In a traditional dramatic play, actors memorize their lines from a script performing in costume on a stage complete with sets and props. Readers Theater dramatic presentations are in many ways like radio plays. In a Readers Theater production, performers stand in place onstage, reading their lines from a script, using their voices to heighten comedy and drama; costumes and sets are limited or nonexistent. Readers Theater productions became popular during and after World War II when financial resources to produce plays were limited.
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Readers Theater in Education
Educators have embraced Readers Theater as a compelling literacy and literature art form that not only enhances young people’s reading skills, but also builds young people’s critical and creative thinking skills, especially when young people create their own Readers Theater scripts based on books, personal stories, and current events. A 1999 study by Strecker, Roser, and Martinez showed that second graders who participated in Readers Theater productions on a regular basis, made, on average, more than a year’s growth in reading. Readers Theater motivates young people to read and write more; it is a learning activity that is both interesting and fun.
Watch a Readers Theater Performance
The NCBLA, in partnership with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, presented a Children’s “Literary Lights” Readers Theater presentation at the 2013 National Book Festival. Participants included former National Ambassadors for Young People’s Literature Katherine Paterson and Jon Scieszka; Chairman Emeritus of Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) Lynda Johnson Robb as Cowboy; President and CEO of RIF Carol Rasco as Octopus; award-winning authors Susan Cooper and Grace Lin; and NCBLA President and Executive Director Mary Brigid Barrett.
The Cowboy and Octopus costumes in the Readers Theater presentation pictured above were designed and constructed by costume and set designer Elizabeth Barrett Groth. To see more of Elizabeth’s work, visit ElizabethBarrettGroth.com.
Write and Produce Your Own Readers Theater Productions
Readers Theater productions can be fun and humorous, dramatic and serious, based on fiction or nonfiction books, current events, and personal stories. They can be performed in classrooms, camps, Boys and Girls Centers, YMCAs, backyard decks, or family living rooms.
Perform Readers Theater Using Scripts
by Susan Cooper, Grace Lin, and Katherine Paterson
Engage young people in Readers Theater using scripts written by authors Katherine Paterson, Susan Cooper, and Grace Lin! The following scripts were written for the Children’s Literary Lights Readers Theater performance at the 2013 Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. The performance was created and presented by the NCBLA in partnership with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.
Click each title to download and then print each Readers Theater script.
Grace Lin’s “The Story of the Old Sage” from her novel Starry River of the Sky
Katherine Paterson’s Short Story “The Handmaid of the Lord” which is included in her collection A Stubborn Sweetness and Other Stories for the Christmas Season