Teaching Tip – Transform Reader’s Theatre

I’ve tried doing Reader’s Theatre with my class several times and it has always been a disaster. Some students don’t follow along with the script well enough so we have awkward pauses, breaks, or cues. Some students are so worried about saying their lines properly that they focus only on their own part and don’t really get a good experience of the whole work.

I wasn’t ready to throw out Reader’s Theatre but I knew that it didn’t work as well as it probably could. So I transformed Reader’s Theatre into Radio Theatre.

This is what I did.

First, I introduced my class to Old Time Radio. You can find some great shows online that you can easily share with the students. There are countless podcasts that will bring you comedy shows as well as dramas. I have shared Superman, Burns and Allen, Abbot and Costello, and even Amos and Andy.

After my students were familiar with the format of Radio Theatre, I let them know that we would be producing our own show.

I already had the class divided into four small reading groups and I regularly meet with each group twice a week. So in our groups, we sat down together and I guided them into collectively picking a topic, coming up with their own characters and writing a script. This took step took us two weeks.

Some of the ideas I got were great. The first script was about visiting an elder in the hospital. The second story involved the three characters shrinking to four inches in height and battling a mouse in the house. The third story was about an ice-fishing accident and rescue, and the final story was about a hockey tournament.

Once the scripts were written, we practiced them for two weeks until we were all confident that we knew the material and could present it well. I was proud of them and all the hard work that had put into the project and when it came to The Big Night, it really paid off. Things didn’t go as smoothly as they did in the rehearsals in the classroom. I think they were a little too excited to be on the radio. We all had a really good time and they did a great job. I was so proud of them.

Since that first live performance, Radio Theatre has become an annual event in my classroom. I now use recording software to record our radio plays. This allows me to give each student a copy of the show on CD and lets us get the show aired on the radio without the entire class having to go on a field trip. 
Guiding your students into creating a script that they have ownership over makes the experience a personal one. It motivates them in a way that a reading through a regular Reader’s Theatre script simply can not do.

My students are always excited about the script we create together. The performances don’t seem artificial anymore, and the experience as a teacher or a listener isn’t painful either.

So try it out!

Here are some OTR Websites that can help you get started.

http://www.archive.org/details/oldtimeradio

http://www.radiolovers.com/

http://oldtimeradiofans.com/

And don’t forget to check back here every Tuesday for great tips you can use in the classroom. There are now over 50 tips on the Teaching Tips page and they are easily organized by appearance and by theme. Teachers helping teachers is what this is all about.