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The Ugly Truth About Readers Theater: 5 Facts to Consider

publication date: Dec 4, 2023
author/source: Carol Montgomery


Have you ever thought about leaving teaching?  I discovered in my first year of teaching that a particular group of students had challenged teachers in K, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade. Before the class entered 4th grade that teacher "retired." I was hired to take her place.

Wow! It was my first year of teaching and I had a difficult class with a serious reputation. I felt like I was thrown into the fire! I was ready to quit before Christmas, but...I had signed a contract in May–before I knew about the tough class coming up. Because of the contract I knew I couldn't quit. I changed my approach instead and the class flourished. Woo-hoo! I wish I would have known about Readers Theater back then–even though I now recognize some ugly truths about Readers Theater:

1. A few classes are too wild for Readers Theater–especially at the beginning of the year. You have to establish your class rules, guidelines, and procedures before you can break into small groups for practicing scripts. Once you have cooperative and disciplined students you'll be surprised how motivated and responsible students can be with Readers Theater. (Hint: I assigned a rotating "student director" in each group to help with practices while I moved from group to group.) Of course, some classes easily cooperate and follow directions from the beginning. Trust me. You'll know.

2. Some students are difficult to motivate. Is that the student's fault? Or, is it because the Readers Theater script topic or story isn't a good match with the student? Maybe the student is shy or not confident about reading or reading aloud? Perhaps the student isn't motivated because no audience is expected? Students rally when they can shine in a program or presentation to an audience. Just give them time to practice in order to build their confidence and even the shy students will sparkle.

3. Not every student reads at the same level. I think that's true for most classes. Yet, not every Readers Theater part has the same level of difficulty, so that's okay. Just go over vocabulary, select volunteers to try a variety of parts, and assign your best readers to the narrator parts because the narrators carry the story. Readers Theater works great for integrating learning–even with gifted or struggling students. Just make sure that you choose appropriate scripts (e.g., readability, vocabulary, topic...).

4. Readers Theater may be difficult to grade or evaluate if you don't know how. To be honest, I did NOT know exactly how to evaluate Readers Theater when I started using it as a tool to help students. But, I didn't have to grade every practice or program either. So, IF you need to grade your Readers Theater student we have a Pinterest board with a variety of rubrics or evaluation tools to help you. Do we really HAVE to grade everything, though?

5. Some Readers Theater Scripts seem to encourage and reinforce bad attitudes or poor character qualities. This can be REALLY UGLY! I remember reading a Readers Theater script from a famous children's author. I was appalled. The little girl in the script had a horrible attitude of disrespect towards her mother and she was rewarded for her bad attitude at the end. I suppose that the author thought that it was funny. As a parent and teacher, I was NOT amused. Since Readers Theater fluency improves with repeated readings, bad attitudes and negative phrases have the potential of being repeated outside of the script, thus reinforcing negative character qualities. Why would we want students to focus on bad attitudes when Readers Theater has so many opportunities to build positive character qualities? Choose trustworthy scripts to avoid this potential problem.

Many adults are afraid of speaking or reading aloud in front of others–especially in front of a group. Why?

Were they laughed at as a student?

Did they see others ridiculed or embarrassed?

Do they lack confidence in their own skills?

You can avoid the risks of ridicule by setting up guidelines ahead of time so that students feel safe. Although Readers Theater boosts confidence, some students feel better about reading aloud when teachers use Choral Readers Theater or buddy reading with a partner. As they do repeated practices you'll see students build lifelong skills and confidence. But, remember applause makes everyone smile. How often will your students hear it?

Readers Theater All Year™ LLC builds leaders and creators for positive influence through an inexpensive, easy, flexible system.  Readers Theater All Year™ LLC curriculum services provides a caring community for using and creating Readers Theater scripts for families, classrooms, homeschools, camps, and drama clubs.

Praise from Teachers

...Keep doing what you are doing.  There are not enough quality scripts available for children and teens.  So many are inappropriate from a parent's perspective.  As a teacher I want to also build character and integrity while I teach a subject.  Why can't drama build up, inspire and be thought provoking?...Anyway, keep doing what you're doing...we need all the help we can get!
Jen H., Drama teacher

> ...I have been teaching for 35 years. RT has been part of my education journey for the majority of that time. Initially my experience with it was as a performance genre in the Drama Curriculum. Now I use it across the curriculum - a wonderful high motivation strategy in the language program - particularly reading - and so much more as you would know. I was drawn to your 'community' by the idea of leadership... I think what you're doing is wonderful..."
Graham B. Former primary teacher (now a Visual Art and Drama specialist)

Readers Theater All Year is the most comprehensive collection of Readers Theater scripts and resources I have found on the internet!...Thank you Carol for your leadership and vision and for making Readers Theater so accessible for teachers and parents.
Daniel Fiore, Elementary teacher/author What They Have Taught Me

I found the free readers theater online scripts, teaching tips, and curriculum teleseminars at Readers Theater All Year very inspirational to me. I used the Twelve Days of Christmas...Vacation script in my ESOL classes before Christmas break and my students all enjoyed it..
Lily T. Teacher (English for Speakers of Other Languages)

"> ..We did Squanto's Squash for the family on Thanksgiving and [my sons] participated and loved it. I am so excited about making this a major part of homeschooling. What a great way to learn!
Bethany P. Homeschooling Mom

> our script "The Earth Day Hen and Friends" I've used this! The kids love it. Thank you for sharing...It's just right for all levels in the class...Your free scripts are wonderful!...They learn so much from drama and reader's theatre...I see the shy ones gain confidence as they read. Fluency and prosody increases with reader's theatre...
Angela D., 3rd grade teacher

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