In July 2009, I discussed developing a child's imagination through play by spring-boarding from literature. Reader's Theatre is another wonderful medium for encouraging kids to use their imaginations. Basically, you develop a short script based on a book you've read together. Depending on your child's age, you could co-write a script with her, or she may have the confidence to try it alone. If your child has a group of friends over, they might want to perform the Reader's Theatre for you after a chance to practise (and giggle!).You can see a video of some children reading a Reader's Theatre about the Mayflower on YouTube.
Some stories lend themselves to Reader's Theatre. An easy start is a well-known fairy tale, a folk tale, or a fable. Many picture books are ideal, too. I have Owl Babies by Martin Waddell on the desk next to me - its combination of dialogue, drama, repetition, and simple but fairly static action would be perfect for developing a Reader's Theatre. Reader's Theatre is not the same as a play. In a play, actors have memorized their parts, and strive to move in a reasonable realistic way about the stage. Reader's Theatre participants read from their script, and movement is usually more limited. But there are no hard and fast rules that I am aware of. Remember the idea is to have children interacting with a story, and you are only limited by your imaginations.
A script for Reader's Theatre need not ever be performed for an audience, and in fact is often used solely as a reading activity in some classrooms. It makes a wonderful reading activity, because it gives kids a chance to repeat read, and to be part of a reading chorus. But my love of drama urges you to consider an audience for any group involved in Reader's Theatre. We lift our game when we know someone is watching and listening, and it is immensely satisfying to know you have really communicated with an audience. However, if you are going to base a script on an author's work, and perform your script for more than just a small group of friends in your home, or for another class at school, then I suggest you write to the author to ask permission first. Copyright Law protects the work of authors and illustrators, among others.
Reader's Theatre immerses kids in literature. I love this quote from Judy Freeman on Reading Rockets:
Reader's theater allows children the luxury of lingering over a story; acting it out many times so they come to understand all of its nuances. Too often, children read a story and only understand it at its most superficial literal level. With reader's theater, they're not just reading a story; they're living it.
In Reader's Theatre (2), I'll discuss how I adapt a story to make a Reader's Theatre script.
Picture from Morguefile.