October 9, 2020

Readers Theater Gives Rise to Understanding in English

Author: Stephen Brock, PhD (Dr). English Literature and Language Teacher; English IB A and B Teacher; CAS Coordinator.

Students in the five sections of English Literature & Language 10 are now exploring one of William Shakespeare’s comic plays “Twelfth Night.” For second language students, effective communication in another language can prove daunting, let alone interacting with English text from 500 years ago. ? To meet that challenge, I use Readers Theater as an effective - and affective - tool to occasion student success.

Readers Theater is first a technique to develop student fluency in reading. As you can see from the photos, students directly read from the script of the play. This innovative language teaching approach provides students with a real meaning to read out loud. Unlike a play, students do not memorize specific lines; as a result, there is no risk of lower-level readers becoming embarrassed as they are “put on the spot.” Instead, in a previous class before their reading, they receive their roles so they might practice their lines beforehand. Through re-reading, students develop confidence, fluency, and understanding.

But I can hear your asking, “Doc Brock, Isn’t practicing new lines in Olde English on one’s own impossible?” Enter technology. After modeling on YouTube, I ask students to listen to a variety of readings from professional actors on audio files to not only better understand the specific words of the play, but also to communicate the meaning “behind the lines.” For instance, to convey the sadness Viola feels in reminiscing about the probable death of her look-alike brother at sea. Or the loyalty Antonio conveys in desiring to become the faithful servant of Sebastian.

Students enjoy seeing their classmates perform. As an IB class, “caring” represents an important IB learner attribute. Non-participating students are mouse-quiet in listening to their contemporaries read their roles; they know, too, that their own readings will come soon. Everyone has a chance to perform in a practice version and a later graded version. In each version, I provide the reader with specific notes for improvement.

Every Shakespearean play has five acts. For the first act, the class listens to actors reading from the British Broadcasting Company. In turn, I stop frequently to discuss characters and their motivations (Our text from Cambridge University, too, illuminates the work with many photos and sidebar comments about unfamiliar words or deeds). In Acts II and III, students receive their first opportunity to read from the script through readers theater in front of their classmates; students again participate in the formally graded version for the readings in Acts IV and IV.

Notice, too, how I have changed the environment by having students read in front of the class on high stools, adding something different to their classroom experience in English.

“Twelfth Night” is an especially good play for Readers Theater as most of the dialogue is between two or three characters. Moreover, the humor of the comedy comes to the fore when students read their passages out loud (instead of listening passively).

Through Readers Theater, students can improve in English fluency and expression. Maybe at home, you could find a play in Vietnamese or English for your children to read from. Just a thought. More later. Brock out.

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