Learn what works

Readers Theatre is a viable vehicle for oral reading fluency (Keehn, 2003) and a genuine way to promote repeated readings (Rasinski, 2000). It is a presentation of text read aloud expressively and dramatically by two or more readers (Young & Vardell, 19093). Meaning is conveyed to the audience, primarily through readers’ expressive and interpretive readings rather than through actions, costumes, or props. Students can read from commercially-prepared scripts or develop scripts from materials they are reading, either narrative or expository in nature.

General Characteristics of Readers Theatre

  • No full memorization, although participants should be familiar with the text and should have rehearsed
  • Holding scripts during the performance
  • No full costumes or staging
  • Narration provides a framework for the dramatic action conveyed by the readers

The primary aim of Readers Theatre is to promote reading (Shepard, 1997), and it appears to do so, as the practice for a Readers Theatre performance gives new purpose and added enjoyment for reading stories and books repeatedly. Martinez, Roser, and Strecker (1998-1999) offered an instructional plan for developing Readers Theatre with young readers using narrative text, and Roser (2001) demonstrated that Readers Theatre strategies can also help Hispanic middle-grade students learn to read in their second language of English. Flynn (2004/2005) suggested that having students write and perform scripts based on curriculum materials involves students in demonstrating comprehension, summarizing, synthesizing, and communicating information.

Readers Theatre is an interpretive activity in which readers use their voices to bring characters to life. The performer’s goal is to read a script aloud effectively, enabling the audience to visualize the actions. Texts need to be within the reader’s reach, however, students can participate in challenging text if their parts are within their reach. Stories with straight forward plots and strong characters, with dilemmas requiring thought and talk, can be easily turned into scripts (Every Child Reads, 2007).

Readers Theatre provides a legitimate reason to reread text and practice fluency. Students have an opportunity to receive feedback as they participate. The activities are carried out in a cooperative format with peers, so students don’t feel isolated and alone as they read. It requires active participation and may be more engaging than more traditional types of fluency activities.

Steps for Planning Readers Theatre

  1. Provide a brief mini-lesson on one aspect of fluency. (i.e., prosody, expression)
  2. Students read the text silently or in pairs.
  3. Students practice reading the script aloud, taking turns reading different roles.
  4. The next day, students practice reading the script aloud. Determine who will read each role for the performance.
  5. Students read and reread their assigned roles.
  6. Students perform for the class or some other audience.

Watch and Learn: Readers Theatre: Instructional Steps 

See how it works

Sample Planning Guide (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day)
Sample Planning Guide (Hooray for Spring)

Watch and Learn: Student Performance, 1st Grade 

Watch and Learn: Teacher Modeling, 3rd Grade 

Watch and Learn: Teacher Modeling, 4th Grade 

Watch and Learn: Teacher Modeling, 5th Grade 

Watch and Learn: Teacher Modeling, 6th Grade 

Watch and Learn: Teacher Modeling, High School 

Do what works

Planning Template (Readers Theater)
Copy of alexander and the terrible readers theatre activity checked
Gettysburg (rt script)
Three Billy Goats (rt script)
Verdi (rt script)

Script Resources

Trade Books That Could Be Converted to Reader’s Theatre Scripts

  • The Pain and the Great One by Judy Blume (grades 1-4)
  • Great American Speeches by Alexandra Hanson-Harding (grades 3+)
  • Arthur Babysits by Marc Brown (grades 2-4)
  • Hey Little Ant by Phillip and Hannah Hoose (grades 2-6)
  • The Golly Sisters Ride Again by Betsy Byars (grades 1-3)
  • Fables by Arnold Lobel (grades 3-5)
  • You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You by John Ciardi (grades 2-5)
  • Wings: A Tale of Two Chickens by James Marshall (grades 2-4)
  • Bull Run by Paul Fleischman (grades 4-7)
  • The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer (grades 2-4)
  • Hattie and the Fox by Mem Fox (grades 2-4)
  • King of the Playground by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (grades 2-4)
  • Tell Me a Story, Momma by Angela Johnson Trumpet (grades 1-3)
  • Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka (grades 1-3)
  • I Am the Dog, I Am the Cat by Donald Hall (grades 2-6)
  • Ring, Yo! by Chris Raschka (grades 1-3)
  • Seven Brave Women by Betsy Hearne (grades 3-6)
  • Rosie and Michael by Judith Viorst (grades 2-4)
  • The Horrible Holidays by Audrey Wood (grades 2-4)
  • Morris the Moose by Bernard Wiseman (grades 1-3)


  • Iowa Department of Education. (2007). Every Child Reads: Excellence in Teaching and Learning. http://www.iowadereading.info
  • Johns, J. L. & Berglund, R. L. (2006).  Fluency: Strategies and Assessments. New Jersey: IRA.
  • Martinez, M., Roser, N.L., & Strecker, ,S. (1998-1999, December-January). “‘I Never Thought I Could Be a Star'” A Readers’ Theatre Ticket to Fluency.” The Reading Teacher, 54 (2), 326-334. New Jersey: IRA.
  • Rasinski, Timothy. (2003). The Fluent Reader: Oral Reading Strategies for Building Word Recognition, Fluency, and Comprehension. NY: Scholastic Professional Books.