Thursday, April 29, 2010

New Book!

Family Ties - Thirteen Short Stories is out! This book is full of fun and funny stories about family -- including some of mine. Here's a youtube video about the book.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New video!

Check out this animoto video I made about All Year Long! Funny Readers Theatre for Life's Special Times! (This is fun! You can try it, too, here.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Using Readers Theatre with Small Groups

Do you hesitate to use plays with your students because you’re dealing with such a small group? Whether you’re a special education teacher, homeschooler, religious educator, or involved parent, readers theatre can work for you and your kids! Here are some suggestions to help you modify theatre activities for your situation:

1. Cut! Mark out minor characters’ lines and eliminate nonessential scenes.

2. Take turns. Just round robin read instead of assigning parts. Everybody gets to read about the same amount and try out different roles.

3. There are no small parts…. Assign the big roles to the kids, then do all the small roles yourself. Or let one kid do all the small roles. (This is great for practicing different voices.)

4. Make do with two. If you only have two students – or just yourself and one student – then divide and conquer. Have one person do all the male roles while another does all the female roles. Or assign one large role and a few small roles to each actor. Or split up the adults’ and children’s roles. (It’s fun and funny for you to play the kids!)

5. Take a chance. Have everyone randomly draw characters’ names until all parts are assigned.

6. Put the narrator on a “soundtrack.” Record someone – yourself, a student, or a special “guest star” – reading the narrator’s part ahead of time. Then play the tape between the “live” reading of other parts.

For other theatre suggestions, go to my website and click on the theatre tab.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Readers Theater -- Performing for an Audience

You may decide to use readers theater only as a supplemental educational activity. However, you could be tempted—or persuaded!—to actually stage a performance for a real, live audience.

How do you make the transition?

First of all, rehearse enough that actors can read with good expression and look up from their scripts occasionally. (But don’t over-rehearse! This is easier theater, remember?) Be sure to go through the whole play at least once without stopping. Set up your first “real” performance with an audience that’s not too threatening; a group of younger kids works well. Later, you can try performing for scarier audiences like peers or adults.

After some successful readers theater performances, your kids may naturally move towards something more like “regular” theater. They might make more facial expressions, gesture, or ask to act things out. At this point, you could abandon the traditional readers theater set-up and allow students to enter and exit and to move around the stage, holding their scripts.

Eventually, you may discover that your kids are memorizing some lines on their own. They might even ask to drop the scripts and do a “real” play. Or maybe you’ll decide to encourage that yourself and move completely into “regular” theater. That’s a great experience for your kids, but remember you don’t have to put together a big production. Feel free to stick to the simple, traditional, readers theater format.

The closer you get to a “regular” theater performance, the more likely it is that your kids will ask for sets, props, and costumes. If you decide to use these items, don’t rehearse with them right away as they distract kids from developing their characters and improving their performances.

Is It Really Worth It?

Every child can benefit from theater experiences. Of course, plays about a particular subject matter motivate kids to learn important information, but theater develops other academic skills, too. Performing a play helps kids develop language arts skills like listening, reading, and speaking. You can also use theater to improve writing skills by asking students to rewrite their lines, add new lines, or write the endings to interrupted lines. (The last one is really a must! Nothing is more awkward than an actor pausing before he’s actually interrupted. If he writes out the rest of his line, he can keep going until the next person breaks in or until the end of the line if necessary.) Kids can also write alternate endings to plays or make up their own scripts.

Theater yields nonacademic benefits, too. Putting on a performance takes skills like working hard, setting goals, meeting challenges, staying patient, and cooperating with others. (And that’s not just for the teacher!) Kids experience a real sense of accomplishment from their individual successes as well as the group’s achievements. And the self-esteem they develop in theater carries over into the rest of their lives!

For more information on using theater, go to my
website and click on the "Theatre for Teachers" tab.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What Is Readers' Theater, Anyway?

Readers’ theater is easier theater! Actors don’t memorize their lines—they simply read from their scripts. Because memorization isn’t an issue, more students are able to handle large roles. Also, extensive rehearsal isn’t necessary. And, unlike “regular” theater, a readers’ theater production isn’t thrown into a tailspin by memory lapses or absences.

Other aspects of readers’ theater are easy, too. Sets, costumes, props, and even movement are not needed as the plays are written to work without them. The extras can be included if desired, but readers’ theater works even if the actors just sit there and read!

How Do I Get Started?
Before you use a readers’ theater play, read it yourself and make sure the content, theme, and vocabulary are appropriate for your students. Decide whether you need to preview any concepts or vocabulary. If you are thinking about staging the play for an audience, consider which students might fit which roles, but don’t set your cast just yet.

Once you decide on a play, make as many copies of the script as there are parts plus one for yourself. Highlight one character’s lines in each copy (except yours) to make it easier for kids to read. Covering or binding scripts will help them last through multiple readings.

After giving students time to read through their scripts silently, have them read the play aloud, changing roles with each scene if you wish. This kind of read-through makes a good, one-time, supplemental activity, but you can do much more with readers’ theater!

For example, you could have students read a particular script multiple times on different days. The repetition gives you several opportunities to teach comprehension skills like character traits, motivation, story structure, theme, and cause-and-effect. And rereading allows kids to relax about the reading itself and develop a deeper understanding of the characters and theme of the play.

Multiple readings also improve fluency and expression. You can help with these skills by asking questions about the characters’ feelings and motivation. If a student has difficulty with expression, “echo reading” can help. You model his lines with good expression and have him copy you. It doesn’t usually take much of this practice to get a young actor on the right track. Allowing students to record themselves as they read their lines and listen afterwards also develops better expression.

After several readings, you might want to move students from their seats to a traditional readers’ theater set-up. The actors in readers’ theater usually sit on stools or chairs throughout the play, holding and reading their scripts. Sometimes the actors sit with their backs to the audience, “entering” by facing front and reading their lines and “exiting” by turning around again. The narrator might stand to one side or read from a lectern. This kind of staging can make readers’ theater more fun for your students and motivate them to further improve their performances.

Next Blog: Making the transition to performing for an audience.

For more about theater, go to my website and click on the Theatre for Teachers tab.