Cusco: Mom falling off the cliff
El Viaje de su Vida, Chichen Itza when la mujer insecta steals the necklace and the dangerous pyramid scene.
Viva el toro, the bullfight scene and when Ana meets Julio Barquero
Patricia va a California: the restaurant scene; the car thief scene.
Mi propio auto: when Ben gets the tickets instead of a car for his birthday.
Books by Jon Sifert
La isla más peligrosa: Chapter 12 pages 63-66. Starting 1/2 way down page 63 at: «¿Qué vas a hacer con mi hermano y yo?»
The villian reveals, at gunpoint, her plans for the two boys and their father. Trevor pretends to be bitten by a snake and the two boys struggle with Isabela for the gun. (Spoiler) accidentally falls into the snake pit.
Books by Carrie Toth
Bianca Nieves y los siete toritos: the moment El Juli gets injured and rushed to the hospital
La Calaca Alegre: Carlos breaking into the restaurant to search for his missing mother
La hija del sastre: (with Carol Gaab) the scene where Ignacio tries to escape his own apartment; Emilia eavesdropping on her parents’ conversation.
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