In an activity based on the Reader’s Theater strategy, groups of students are assigned a text excerpt to present to their peers. As opposed to presenting skits of the plot, a reader’s theater asks students to create a performance that reveals a message, theme, or conflict represented by the text. As students practice this activity, they become more proficient at using the words of the text to depict concepts and ideas. This is an effective way to help students process dilemmas experienced by characters in a text. This is also an effective activity to use with emotionally powerful texts, such as Night by Elie Wiesel.
Assign scenes (excerpts) to groups.
In their small groups, students read their assigned scenes aloud again. As they read, students should pay attention to theme, language, and tone. You might ask students to highlight or underline the words that stand out to them. Groups may choose to read their scenes two or three times and then to have a conversation about the words and phrases they have highlighted.
Then groups discuss the scene. At the end of this discussion, students should agree on the words, theme, or message represented in this excerpt that they would most like to share with the class. To help structure the groups’ conversations, you might provide them with a series of questions to answer. The following are examples: What conflict is expressed in this excerpt? What theme is represented? What words or phrases are most important? What is the message of this text? What is most important or interesting about the words or ideas in this excerpt?
Now students are ready to prepare their performance. Students should be reminded that the goal is not to perform a skit of their scene but to use specific language (words and phrases) to represent the conflict, theme, and/or underlying message of that excerpt. Performances can be silent, or they can use voice in creative ways, such as by composing a choral reading that emphasizes key phrases. Students can use movement, or they can hold their body positions to create an image frozen in time, much like a photograph. It often helps to give students a list of guidelines or suggestions to follow when preparing their presentations, such as these:
Students examine how the Supreme Court’s landmark decision regarding forced sterilization was influenced by the American Eugenics Movement.