Thrilling Theater Cafe

Miesha Brayboy Gadsen, Elementary, Lansdowne Elementary



Are you ready to dive into Reader’s Theater and uncover your creativity? This unit will explore questions and elements of point of view with a twist of theater. Who will be in charge of writing the play? Who will be responsible for directing? What voice levels and pitches are necessary to act out the starring role? All these inquisitive questions plus more can be discovered through Reader’s Theater! This unit is designed for 3rd grade students but can be adapted to fit grades 2-5 as well. I want to create a unit that will boost children’s’ own natural creativity through literature and show how to incorporate their stories into writing and social studies. The media and stereotypes that surround our society often portray acting, storytelling and dramatic play in younger children. For example, at many public libraries there is Story Time for younger students such as ages 3-5. With this unit, I want students to feel confident with storytelling and reader’s theater, and immerse themselves into characters to creatively express themselves. I want students to know that creativity lies within each person and you are never too old to engage in drama.


The Discovery

Lights! Camera! Action! Several components are involved when creating a show, play or drama. Who will be in charge of writing the play? Who will be responsible for directing? What voice levels and pitches are necessary to act out the starring role? All these inquisitive questions plus more can be discovered through Reader’s Theater! Reader’s Theater promotes positive interaction between students as well as providing creative outlets to learning. Research shows that using this approach also helps build student fluency and improves comprehension.

Drama, as many teachers are discovering, is not only fun and natural for children, it also encourages emotional growth, motivation, and engagement. And one form of drama, known as Reader’s Theater, has been found to be particularly effective in building reading fluency. Called simply “RT” by many advocates, Reader’s Theater can also boost listening and speaking skills, enhance confidence, and transform reluctant readers into book lovers (Prescott[1]).

In teaching Language Arts to my 3rd grade students, I discovered that they have a creative propensity in reader’s theater. As a previous Kindergarten teacher, I incorporated dramatic play and acting frequently in the classroom because I believed it was age appropriate. However, when I switched grade levels, I was hesitant to use storytelling and drama in the classroom because I didn’t think the students would find it engaging. Would they think it was for babies? What stories would I use? When would we find time to use it? Third grade is a testing year…shouldn’t we be focused on state testing? All of these and more were questions I had scampering through my mind as I contemplated storytelling and drama in the classroom. Boy, was I wrong! The first time I used Reader’s Theater with my 3rd graders, it was a huge success and my students were begging for more!


Lansdowne Elementary School is a suburban school serving students K-5. The school is located in the heart of a historic neighborhood as part of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System. The school has a diverse population of 565 students. Within our subgroups our student background is 30% African American, 48% White, 12% Hispanic, 7% Multi-Racial, and 3% Asian.

Our school received its hallmark distinction as being an International Baccalaureate School in 2008. As part of our IB program, students develop questions and use research skills such as the Scientific Method to answer their questions. Each student has an IB portfolio to document their growth and performance as they move from grade to grade.

Our school serves students with physical, emotional and mental special needs as part of our Inclusion program. Students also have opportunities for enrichment through our Talent and Development Program, English as a Second Language Program, Girls on the Run, Student Government, Odyssey of the Mind and Chess Club. This school has been an integral part of our community and school system for 50 years.

I am a 3rd grade teacher at Lansdowne and have also taught Kindergarten at Lansdowne. I teach a wonderful group of students who come from various background and are on diverse academic levels. I collaborate with my fellow 3rd grade team as well as staff to create lessons that meet the needs of all my students. I use professional development such as Discovery Education training and Investigations Math Training to enhance knowledge and growth in my classroom.

Our PTO involvement is very high within the school as parents volunteer both their time and monetary gifts. This year we were fortunate to receive two additional SMART boards for classrooms, which aid in technology and preparing our students for the 21st century. Currently each 3rd 4th and 5th grade classroom have SMART boards installed in their classroom and the goal for PTO is to have each classroom equipped with this essential resource. Having a SMART board enables me to display daily content and opportunities for student interaction.

Through the IB program, Lansdowne also participates in several service projects throughout the year to help the community and demonstrate positive examples of helping others. Each fall students participate in “Pennies for Patients” which is a fundraiser used to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Cancer Society.

The LLS mission: Cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. LLS funds lifesaving blood cancer research around the world and provides free information and support services. 2

Lansdowne also initiated a Gardening Project with the help of our PTO. Students have an opportunity to plant, harvest and grow crops such as green beans, onions, lettuce, spinach and much more. Once students harvest the vegetables, they are taken to the Second Harvest Food Bank to give to those in need. What a great way to use hands-on learning and caring hearts to better the community!


The Purpose

I want to create a unit that will boost children’s own natural creativity through literature and show how to incorporate their stories into writing and social studies. The media and stereotypes that surround our society often portray acting and dramatic play in younger children. Storytelling is also generally portrayed for younger children. For example, at many public libraries there is Story Time for younger students such as ages 3-5. With this unit, I want students to feel confident with storytelling and immerse themselves into characters to creatively express themselves. I want students to know that storytelling is for all ages and you are never too old to engage in drama.

The Goals

This unit will target 3 main literacy goals, writing goals, and social studies goals. In the first literacy goal, students will apply strategies and skills to comprehend text that is read, heard, and viewed. With this goal, I plan to use stories from our Imagine It Reading series, read-alouds, novels, and storytelling clips from Discovery Education. I want to expose students to a variety of literature so they can apply skills such as identifying main idea and detail, making inferences, and summarizing.

Goal 3 for literacy states that students will make connections through the use of oral language, written language, and media and technology. This will be accomplished through the use of SMART board technology, Discovery Education clips and verbal opportunities to share stories. One website I found particularly interesting for technology is where stories are told online by members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). This allows students to hear the stories out loud from different sources and the site also has accompanying activities and lessons for students to extend their learning.

Goal 4 for literacy states that students will apply strategies and skills to create oral, written, and visual texts. Under this goal, students will have an opportunity to create their own writing such as poetry, personal narratives, expository text using the inspiration from previous storytelling.

The Connection

Further aspects of learning I would like to incorporate with this unit are social studies objectives. The third grade curriculum mainly focuses on Culture, Families Around the World, Roles and Changes in family structure from past to present. Using stories is a perfect way to blend these elements together. I would love to have special guests come talk to the students about their own personal lives and how they compare to daily living of today. We have a Storytelling Festival each year at school where librarians and community volunteers are invited to retell their favorite stories. I would like to extend this to a cultural Storytelling event so students not only have an opportunity to hear stories from the past, but from other cultures as well. I would like presenters to show their background on maps and globes for students to see, bring in artifacts and pictures that relate to their story or culture, and give students an opportunity to interact through question and answer sessions. Following the Storytelling Festival, I would like students to use their communication skills to share their knowledge learned to younger grade levels. This could be presented through art, through skits, through music or through speaking. Communication Skills is an enormous part of our IB program. We want students to feel confident in expressing themselves to their classmates and enhance their listening and speaking skills. Having an opportunity to communicate and teach students in other grade levels will only add to their educational balance.

Background Knowledge/ Helpful Hints

Before starting this unit, there are several questions teachers must ask themselves about Reader’s Theater to make the unit as successful as possible. Book Choice is number one. Is the book age appropriate for students and will students be able to successfully read sections of dialogue aloud? The purpose of Reader’s Theater is to challenge students to think critically and creatively, but we do not want to discourage them.

Judy Freeman, Instructor’s “Booktalk” columnist, is a children’s literature consultant and workshop presenter (

She suggests five features to look for when adapting a book:

  • Peppy dialogue
  • A little action
  • Humor
  • Lively narration
  • Enough parts for all kids

It is also important to identify the differences between Storytelling and Reader’s Theater. Storytelling is the art of using language, gestures, and movement to convey a story to a live audience. Storytelling has been used in several cultures throughout history to teach and entertain. The National Storytelling Association gives definition elements by breaking the word “storytelling” apart.


The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society – School & Youth – The LLS Mission.” School and Youth. (accessed November 29, 2010).

 Storytelling is an interactive performance art form. Direct interaction between the teller and audience is an essential element of the storytelling experience. An audience responds to the teller’s words and actions. The teller uses this generally non-verbal feedback to immediately, spontaneously, and improvisationally adjust the tones, wording, and pace of the story to better meet the needs of the audience.

 Storytelling is, by design, a co-creative process. Storytelling audiences do not passively receive a story from the teller, as a viewer receives and records the content of a television program or motion picture. The teller provides no visual images, no stage set, and generally, no costumes related to story characters or historic period. Listeners create these images based on the performer’s telling and on their own experiences and beliefs.

 Storytelling is, by its nature, personal, interpretive, and uniquely human. Storytelling passes on the essence of who we are. Stories are a prime vehicle for assessing and interpreting events, experiences, and concepts from minor moments of daily life to the grand nature of the human condition. It is an intrinsic and basic form of human communication. More than any other form of communication, the telling of stories in an integral and essential part of the human experience.

 Storytelling is a process, a medium for sharing, interpreting, offering the content and meaning of a story to an audience. Because storytelling is spontaneous and experiential, and thus a dynamic interaction between teller and listener, it is far more difficult to describe than is the script and camera directions of a movie, or the lines and stage direction notes of a play. Storytelling emerges from the interaction and cooperative, coordinated efforts of teller and audience. (NSMA)

Reader’s Theater uses similar elements of storytelling but contains distinctive pieces that make it stand out. Reader’s Theater allows students an opportunity to develop comprehension, expression, fluency and excitement. Students do not have to have props, they just need their imagination and creativity. Readers’ Theater serves many useful functions:

  • It provides repeated reading practice—an important factor in building fluency. Repeated reading practice also improves students’ confidence in, and enthusiasm for reading. It’s an enjoyable change of pace from everyday practice sessions.
  • It’s a wonderful opportunity for children who are used to feelings of failure to provide expertise entertainment for others.


For this unit, I would like to arrange students in a variety of ways from independent reflection to small group jigsaw. When students work independently on a new reading passage or play, I would like them to choose an area of the classroom they feel they work best and use whisper phones to practice their reading out loud (*Whisper phones can be made from PVC pipes as well and look similar to telephones. It allows students to hear themselves without disturbing others). I would also like students to work with partners to switch roles and experience fluency practice. With small group jigsaw, I would like students to work together on a skit or play and teach their technique to other groups. This will not only give them a chance to read and act, but a chance to direct and evaluate as well.

Conversation Journals

This strategy provides a non-threatening outlet for students to write and for teachers to create dialogue with their students. For this unit I want to use Conversation Journals to find out what type of stories my students are interested in so that I can correlate similar scripts based on their interest level. I also would like to use the journals to discover any fears or concerns my students may have about Reader’s Theater and speaking in front of others. For example, if I know that James is extremely shy and he expresses that in his journal, I may assign him parts with a mask so that he is not looking directly into the audience or place him in a buddy or group script. If Cara writes in her journal that she enjoys poems and singing, I can find parts that include a rhythmic or singing part in them.


There are so many aspects to Reader’s Theater and I want students to have an opportunity to experience as much as they can. I will have four different rotating centers set up in the classroom, which will include: Setup and Design, Creative Writing, Dramatics and Props. These centers will be introduced at the beginning of the unit so that all students understand expectations and activities. Students at the Set Up and Design station will create background scenery using a variety of artistic mediums like paint, poster boards, stencils, and art and craft supplies. They will have opportunities to work collaboratively or individually on their creative styles that can enhance the background design for the play. The second station will be the Creative Writing station where students will experience writing scripts at first hand by referring to writing templates and ready-made scripts. They can use scripts or stories already created to make alternate endings or variations. The Dramatics station will allow students to use their acting skills practice their voice intonation. There will be tape recorders at this station where students can record their parts and listen back to make changes and reflect over their skills. The final station will be the Props Station where students will design puppets for the characters/roles in each skit. They can choose from Paper Bag puppets, Paper Plate faces, Sock Puppets, etc. This will also be the station where students make any additional props they need for the skit. For example, if they were performing The Three Little Pigs, they might want to make name plates to go over each pig’s house. They might want to make sticks from construction paper or Popsicle sticks for the house made of sticks.


Rubrics are extremely helpful in focusing on a specific skill or task. Rubrics give students a guideline to what is expected of them and helps me as a teacher evaluate and assess whether they understand. For example, if the goal or purpose of the assignment is Working Cooperatively with a group, a rubric can be used to assess. Students would receive a 4 if they participated and respected the ideas of others’ 90-100% of the time. They would receive a 3 if they participated and respected the ideas of others’ 70-80% of the time. They would receive a 2 if they participated and respected the ideas of others’ 60-70% of the time, etc. Surveys will also be used to get an idea of student interest and self-assessment. Students will rate themselves on how well they completed a task or performance skill. They will reflect using their survey and in their response journals.

 Best Picks

Once students have an opportunity to work with a variety of literature, we will create a Top Ten List of Best Picks for the classroom. This will include class favorite books, plays, and student-created samples. Students will vote on literature they find stimulating, appealing, and use those resources to extend into their own writing. This will give students a voice and help them find areas they are strong in.

Cooperative Grouping

This is another strategy I would like to use with this unit so students can share ideas and learn how to work together. When placing students in Reader’s Theater Groups, it is helpful to assign task jobs for each student to hold them accountable for their own learning. Some examples of task jobs include: Director, Props Manager, Materials Manager, and Data Recorder. (NSTA Cooperative Grouping)

Director or Taskmaster—Encourages each group member to participate and perform his or her jobs. The director may also read and assign parts to play, notify the teacher of group problems or questions, and monitor the time.

Props Manager—Performs tasks that involve setup and design

Materials Manager—Gathers all necessary materials for the group. Ensures that all members are taking care of materials and using them properly, and that the work area is cleaned by all members of the group at the end of the activity.

Data Recorder—Writes ideas on a group paper once members have reached a consensus. They check for accuracy. They may also act as group reporter if needed. Students will rotate their task jobs during different plays and dramatic practices to get an opportunity to experience each task.

Overall, I would like this unit to be engaging, exciting, and give students an opportunity to make real life connections in their everyday like. I want to use storytelling as a springboard to culture and stories of the past and present. Students will use literary elements to help them comprehend text and create their own text. I want students to have an excitement for literature and discover that it is all around them!

Classroom Activities

Lesson #1: Fairy Tale Frenzy

Session Length: 2-3 days


Students will work together to prepare and perform a Readers Theatre using classic fairy tales such as The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, etc.

English Language Arts Competency Goal 1: The learner will apply enabling strategies and skills to read and write.

1.06 Read independently daily from self-selected materials (consistent with the student’s independent reading level) to:

  • increase fluency.
  • build background knowledge.
  • extend vocabulary.


  • Copies of the fairy tales intended for use.
    You will need at least one copy for every two students. If possible the stories could be typed ahead of time so that each student has his own copy to highlight and practice with.
  • Optional: use of SMART Board to show the entire play visually and model how to highlight parts from the script.

Background For Teachers

Teachers should read the stories to themselves prior to presenting this activity. This will enable the teacher to assign parts according to ability, gender, and dramatic tendencies of the students.

The teacher should read at least two of the pieces aloud to the group. This will allow the students to observe fluency, voice, and expression being modeled appropriately.

Groups need to be mixed so that there is at least one fluent reader in each group.

Student Prior Knowledge:

Students need to have had the experience of listening and participating in read aloud activities. They will be more successful if they have had multiple opportunities for listening to fluent expressive reading by the teacher.

Intended Learning Outcomes:
Students will demonstrate the ability to read grade level text in meaningful phrases using intonation, expression, and punctuation cues.

Instructional Procedures:

  1. The teacher will choose one selection to read aloud to the class. The selection should be read with expression and meaningful pauses.
  2. It may be necessary to read a few pages with no expression in a monotone voice as a non-example.
  3. Explain to the students that each group will be performing a story for the rest of the class.
  4. Allow 20 minutes each day to practice the parts in groups. The teacher will need to monitor consistently to encourage, make suggestions, and help keep students on task.
  5. Allow time after each group has presented their production to the class for critiquing. Encourage students to tell what they liked about the presentation before offering suggestions.
  6. You may extend the experience by performing for another class or by recording and showing to entire class.

Strategies For Diverse Learners

Assign parts according to reading levels. Struggling readers can be assigned the most dramatic parts. This can build their enthusiasm for reading and help them concentrate on reading for meaning. ESL students can be assigned smaller parts so they will still be involved but not overwhelmed.


Students may prepare simple props or character head bands to enhance their presentation. Gifted students may want to write their own readers theatre by adapting well known fairy tales. Struggling students can use simpler texts. Before starting the lesson, allow students to become familiar with all fairy tales by using a preview rotation. Divide students into groups of 4-5 and at the sound of a bell or timer, students will explore each fairy tale to find the characters involved, setting, plot, etc. Students will record their discoveries on a chart paper. Then students will rotate to the next fairy tale and repeat the activity.

Assessment Plan

The teacher will assess student performance by observing their presentation to the class. Teacher will use a checklist to identify areas where each student showed strength and weaknesses (see Appendix 1) or the Group Rubric (see Appendix 2). Areas for assessment are fluency, voice, and expression, and cooperation.

Lesson #2 and 3: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs

Before Reading:

Read a version of the Original Three Little Pigs. Show video of original The Three Little Pigs from You Tube (type in Silly Symphony or Walt Disney as keywords).
Have student retell the original version as you write the key elements to the story on chart paper.

Explain that you will read another version of the story. The True Story of The Three Little Pigs.

Discuss how the wolf tells this story and the original story is told by the pigs.

Generate discussion on a time when you saw a situation differently than a friend did. Perhaps you could bring up something that happened on the playground or in your classroom to get the ball rolling.

Share with the students the story for today. Let them look at the front cover and let them predict what they think the wolf will say about the situation. Turn to the inside first page and have students also predict why he might be in jail. Brainstorm with your class what more they would like to know about the Wolf. What questions would they like to ask him about what happened to the pigs? Have the students write their questions in an Interview format (see Appendix 3).

On Day 2, students will have an opportunity to switch interview questions with a classmate. This time, each student will “pretend” to be the wolf. They will answer the interview questions as if they were the wolf and use information from the story to support their answers. (*Optional, have students make props or costumes for the classroom, such as “Wolf Den”)

Reflection -What point of view do you feel is correct – the pigs or the wolf’s point of view? Write your reasons to support your opinion.

-Compare the two stories:

Brainstorm some things that happened in the Three Little Pigs story that did not happen in the True Story using a Venn Diagram or another type of graphic organizer. Venn Diagram is provided at Just add the content headers to each field before printing out.

Writing Prompts

1.Were the pigs good little pigs?

2.Was the wolf really a bad wolf? Could it have been that the pigs were jealous of him? What if he was really a nice guy after all!

3.Can you really believe a pig?

4.Where would that pig have gotten all of the bricks? Did he have a job? Really!

5.Could there have been a windstorm that blew the house down?

Lesson 4: Theater Café and Sharing

Lesson Overview: Students will perform their Reader’s Theater skit to another class

*They may use scripts from Fairy Tale Frenzy lesson, Really Good Stuff Publishing Books, or scripts created by themselves.

English Language Arts Competency Goal 1: The learner will apply enabling strategies and skills to read and write.

1.06 Read independently daily from self-selected materials (consistent with the student’s independent reading level) to:

  • increase fluency.
  • build background knowledge.
  • extend vocabulary.

Teacher Preparation

Before starting this lesson, arrange the classroom so that it resembles a theater or café. Set tables or desks in clusters and cover with tablecloths. Place lamps or battery candles on each table . Arrange an area that will be designated as the “stage” so all students will have an area to perform.

Explain to students that they need to be respectful and a good audience for all groups performing that day. Teacher may also want to include a rubric for listening skills as well as presentation skills. In between performances, give students an opportunity to record the key points to each presentation on their Recording Sheet. See sample below. Allow for positive feedback and reflection.


Title of Play

Performance Positive

*Something you enjoyed from the performance

Summary of Performance

*What happened/What was the problem in the play?

Group 1


Group 2

Group 3


Teacher Resources

. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2011. <>.

This website is a discussion from members of the National Association of Storytelling and it describes the definition of storytelling in clear detail.

. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2011. <>.

. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2011. <>.

This website allows viewers to access a variety of graphic organizers such as Venn Diagrams and Compare/Contrast Charts.

Prescott, Jennifer O.. “The Power of Reader’s Theater.” Teaching Resources, Children’s Book Recommendations, and Student Activities | N.p., n.d. Web.