As I began to do more research about the benefits of Reader’s Theater, my worries about whether or not I had chosen a subject worth researching disappeared. Being in contact with a leading researcher, Timothy Rasinski, reinforced my desire to make reading fun for all levels of readers. I began this process with wonderful ideas swirling in my head, but was unsure of how they would fit into an already full curriculum. It was only through reading other teachers’ experiences and responding to the reflections of my class that I was I able to create a program that took nothing away from the students, but gave them tools to help with their fluency and comprehension, and the motivation to READ!

You will see, in the following reflections, how what seemed like an easy process to follow morphed into a greater understanding of what motivates students and how it affected their learning. I found that as the students learned, so did I. Listening to their reflections and understandings of what they had read, impacted the path I took towards my destination of reading fluency, comprehension, and motivation.

Setting the Stage September 2010
“Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff …”

The first week of school was a great window into the lives of my students. I wrote down observations; most of them having to do with individual personalities, such as the peacemaker or the joker, and what I saw excited me. They loved to interact with each other and tell stories.

On our first full day of school (the first three days were half days) we had a busy morning with specialty classes and by the afternoon, they were tired. Keeping their interest and focus was becoming difficult. I read the story of The Three Little Pigs out loud to them and they loved it! How could I tell? Their eyes were glued to me (the story had no pictures), they repeated the repetitive lines, and used such energy it was contagious! All of them were engaged! It was at this point that I knew Reader’s Theater would be a great asset.

Prior to performing our first script, I decided to use a survey to gather information about their attitudes towards reading and performing. I initially thought I would do it in groups, but due to the various reading levels, I decided to individually ask them each question. Later, while we were doing reading centers (where they rotate through centers focused on reading, writing, computers, and grammar), I gave each student a reading survey one by one. This worked well and I believe I received true answers from them. Originally, I started with 14 students, but by mid October I had a full class of 16. In the survey they were asked to choose a face representing how they felt about reading: happy, OK, or sad. The following Figure 5 shows the results where 56% (9) felt happy, 38% (6) were OK with it, and 6% (1) felt sad.

Figure 5:
These results told me that overall, my students saw reading as a positive experience, except for one student. This made me wonder why one student would feel sad about reading, especially since the child seemed to enjoy read alouds. This child, Allen, had attended CCDS last year, and I knew it had been a hard year, so it became my mission to instill the love of reading for all students, but especially that one.

I wanted to get a sense of how much my students read at home and who they read with.
The following Figure 6 illustrates my discoveries.

Figure 6:
All students stated they read at home. This was a positive sign that their parents also valued reading. My students indicated various ways of reading: alone (13 out of 16), with a sibling (8 out of 16), with parents (14 out of 16), or their parents read to them (9 out of 16). I was surprised to see that 13 out of 16 read alone at home, especially since many were emergent readers. Knowing that reading was already an important part of their lives, and that they did it in various ways, enabled me to know that reading was encouraged and that practicing Reader’s Theater at home would most likely occur.

Since RT involves standing in front of an audience, I asked if they had ever been in a play; ten said they had and six hadn’t. This was important information to know, so that I could model, prepare, and teach the students proper prosody (expression and phrasing) when performing. I followed this up by asking how they felt about speaking in front of people. As shown below in Figure 7, 44% (7) of the class loved it, 38% (6) were fine with speaking in front of others, 12% (2) do not like it, and 6% (1) said it made them feel nervous.

Figure 7:
This was another positive sign. Overall, 82% (13) were fine with speaking in front of others, with 18% (3) feeling negative about it. It made me wonder what factors were causing three students to not be comfortable with it. Was it inexperience? Prior experiences? Or just personalities? As I put together scripts for them to read, I made sure that there were always smaller parts that students could choose if they were one of the students who were uncomfortable with speaking in front of others.

To help me choose the different stories to include in RT, I wanted to find out what kind of stories students liked to read. I asked them to put a check mark next to the different types enjoyed. It was quite close across all the different choices, as seen in Figure 8. This information enabled me to use all different types of genres when selecting or writing scripts.

Figure 8:
To further understand how they liked to read, I asked them to rank, from 1-5 the following situations: acting, reading with a friend, reading aloud, listening to a story, and reading in a group. I then put them into three categories: positive (rank 1 or 2), ok (rank 3) and negative (rank 4 or 5). Their responses are illustrated in the following Figure 9.

Figure 9:
 Overall, the rankings were quite similar, except for reading in a group. As I further reflected on this data, it made me wonder what interpretation they had about reading in a group and whether or not it would negatively affect their small RT groupings. All the scripts would be practiced/performed in groups. Would they be able to cooperate and perform their scripts? Had they had much time to work in groups in kindergarten? Since the rest of the data from this question was positive, it encouraged me to use different types of methods when the students read, not only with RT, but also during reading time more generally. I would have them at times read with a friend or alone.

As I searched for scripts to use, I used all the information I had gathered through observations and their survey. I wanted them to feel a connection to the story and start RT with a bang! After seeing their response to the read aloud of The Three Little Pigs, I decided that this would be a perfect jumping off point to start a successful year of Reader’s Theater.

First Scripts “Will this work?”
First scripts were handed out! They were so excited. I first read them the whole script, pointing out the different parts and reading with prosody, both expression and phrasing. For the first script all groups did the same story. I ended up having three groups of five. I explained/reminded them that they may or may not get the part they wanted, but that we’d be doing more in the future. I started pulling sticks with their names so they could choose their parts. As I watched the students pick their parts, I noticed excitement.

It didn’t matter about reading levels; they picked the part they wanted. Research has stated again and again that choice gives ownership and motivation. Amazingly enough, the narrator roles were taken first. What were the kids looking for as they chose their parts? Amount of lines? Character? What was their previous experience with narrators? Did this influence their choices? I thought that the wolf would go first. I was a little apprehensive as I saw the emergent readers pick the role of narrator, knowing it would be tough for them. Were they looking for a challenge? Did they want to show they could do it? I knew they would need to practice a lot. I asked one of the emergent readers if he wanted to change and be a pig. He told me no, that he’d stay the narrator. I was proud of him for wanting to keep his part. In Kindergarten, only more fluent readers were chosen to be narrators during Chapel presentations, so I think choosing the role of narrator made them feel important and needed. I talked to the parents of the two that took narrator and gave them some hints about practicing it. I encouraged them to practice with their children, and not to worry if they changed the words a little bit, so that it was easier. I hoped they both would stay positive.

After the students chose their roles, I broke them up into their three groups to practice. While they were practicing, my aide and I walked around to assist where needed. When we regrouped after practicing, I asked them to tell me how they felt about the script. Most said “good” one said it was “ok.” I asked him what would make it better, and he couldn’t find an answer. Another child chimed in “costumes.” A girl said that maybe we could add one more thing to the play each time we did one, like start with nothing, then add masks the next time, then a setting ….. This sounded great, but the whole reason I chose RT was because it didn’t have those things. What am I going to do? How can we continue keeping it simple yet keep the motivation high? I was a little nervous…. Would this work?

Act 1: Performing for the Junior Kindergarten
“I liked when the wolf fell into the fire.” - Junior Kindergartener
Today was the big day. After practicing in the classroom and at home for a week, the kids performed their first Reader’s Theater for the Junior Kindergarten (JK). I placed the stools at the front of the classroom for them to sit on. They had their scripts in their hands. There was a little apprehension; I could see it in their faces. Then they started, and did really well. I was so proud of them. It was obvious that they had practiced and were proud of their performance by the smiles on their faces. Despite lots of distractions when the second group performed (spilled water, a box dropping) the show went on, the kids didn’t miss a beat. When I asked the Junior Kindergarteners to tell what they liked about it, they kept picking the parts of the play rather then the delivery.

·      “I liked the big bad wolf.”
·      “I liked when the wolf got burned.”

I decided I needed to rethink about how I posed my questions to both the audience and performers. Following the performance I had my class draw a picture about how they felt about the performance. 93% (15 students) drew a happy picture and 7% (one student) drew a picture of feeling OK about their performance.
It was good to know that such a large percentage of the class enjoyed the performance. I wondered why one student, Allen, just felt ok, especially when I could see in his face how much fun he had being the big bad wolf. Was he trying to be contrary? Or was this an honest feeling? He had stated in his initial survey that he didn’t like reading, but his actions showed otherwise. I needed to keep observing.

Later that day I talked with a few parents about how practicing the script at home was going. Most stated that practicing the script was greeted with enthusiasm, that they would reread it over and over again without a fuss. One parent stated that the regular homework brought their child to tears, but he loved practicing the RT script! This was exactly what I was hoping to hear about RT, and I created modifications for his regular homework to alleviate the difficulty he was having.

Intermission: Next scripts
“Can I get my script to practice?” 1st Grader
We began the next week buzzing with excitement. Based on the responses and observation from my class, as well as, the JK teacher, I decided that I would have 3-4 groups performing different scripts. The JK teacher had observed that her class was having difficulty staying focused on seeing the same script over and over. This made sense, so I purposely created scripts that were distinctly different. One was fiction, The Country Mouse and the City Mouse, two non-fiction, The Story of Creation and Johnny Appleseed, and one poem, “The Apple and the Worm.”

It was interesting to see which the students chose. As before, students chose the narrators first. I was interested to see who chose parts based on the amount of words, and who chose them based on the part. It seemed that the emergent readers wanted narrator parts the most. Was it because of the amount of lines? The type of expression needed? Or that they just liked being a narrator? I wondered how I could encourage emergent readers to choose parts that were more appropriate to them. I didn’t want to discourage their excitement, but I knew that some were struggling with their lines. However, what I saw was that instead of getting frustrated, my emergent readers were becoming more focused and their peers were helping them with their lines.

Due in part to this, practicing in the classroom became important. Students asked:

            “Can I please get my script?”
            “Should I use a softer voice?”
            “Do you guys want to practice my script?”
            “How about you practice with me and I practice with you?”

I heard lots of voice when they were practicing. Not only did I see them practicing their script, but also many students were picking up books by our author of the month Kevin Henkes, and reading them during free time and even during snack time. This gave me lots of valuable information about their motivation. I had hoped to observe the desire to read crossing over to areas outside Reader’s Theater, and I was witnessing it.

My class gathered and discussed what made a good performance of RT following our first performance and they responded beautifully. I heard “They (the performers) were loud and clear.” “They used expression.” Hopefully I’m leading them in the right direction about understanding what makes RT effective.

After performing for four weeks to the JK, I could see comprehension increasing. Their prosody was improving, confidence as readers increased, and they were becoming more fluent in their delivery. Only with an understanding of the script could they so clearly tell the story and bring the audience into their script. They enjoyed performing for the JK, but I could see that they wanted more.

Act 2 – Performing for Others in the School

October 2010
“I just don’t want to perform for myself, I want to perform for other people.” 1st Grader
In my initial research, I had decided that the class would perform their RT on a weekly basis to the Junior Kindergarteners. After talking with the JK teacher after two performances, she noted that the performances might be too long for her little ones to sit still for. She suggested that possibly groups could come every other week to perform. I struggled with this because I knew how important performing was to my class. If only one group went every other week, how would that affect their motivation? Would they still enjoy RT? Would they still be eager to practice? What could I do to make the performances more enjoyable for the JK? Did I need to stick with stories they knew? What other possibilities were there for performing? I decided to interview my class about what they wanted to do and whom they wanted to perform for.

·      “Well, I think we should do it for someone else.”
·      “I just want to kind of do it for someone else.”
·      “I would like to perform it for the 5th graders.”

Based on this feedback, I started asking the other teachers at my school if they’d be interested in having my class perform their scripts for their classes. All said yes, and we were on our way to performing for a larger audience. This was a critical moment for my class. As one student commented, “It really makes me feel like I’m a big part of the school.”

Performing for the 3rd and 5th graders this week was met with cheers! They were so excited to perform for other classes. It surprised me that performing for older students would motivate and excite them. It showed how confident and proud they were of their work. I introduced the new scripts and students selected their parts. Their choices were: The Enormous Turnip, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Captain Hook, which was a poem, written by Shel Silverstein .The other two were fictional stories based on books that I had read to the class. Once again, students chose the narrator roles first, with the characters from The Enormous Turnip coming in a close second. The poem was next to go, and the parts from The Very Hungry Caterpillar were chosen last. I had to wonder why? Looking at the parts of The Enormous Turnip I realized that the characters were quite colorful. It wasn’t a dog; it was the big black dog. And the mouse was the wee little mouse. We had been discussing adjectives in the classroom and I think the author’s use of them encouraged the students to be that part; lessons learned were being transferred to Reader’s Theater. The poem “Hook” was funny, and two girls ended up choosing it.



Practice that week was fabulous. I saw that my class truly loves to read, on their own, and with a partner. Books are available all around the room, and every spare moment students were picking up books. During our snack time, when the kids can socialize with each other, 8 out of 15 chose to pick up a book and read, one chose to sit and talk, and the other six were still eating.

On the day of the performance, the students were so excited about going to another classroom. I had two students with siblings in either 3rd or 5th, so I made sure they were able to perform for their sibling’s class. This motivated them even more. Tentatively they entered the classroom of 5th graders, excited, yet nervous. Our first performance, The Enormous Turnip, had nine parts. As they lined up across the front of the classroom, they seemed ready for the task. Eyes were up, scripts were down. Then they began. They did a good job and the 5th graders were amazed, one said, “They were pretty good with their comprehension,” and when I further investigated this comment, he replied that their expression showed they knew and understood the story.

The other two groups performed for the 3rd grade. The first group did The Very Hungry Caterpillar. There was a lot of expression, but a couple of them had trouble with tracking the words in the text, which is very hard. I had to step in to help them keep their places and know when to read their lines. For one of them, who was an emergent reader, I understood the difficulty, but the other child was fluent, and still had trouble. What was causing this? Was being nervous a factor? Not enough practice? I continued to watch and try to understand how I could best assist them with tracking. The poem, read by two students, was fantastic. They made the transition between lines very smooth. The 3rd graders responded to both scripts with:

·      “I thought that they all talked with expression.”
·      “It made it interesting because they all have different voices.”
·      “It came alive because it was really smooth.”

When all the groups came back to the classroom I introduced their new reflections exit card. Previously, I had been asking the students to respond to one aspect of their RT experience, whether it was drawing a picture of their favorite part, how they felt, or the best part of RT. After reflecting myself, I felt that I needed more information. Therefore I created an exit card (Appendix ­D) that was more specific about whether or not they liked the role they chose, how they did during the performance, what their favorite part of RT was, and any other questions or comments. I found that it gave me more information to use as we continued RT in the classroom. Three students didn’t like the idea, and were worried that they could no longer draw pictures to answer the question. I assured them that they could still draw a picture of their favorite part. This seemed to ease their minds. I went over the reflections exit card and we completed the first one together. I was anxious to see their responses.

All 16 students indicated they liked the part they picked this week for various reasons, ranging from it being fun to liking the story. 81% (13) felt good about their performance. Of those three who felt OK, one gave no reason and two said they were either scared or didn’t like to read. Allen, who previously had been giving negative responses to RT, was the one who said he didn’t like to read. Why? I knew he loved to hear, write, and tell stories. I watched as he performed and he took his role seriously. Maybe as his reading skills improved, so would his attitude towards reading? As seen in the following figure 10, when asked about what they liked best about RT, students said that picking their part was the most important. In second place, 11 students put that performing was one of the best things about RT. Students gave the lowest rating to practicing at school. I think the students really enjoyed practicing with their families, and finding time where everyone in their script was available at the same time had become difficult.

Figure 10:
Looking at this data I realized how important the role of choice was with their motivation. It didn’t really matter what role they choose; what mattered was that they had ownership of the role, and because of that, they were more willing to put in the work to practice their lines each night. This idea of choice is powerful. It’s what motivated and encouraged reading and fluency in my classroom.

Later, the 5th graders wrote thank you notes to my students. Two representatives came to the classroom with a large poster board. On it were notes to each student, even those who  had performed for a different class. My students were so proud. What a wonderful way to validate their hard work and effort. The following are examples of the notes written by the 5th graders to the 1st graders.
 Performing for other classes at the school was powerful. I saw the class step it up and become even more focused on their roles. They used fabulous expression when performing, much to the amazement of the older students in our school. Once again, their confidence as readers increased, and comprehension of their scripts was evident through their performances and verbal retells of the stories.

As we continued performing for the other classes in the school, I could hear a growing number of students requesting to peform for their parents. I was also approached by the parents aksing when they’d be able to see their child perform. This led to our next big change, peforming for their parents and friends.

Act 3: Performing for an Audience Beyond the School
October 2010
“Who else would you like to perform for?” Mrs. Renly
“Our moms!” 1st Grader

Change is good. As I mentioned earlier, the path I thought we would be taking, went towards a different destination. Just as I listened to the class, giving them voice about performing for other classes, they also showed an interest in performing for their parents. I already had planned for them to perform in February, during the principal’s 1st grade level coffee, but it was only October. Looking at the schedule I found that the parents also had a coffee with the principal at the end of the month. So I made the decision to have the class perform at this coffee as well. When I told them, they were excited!

Since it was close to Halloween, I decided to find scripts that went with that theme and reflections they had been making on their exit cards. One student had been begging for a musical. How could I do this? Was it even possible? As I searched for scripts about Halloween, I came across Halloween songs that could possibly work. I decided to do two poems, It’s Halloween and Boo, one non-fiction about bats called Bat Clues, and a song called, “Oh My Darling, Frankenstein” sung to the tune of Clementine. I had some reservations, especially considering that the song had six parts. What if six kids didn’t want to do it? Could I make them sing? Would it work? When they went to choose parts I held my breath. When the last part was the song, the little boy who was left didn’t show any concern about being in it. In fact, he seemed excited to be with another boy in the group.

The day arrived. Most parents were able to attend and that showed me that they valued RT and the importance of it to their child. The class did a fantastic job! They were clear and loud. They used wonderful expression. When they finished, I asked the parents for feedback. They said, “It’s amazing” and “Very motivating.” This would have been a great opportunity to have them tell the class what they noticed about the delivery of the scripts. By not asking, I lost a exceptional opportunity to build the class up. I won’t forget that important piece again.

When we returned to the classroom, we sat in a circle and debriefed the experience. The students commented about performing in front of their parents:

·      “I felt proud cause I got to perform in front of all these parents. I felt a little bit nervous but I did really good at my part.”
·       “At first I thought it was going to be a little bit embarrassing, but when the script was almost over I didn’t feel that way.”
·      “I felt excited”
·      “I felt happy performing in front of my mom and brother.”
·      “I felt really good.”
·      “I didn’t like the script.”
·      “I felt really excited to perform for our parents because I thought we shouldn’t really do it for our class today and I thought we should do it for our parents.”
·      “I liked it since I suggested music.”
·      “I felt a little bit nervous, I was really excited to see my parents.”

Overall, it was a great experience for the class, and they were excited to perform for their parents again. Allen was the one who said he didn’t like the script, though he had chosen to do the poem. In his reflections, however, he said that he liked the part he picked and that he did OK with his performance of it. I am still trying to figure out why his reflections on RT are negative when I see by his actions that doing RT fills him with pride.

Once again, all students (16) said that they liked the part they had picked. Reasons ranged from performing in front of their parents, the topic, and that it felt good. When asked how they felt about their performance, 81% (13) said great, and 19% (3) said OK as illustrated in figure 11. Most felt that seeing thier parents made them feel good about it. Of the three that said OK, one stated it was “good”, another felt nervous, and Allen said he had difficulty following along.

Figure 11:

The class had been having a wonderful time perfoming scripts that I supplied. But once again, they wanted more. They not only wanted to perform scripts, but they wanted to write them! I saw this as a great opportuntiy to weave in all the skills we’d been learning in reading. Our next stop... writing and performing scripts.

Act 4: Writing Our Own Scripts
January 2011
“I made up my own Reader’s’s theater.” 1st Grader

The week before we went on winter break, I had informed the class that there would not be a script for Reader’s Theater due to the fact the week was short and our school had many functions that would interfere. Instead of the sadness I expected, and had seen previously, this announcement was met with a cheer. I needed some clarification and said, “ I thought you liked RT.” Most said, “Yeah,” but I could tell from the look on one student’s face that he felt differently. I was surprised since he was a student who was usually excited about RT so I asked him, “If we did it every other week, would it be better?” and he responded, “Yes.”

This response was significant. This was the one area that I had been worried about. Would they get bored with it? Did I need to add more? Were they losing motivation? Was my concern about keeping them motivated materializing? I began to think that maybe they were ready to write their own scripts. We could spend one week writing, and one week practicing then performing. It would take the pressure off of me to find scripts. They were set to perform for their parents once again in February. What would be cooler then having the class perform the scripts they had written?

Before I discussed this change with them, students started asking what their scripts were going to be about when they returned from winter break. I saw that motivation to do RT was still there, and that was a good sign. So I shared my new idea and let them know that they’d be writing their own scripts. It was met with mixed reactions. Some seemed happy, even Allen. Others weren’t so sure about it. I wondered if they were nervous about putting their words on paper, which can be daunting to 1st graders.

I proceeded to explain how they would be doing it. We discussed groupings, norms, and choosing wisely which group they would want to be a part of. I was pleasantly surprised when the groups turned out to be quite balanced with four in a group, and not all the groups were gender specific.

            Group 1 – 3 boys, 1 girl
            Group 2 – 1 boy, 3 girls
            Group 3 – 3 boys, 1 girl
            Group 4 – 4 girls

I was most concerned about Group 4 because of the personalities and that it was the only group with all the same gender. I’d have to watch that group. I then let them meet in their groups to generate ideas and think about what they would want to write about. The only limitations I gave them were that there could not be any weapons and that they couldn’t retell a story that was already written. Discussions were animated and energy was high!

The next day we continued to work on scripts. Before we started we discussed the norms for working in groups. I had them come up with them based on our discussions the previous day and their experience working in their groups. I asked them what worked well yesterday and what could make things better. They came up with:

        * Be nice, kind
        * Respectful
        * Listen
        * Share time
        * Use teamwork

These were simple and direct and I was glad they understood what it would take to make their groups function in a positive way. They broke up into their designated groups with the task to decide on their topic, choose characters, setting, and start drawing/writing the beginning, middle, and end of their story. I facilitated by walking around assisting groups as they discussed their stories. When I came to group four, I saw that things weren’t going smoothly. We discussed the norms once again, and one member stated, “XX is taking all the airtime.” Wow, how powerful setting norms had been for my class. They understood and knew how to apply them. I spent some time with them, and they started to move along. The other groups seemed to understand what was expected and I only needed to prompt them so they could get their ideas down on paper. The examples below show the storyboards two groups created.



This story was about “The Escape.” Lily, Kelly, and Whitey escaped from the zoo and tell the story from their point of view. Sophia, a young girl, is considered a tall tree with shoes, who goes to the woods in search of the animals. Unknown to her they are on the airplane with her and then end up in her hotel room where they become friends.



In this story, “The Journey”, Tiger Lily and Crystal who live in the jungle and savanna, run out of meat to eat. They travel to the grasslands where at first Tiger Lily wants to eat Kelly, but Crystal warns her and they all become friends and eat the food of the grasslands.

We spent a week working on planning and writing the scripts. I had to remind them to only include one major event, otherwise their stories would get too complicated and to save the next event for the next script. A student responded, “You mean like chapter 2?” I said, “Exactly.” Once each group had drawn their storyboard, I sat with them to help write out their lines; conscious to make sure everyone had equal turns with lines. With all four scripts finally written I asked them to think about their experience. Their reactions were interesting, ranging from “This is harder then it looks” to “We worked together.”

To get a better overview, I went through the norms and had the class give a thumb up if their group followed the norms, and a thumb down if they didn’t. Overall, the majority of the class gave positive responses to listening, being nice, and showing teamwork. Allen, once again, put a thumb down sign for all of them. This is interesting since his group worked cooperatively and had few issues during the writing process. Again, I had to wonder why his responses were often contrary to the group. When I asked about whether their groups did a good job sharing airtime, I received mixed results. About half of the class gave a thumb up, and half gave it a thumb down. This didn’t surprise me after watching the groups interact during the week. I definitely had some kids that wanted to run the show, which didn’t allow others to have time to give their input. It was these groups that had put a thumb down sign for sharing airtime. I reminded them of our norms and how their scripts were a group effort and that they needed to make sure everyone had a chance to express their opinions.

All week long the kids practiced their scripts. When Friday finally came, we practiced one more time during reading centers. Since no one in the class had heard the scripts of the other groups I had thought they could perform for each other, rather than a different class. When I told them this, three out of the four groups were disappointed. This made me realize how important performing for others really was. It was what motivated them. During lunch I quickly asked the JK teacher if they were available to come watch my class perform their own written scripts that afternoon, and she said, “Absolutely!” When I told my class, they were happy.

My class performed that afternoon, with much success. I wasn’t sure if the JK students would be able to follow the stories, but I was mistaken. Not only did they follow the storylines, but they were able to tell me the problem in each script and how it was solved. I also noticed that they were able to sit through all four with minimal distractions. I asked my class to reflect on writing and performing their scripts. They stated:

·      “It made me feel excited because we all worked together.”
·      “I was really excited for doing the script.”
·      “Cool, really excited because it was fun to write the script.”
·      “Great! Proud because I get to work with my friends and make our own script.”
·      “I really liked practicing. I was like Mom, can we do it again?”
·      “I practiced like 10 times.”
·      “Loved it!”

When asked on their exit cards about how their group did writing their scripts, 10 felt they did great, 3 were OK, and 2 said they need help. Allen was one of the students who felt they needed help. This was the group that I had the least interaction with because they were very competent sketching out their ideas. I only needed to help them when it came to writing out their words. I wondered why Allen's responses were consistently negative. Does it get him attention? Is he just overly critical of himself? I made a plan to meet with him individually to discuss his feelings.

Following our discussions during the week, I wasn’t surprised with students' responses regarding what the most exciting part of RT was. I allowed them to choose all the responses that they felt were exciting. As shown below in figure 12, most important to them was working with their friends; 14 out of 15 said this is what made it exciting. 10 students responded that performing was important, with writing the script (8) and practicing the script (3) coming in third and fourth.

Figure 12:
 These results made me think about motivation. Guthrie & Davis state that students are more likely to make the effort to read and learn if the material and activities interest them (2003). The class was overwhelmingly motivated by working with friends. It made me think about how I could use this information across the curriculum. Would more group work increase motivation? I had already implemented a lot of pair work and the results had been amazing. Quality and output had increased. How could I use this information in other subjects? Could I give up control? Furthermore, performing kept emerging as a motivating factor. Even Allen stated at one point, “I just want to kind of do it for someone else.”

When I asked if they would like to write another script, 13 out of 15 stated, “YES!” and two students said, “Maybe.” Allen, who I had struggled with all year to understand, answered “yes” when it came to writing another script. Had I found the key to reaching him? Was writing and performing for others what he needed to be motivated? It seemed so. When I looked at the two students who had responded “maybe,” I realized that one had been absent during the whole writing process, and she didn’t really know what it took to write a script. So fear of the unknown may have been a factor. The other "maybe" came from a student who had stated that her group had needed help during the process. I believe that these two responses are linked. Her group did have some difficulty, but the outcome of her group’s script was good. She stated later in her reflections that she liked how the story turned out. All but one student liked how their story turned out, and that one student circled yes and no in the response. This may have been due to the fact this student was absent when her group met to discuss their topic, so she didn’t have input at that point.

The final question on their exit card was, “Do you feel your reading is getting better?” All 15 students responded, “Yes.” It was nice to see that not only was I seeing improvement, but they were feeling confident in their ability to read. Having confidence when reading is paramount to becoming fluent readers.

Curtain Call

“I feel like I’m going to brst.” - 1st grader, journal response
Throughout my research, I was hoping to find an increase in motivation, fluency and comprehension by using Reader’s theater on a regular basis. At the beginning of the year, I conducted an initial survey that suggested just over half the class (56%) felt happy about reading. When the post survey was given, the percentage had increased. Figure 13 shows that 81% indicated that they felt happy and 19% felt OK about reading. The attitude towards reading had improved and could be seen as a result of the use of Reader’s Theater along with the increased ability to read independently.

Figure 13:


 “I feel cool,” Allen stated when asked to draw a picture about how reading made him feel. Most drew pictures, but I also received responses of:

·      “Proud”
·      “Good”
·      “Exciting”

When these pictures and responses were analyzed, 15 gave positive comments, and one student (not Allen), felt OK. When I had begun my research, Allen was the student who always responded negatively when asked about reading and his view of himself as a reader. It was when I introduced writing their own scripts the change started to occur with Allen. His motivation and desire to write and perform increased.

Becoming comfortable with speaking in front of an audience can be daunting to many children. When we first started Reader’s theater, 44% loved speaking in front of people, while 38% felt fine, 12% didn’t like it and 6% felt nervous. After 13 cycles of Reader’s theater, these percentages drastically changed: 62% now loved speaking in front of people, and 38% felt fine. I no longer had any students who didn’t like it or who felt nervous, as illustrated in figure 14.

Figure 14:
My goal as an educator was always to motivate students to want to know and learn more. I found that through the use of Reader’s Theater students were motivated to practice reading regularly, which in turn increased their fluency, and comprehension. It was through these lenses that I looked at how Reader’s Theater affected their desire to read.

“I want to read!” – 1st Grader

As it came time to wrap up my data collection, I was interested in finding out whether or not the class wanted to continue performing Reader’s Theater and if so, how often? I gave them a final reflection exit card in February, five months after starting Reader’s Theater. When asked if they liked Reader’s Theater, all 16 students responded yes. 69% (11) of the students wanted to continue it every week, 25% (4) preferred every other week, and 6% (1) wanted it once a month. Writing their own scripts was preferred (88%) and 22% liked getting a script from me. When I had supplied the script, it was a one-week cycle. When they wrote their own scripts, it was a two-week cycle since they needed one week to write, and the second week to practice.

Over the course of this research, I discovered many things motivated my students to read. The most important motivator was sharing their reading with others. An authentic audience made practicing purposeful and relevant. Most students (75%) preferred performing for their parents and 25% enjoyed performing for other classes. I wondered if those that preferred performing for other classes had siblings in them, so I went back and looked deeper into their responses. Surprisingly only one student had a sibling in the school. Allen summed up why students liked performing for their parents, “You know why I like to do it for my parents? Because they’re proud of me and I like that.”

Student's motivation to share their work with an audience went beyond RT. I saw it manifest itself across the curriculum. While completing our project on animals, the class wanted to share their projects with others. We created an animal exhibit for the school and parents so they could learn about the different animals of Africa. After participating in Reader’s Theater, my students had such pride and confidence. They had no problem explaining and answering questions clearly. Our Headmistress stated, “I saw such pride, poise, and confidence when they were explaining their animal.”
Reading itself became a powerful motivator. Sharing this love of reading with others seemed important. The Junior Kindergarten teacher and I discussed bringing our two classes together so that love could be shared. We decided to partner our students up and get together, and let the first graders read to a Junior Kindergartener. These new “friends” increased the self-confidence of my students, and after one visit, my students couldn’t wait to return and read to their JK friend. Thus, we began reading together every other week.


I also saw increased motivation through the choices they made in the classroom. When given free time, the students couldn’t wait to grab a book and read. I also noticed that whoever was my author of the month, was the most read during that month. Exposing the class to authors and their books had a positive impact and I would often see them in practicing reading to a pretend audience.

Students were given the opportunity to receive a new book (based on their reading level) each night to practice their reading skills. Every time they returned a book, a new one was given. I kept track of these books by giving them a sticker on their bookmark each time it was returned. Students often compared how many stickers they had, and parents would drop off books during the day that they had forgotten, so they could receive a new book and a sticker. A small sticker for reading was very powerful. Out of 16 students I had about 10 who regularly (meaning at least 3 times a week) returned their books.

Sharing their reading and reading for fun were both powerful motivators. It began with practicing their Reader’s Theater scripts and performing for the Junior Kindergarteners. As we progressed through our scripts, they became more motivated when the audience expanded to include other classes at our school, and ultimately to performing for their parents. When we moved towards writing and performing their own scripts, the stakes got higher. They couldn’t wait to meet each day and work together to write and then perform it for another class. Sharing their knowledge and their love of reading with their peers and other students at our school was instrumental in increasing their motivation to read.

“I think it really came alive.” – 3rd grader

Becoming fluent is an essential part of reading. The ability to read fluently does more than make people sound like good readers, it shows that they comprehend what they are reading (Dowhower, 1987). Therefore, when looking at fluency, one needs to be looking not only at how fast students can read, but whether what they’re reading is accurate and if expression is being used.



My hope was that students would not only use expression when reading their scripts, but also across the curriculum. This hope was realized when during centers science, and other subjects the kids were using voice. While reading a Weekly Reader I regularly heard expression and voice. One student was reading and when she got to the end of the sentence, she noticed that there was an exclamation mark. So, she went back and reread it properly and changed her voice to match the character. The class had written letters to Santa and he responded to all of them. When a boy was reading his letter, he read the letter with such expression that it almost sounded as though Santa was right there talking to him.

When comparing the fluency of my students from the beginning of the school year to the end of my research, gains can be seen in all areas: prosody, accuracy, and speed. Prosody refers to the use of expression and phrasing when reading. I used the DRA2 to record prosody. I found that all students increased their ability to use better expression and phrasing. Their prosody was measured using four levels; 0 – non-reader, 1 – reads word to word, 2 – reads phrase to phrase, and 3- for fluent reading using expression and phrasing. Ten students increased by one level, and three increased by two levels. The only students that didn’t show gains were those showing fluency early in the year (3). Figure 15 shows this growth.

Figure 15:
The next area I looked at was their accuracy while reading. This was measured using McMillan-McGraw Hill’s Oral Fluency Record. In first grade, students are expected to be reading between 30-60 words per minute, based on Rasinski’s Oral Reading Fluency (ORF) Target Rate Norms (2004) shown in figure 16. Oral fluency assessment is given in the winter and spring in first grade.

Figure 16:

Based on the amount of words per minute, 81% of my class has already met end of year expectations, and 100% have met the winter target of 10-30 words per minute as depicted in figure 17.

Figure 17:
 Finally, using voice across the curriculum and not only during Reader’s Theater was important to me. What I saw occur was amazing. I heard voice everywhere, in science, math, reading, and even during chapel presentations. My students knew how to phrase sentences so the meaning was not lost. This fluency showed that there was increased comprehension as well.

“Our story is about the continents and a girl who travels the world.” 1st grader

Understanding the message of a story is as important as being able to decode it. Decoding is the ability to read the words, and comprehension is understanding what the words mean. Reading entertains, informs, and can persuade. Reader’s Theater offered a unique opportunity for the readers to show an understanding of the story by using correct expression. A fourth grader noticed, “I thought the troll really sounded like a troll and everybody else used the right voice,” when the class performed The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Conveying understanding through voice only occurred when students had good comprehension and understanding of the role their character had in the script.

Throughout the study, students showed comprehension of stories in a variety of ways. There were oral responses to questions, retells, plot maps, flipbooks, and story maps. After some Reader’s theater scripts, students were asked to retell their script onto a videotape or in their reflective journals. When this was used at the beginning, 54% were able to completely retell their script, 16% gave a partial retell, and 30% were off topic. By the end of the study, 87% were able to give a complete retell with 13% giving a partial retell. No students were off topic. Comprehension seemed to increase with time. Was this due to increased comprehension or the fact that the first retell included non-fiction passages and the second didn’t? I’m not really sure, although it was evident through observations that the students were becoming better at retelling and remembering details from the story.

I also used the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA2) to identify students’ reading level based on accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. The initial assessment was given in the fall, with the midyear assessment given in winter. Based on this data all students increased their scores. The following Figure 18 shows the beginning of the year levels, with 0-3 being emergent, 4-12 early readers, 14-24 are transitional readers, and 28 and above are extending their reading. By the end of 1st grade, students should achieve an independent level of 16. which would put them as transitional readers.

Figure 18:
At the beginning of the year, 31% (5) were at an emergent state, 44% (7) were early readers, 25% (4) were transitional readers, and no students were extending. By the end of my study those numbers had drastically changed. Now only 6% (1) were emergent, 31% (5) were early readers, 44% (7) were transitional, and 19% (3) were extending.

I had hoped to increase students' abilities to read fluently and understand what they had read. Throughout this study I observed, recorded, and received feedback from students with the anticipation that not only would students be readers that have voice and comprehension, but that the love and motivation to read would be evident. I have found that with motivation, students will become more fluent and understand passages with more accuracy. Reader’s Theater provided an avenue that enabled students to be motivated, not only to read, but to write and perform.

“They have made the connection between joy and reading.” 1st grade parent

During my study, parents came to me regularly to comment on their child’s motivation and reading. They mentioned that getting their child to practice their script was never a problem, that they enjoyed rereading it over and over. One parent even noted that the expression her child was using when reading her script was crossing over to when her daughter read in Spanish.

Other comments regarding Reader’s Theater from the parents included:

·      “His reading is really taking off!”
·      “His reading is getting so good.”
·      “ ____ loves reading so much that she oftentimes falls asleep reading.”
·      “His reading is coming along great! We’re so proud of him.”
·      “ ____ read the pirate story to a group of friends and parents and did it with expression as well as got into character.”
·      “[he was] very excited about practicing and reading the script written by the team. More excitement then usual.”

Through the use of Reader’s Theater, motivation, fluency and comprehension increased. Students were excited to get new scripts, perform for others, and eventually write their own scripts. Having choice, whether it was the part they picked or the story they wrote or the audience they performed for, had a positive impact on students' desire to read. They were motivated, and with this motivation came fluency and comprehension.