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A Little Drama Can Inspire Reading

Geoff Nixon

By Geoff Nixon

A Few Tips on Using Theater and Poetry to Inspire Reading

The recent popularity of the musical Hamilton has led to renewed interest in theater and poetry. Both types of literature are filled with concise, powerful language that can have a great impact on learners of all ages. They often include or evoke strong emotion, contain universal themes, and foster creative expression. The activities below highlight these literature forms. We hope these tips will inspire reading and creativity.

Discover Reader’s Theater

Reader’s Theater is a great way to work on fluency and reading with expression. It involves students reading scripts for an audience. Players use only their voices to help listeners understand the story. Many teacher supply stores carry selections designed for Reader’s Theater. However, you can also select a favorite story or chapter together that includes dialogue.

Once you have chosen a piece, assign parts among family and/or friends. A narrator is responsible for all unspoken text. Participants can then spend a few days rereading and practicing their parts. Practice separately and together. Focus on using expression and reading fluently back and forth.  Silly voices can be used for specific characters. You may even want to create costumes to add to the fun. But, all that’s really needed are multiple copies of the chosen text.  Instead of memorizing lines, the play is performed with all actors seated in front of the audience, reading their parts.

Writing connection: There are a number of plays and stories that can be used for Reader’s Theater without editing. However, your child might also enjoy rewriting a scene from a favorite movie or changing the ending to a known story.

Similar activity: Try it with poetry. Poets’ Theater or performance poetry has a similar format to that used with plays. It is important to note, you may need to assign stanzas instead of parts, unless reading dramatic monologues. Websites like www.poetrytheatre.org provide a number of potential performance pieces.

Have a Poetry Party

A poetry party is a fun way to work on fluency, comprehension, and reading with expression. It can also help students discover a different style of writing. Have each member of the family select a favorite poem that is at least six lines long. Once selected, spend several days practicing reading the chosen poem with expression. Once everyone’s poems are memorized, you can then make an event out of the performance. In addition, you can include snacks, make programs, or even dress up. On the day of the party, participants take turns sharing their poems aloud while everyone else cheers them on. Furthermore, you can record the performance to share with your child.

Through this process, children may discover new authors like Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, and Judith Viorst. There is also a great series called Poetry for Young People. It includes authors like Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Walt Whitman, and Rudyard Kipling.

Writing connection: Create and share an original poem. Pick a theme together, leave it open, or assign a minimum number of lines.

Similar Activity: Pick a favorite song. Print the lyrics and reread them for practice, instead of relying solely on listening and memory. Consequently, fluency can be improved. Songs can then be shared during a group get together. Family dinner is a great time for sharing!

It’s Fun for Everyone

Parent feedback is always welcome. A Gemm Learning employee, who tried Reader’s Theater, shared her story with me. She said, “When they grow up, my kiddos may not remember learning to read. But they will always remember performing in the living room for Nana and Papa. My parents were inspired. My kids were engaged. I couldn’t stop smiling. This was a fun day for us all. I would recommend it to anyone.”

An Important Note

Reading can be fun. Not every error needs to be corrected or pointed out. Most importantly, children need to know that even strong readers make mistakes. Mistakes are okay. The more willing they are to try different stories or sound out words, the easier it will become. It’s about exploring the different purposes for reading and enjoying the process.



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