jen on Readers’ Theatre

This is further information about Readers’ Theatre, provided by jen after a recent Carol Gaab workshop. I publish it pretty much verbatim here as an article so we can include it as another article on RT in the RT category. When we have enough articles on RT, we’ll organize it, put it up as a hardlink, possibly with video, so that we can have a clear step by step RT template full of sufficient detail to refer to. I know that RT is going to be a good building block for us as we continue to widen the umbrella of CI. Here’s jen and thank you for this high quality run down of what Carol provided in your session with her:

I just got back from Carol’s Boston workshop! And I was in the RT demo! It was a super short scene from the Felipe Alou book, where Felipe tries to sit in the front of the bus and the bus driver yells at him. I didn’t understand initially that RT could be a very short scene, but it makes total sense. We’re not trying to create a theatre production, just trying to get more reps and energize the group! She did the “is this acceptable?” question and then had the actor do it over a few times AND in conjunction with this question to engage the rest of the group she asked: “Can anyone yell more furiously?” (using the structure “yell furiously” and giving someone else in the class a chance to act. I can see this being really effective in a middle school class, although for me this year my 8th graders cannot control themselves, so I don’t think I could do this.

She gave a few examples of when RT is particularly effective: 1) to get reps on advanced structures 2) to bring an action-packed scene to life, just for fun 3) to bring awareness to (without giving away) subtle innuendos in a text that will prove to be important later in the book.

The timing of this workshop could not have been better for me. Last week or 10 days ago when Ben started posting all the RT stuff I had just barely started novels in all four of my groups. I am doing Esperanza with Spanish levels 2 and 4, Houdini with level 1 French and Nuits Mysterieuses with level 2 French. Based on the blog posts I actually tried a short scene from Houdini with French 1 and it kicked ass! So I was very excited to get to experience RT for myself by participating in it. Super cool! And so easy (meaning you can do it on the spot, in the event that you don’t spend lots of outside time preparing. That would be me. Props are good, but if you don’t have any I don’t necessarily see a problem).

She kept using the phrase “it gives the illusion of novelty” when she talked about different ways of delivering CI, most of which were basically variations of PQA but with the variety coming from voice inflection, pausing, personalizing, making the questions physical (example was what kind of car do you want to drive: give 4 choices, put tape down on the floor to make quadrants and kids stand in the quadrant of their choice…gets them up and moving AND provides automatic statements that you can then compare, contrast, etc).

She used a great analogy to talk about circling: it’s like salt; it can enhance the flavor of food but if there is too much it can ruin the dish!

Obviously I have not fully processed everything since I just got back, but I definitely got a big boost today, in the form of a few more tricks and also in the form of affirmation and confidence in what I’m doing. I also felt useful to some of the brandy-new

Carol emphasize over and over that we need to cut ourselves some slack. She used awesome baseball analogies like for every home run there are three times as many strikeouts, and also the most important thing statistically is the on base average, so the home run average has relatively little importance over time. It is the small things we do daily and consistently. I also recently read something about neuroplasticity where it says the most profound changes in the brain are made by subtle changes over a long period of time. I am all about cutting myself some slack, so yay for that!

Oh one more thing. For people who are under the microscope from whomever, re “use of English” and “translation” (when referring to the quick step of establishing meaning)…technically what we do in our classes is called “linking meaning.” I had never heard this before or even thought about it. Carol reminded us that “translation” is something that is done by a person who is already bilingual. What we are doing when we establish meaning and also when we do the choral reading in L1 is “linking meaning.” She used the term “guided reading” to refer to “choral translation.” Maybe everyone knows that already but it was new to me and I like the distinction. It will come in handy tomorrow night for me during parent conferences!




14 thoughts on “jen on Readers’ Theatre”

  1. Sabrina Sebban-Janczak


    Please never deprive us of your long “stream of consciousness rambles”.
    They are just so awesome!

  2. Thank you, Jen. And thanks again to Carol! Linking meaning and guided reading! I am sharing those terms with my department tomorrow.

    From a true believer in small ball, thank you again,

    1. Speaking of “small ball”, it’s almost time for pitchers and catchers. Hope springs eternal with the emphasis on Spring!

  3. ok – so now I’m sorry I didn’t go, but it was impossible! so I am cutting myself some slack…… 🙁
    thanks so much for the feedback Jen!!!

  4. Jen, Carol is coming to So. Jersey at the end of February. I am so there. Her iteration of RT seems so much less intimidating than Jason’s demo. Thanks for a great explanation.

  5. I just saw Carol in action yesterday. What an inspiration! She did an amazing demo of RT – I finally get it! Now, to replicate it in the classroom is another story. Either way, I’ll start practicing first thing come Monday.

    1. Brigitte next time you do a story or PQA or anything and you do any dialogue whatsoever, just RT one sentence of the dialogue. Staying in the target language, have the speaker repeat the line in some way romantically, angrily, timidly, using any emotion that comes to mind in the moment. When the kid doesn’t do it with verve and energy, ask the class if it was acceptable. If not, and it never is, the kid has to do it again. That’s Readers’ Theatre 101. Once you have that down, start building a scene with two actors speaking. Or you could choose a scene without any dialogue – that is a good way to start! Just have the class act out a funny scene. Let’s compare notes as we go along. I’m looking for every chance I can get to sneak in a minute of RT. I’m afraid if I tried a big scene a la Jason it would bomb bc I ain’t Jason bc nobody’s Jason but Jason!

  6. I am a bit confused on Reader’s Theatre. I have decided that it would be a good way to start out with the novel after Christmas break, but I need some clarification.

    Are scenes actually acted out or do the “actors” just sit on chairs the whole time?

    I like the idea of repeating the same line with different emotions. I used to do that with TPR, but I’d forgotten (Look at the pencil romantically, etc)

    Is anyone doing RT currently with success?
    thanks for any input.

    1. I’d be interested in more conversation about RT, too. I had almost forgotten about it, but I remember the excitement around it last year. I worry this might be one of those ideas that has been lost and needs to be recovered.

      For what it’s worth, I like the actors–who are especially chosen by me because I know they know what they are doing and they are scared/nervous–to actually act out the scene. Just sitting there, for me, is more for OWI and the beginning of the year when we don’t trust each other yet and I have not yet discovered the talented actors.

  7. RT in the language classroom is NOT traditional RT, so no sitting and reading. It’s a way to get more reps and help students see the text as a movie in their heads (a mark of a good reader). Here are some things to remember:
    1. RT is an occasional activity – there should be only one or two scenes per book that are acted this way
    2. You need to choose the scene carefully – exciting, not too much dialogue; only one or two scenes per book will qualify
    3. Teacher becomes stage manager – whisper stage directions to students; ask the class if the performance was believable; keep asking for more from students in terms of emotion
    4. Students follow the rules for actors: they do what teacher reads as he reads it
    5. A highly proficient and courageous student could read the text while the teacher helps the actors
    6. Students follow along with their finger or an eraser (or a highlighter if they own the book) on the text and look at the text, the teacher or the actors
    7. Teacher pauses the action and asks the class questions about the text
    8. Run the scene multiple times: fast, slow, with different emotions, etc.
    9. Students either read dialogue or teacher stands behind students to supply dialogue or there is a designated speaker for each actor
    10. Have fun with it

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