Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Reader's Theatre at the Library

by Margo Tanenbaum

Looking for a fun and easy event suitable for kids in elementary school, as well as for tweens and teens? Try a reader's theatre event at your library. Reader's theatre can improve kids’ reading fluency, comprehension, and social skills - all skills the library is suitable for developing. Parts or roles are read rather than memorized. Small props can also be used, but there are usually no costumes. Some reader's theatre scripts are copyrighted, but free scripts can be found online or through books at your local library. An excellent series of links for reader's theatre are available through Scholastic’s website. For extra fun, write your own scripts!

I had extensive story time experience before my internship this semester at the Little Tokyo Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL), but I had never done any reader's theatre. The teen librarian kindly agreed to let me try a reader's theatre project with their after-school teen group. We decided to use the Greek myth of Bellerophon and the Chimera. This was a timely project given the success of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief book series and movie as well as the film Clash of the Titans.

Since I hadn’t looked at these stories in many years, I requested copies of different versions through LAPL’s interlibrary loan and used these to cobble together my own script. I decided to make masks to represent the different characters. I was able to find images through various free clip-art sites; I enlarged, printed, colored, and then mounted the images on cardstock to make them a bit sturdier. Craft sticks were taped to the masks to make them easier to hold. For props, I used a piece of gold braid for a golden bridle for Pegasus, a plastic sword, and a borrowed tin-foil/newspaper helmet, as well as a puppet of a fly on a stick, representing the gadfly who stings Pegasus.

Most of the kids who came to the activity were in elementary school, and some were as young as six. I was glad that some of the parts I had written did not really require any reading but just animal sounds like “roaring” or “neighing” since several of the children didn't read fluently yet.

At the beginning of the program, I first presented some background about Greek mythology. I used a whiteboard to draw a chart of the 12 major gods and goddesses. We reviewed the identities and the role of gods and heroes in Greek myths. Next was a “table read” (rehearsal while sitting at a table) of the script; after, we acted out the play. The kids were laughing at each other's antics and asked if they could do another play at another meeting. Afterwards, they each made a drawing of their favorite part of the story. Using these, we made a display with the Greek mythology books I had requested. The display enabled them to see how various artists had interpreted the story.

I was really delighted with how the program went and would be happy to pass along the script to anyone who is interested. It was a very inexpensive (virtually free) and educational program to organize. Writing my own script enabled me to tailor the length and number of parts. This is a program idea I would definitely do again for either teens or elementary school children. It would also be a great project for teens to present to younger patrons at the library.

Margo Tanenbaum is more than half-way through her library science degree. She looks forward to working as a children's or YA librarian. Her blog reviewing children's books is The Fourth Musketeer. She lives in Claremont, California, with her husband, two teenagers, a miniature poodle, and books in every room.

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