Why You Need Readers’ Theater in 1st Grade

Text says: Why You Need Readers' Theater in 1st grade. Photo shows a readers' theater script with a headband for the character of Hedgehog (from The Mitten.)

Have you tried Readers Theater in a 1st grade classroom? If you haven’t, you should consider it soon.

I have used Readers’ Theater with 1st graders for many years and I can’t recommend it enough. One year my students enjoyed it so much that they started creating their own Readers’ Theaters during their spare time. They would actually spend inside recess and their daily choice time performing Readers’ Theater scripts for classmates. In fact, they often used Elephant and Piggie books as Readers’ Theater – and it made such an impact on their expression while reading. Not to mention, it was just plain cute to watch!

Keep reading to find out the benefits of Readers’ Theater in your 1st grade classroom.

But before we begin, let’s get a key question out of the way:

What is Readers’ Theater?

Readers’ Theater is a dramatic performance of a story by students. It is simpler than a play and requires significantly less prep work In Readers’ Theater because students typically read from a script and don’t act out every movement.

If you want more details about how to get started with Readers’ Theater, check out this blog post.

Photo of a script for Readers' Theater in 1st grade. The image also includes a headband featuring the hedgehog character.

Why Do We Use Readers’ Theater in 1st Grade?

Readers’ Theater may seem like extra work (especially if you don’t already have Readers’ Theater scripts on hand.) But, there are plenty of reasons it is worth a little extra effort:

  • It’s fun for kids.
  • It supports fluent reading.
  • It’s perfect for rereading – and more rereading.
  • It’s engaging for partner reading.
  • You can use it with mixed levels of readers.

I’ll explain more about each of these points below.

1. Readers’ Theater is Fun for Kids

My students absolutely adore Readers’ Theater. Whenever I pull out a Readers’ Theater script, they get big, old grins on their faces and start asking if we are going to do a “play.” (I’ve never had them actually act it out, but they still call it a “play.” They are SO cute!) Even my most reluctant readers start to pick out characters as soon as they see the character list. I can’t beat that!

If your students are not excited about reading, hand them a script of a familiar story and see what happens! Kids especially love Reader’s Theater scripts about The Three Little Pigs, The Gingerbread Man, and The Mitten, because they have heard these stories over and over. It’s exciting for them to be able to read such “famous” stories themselves.

2. You Can Use Readers’ Theater with Mixed Levels of Readers

Want to mix things up a bit in your classroom? Try using Readers’ Theater scripts with heterogeneous groups. Most scripts, even when they aren’t “leveled,” include some character parts that are easier and some that are more challenging. (Hint: As a general rule, the Narrator roles are perfect for confident readers – they have a lot of lines and often more complex language.)

By the way, there is no reason to worry if your scripts are not leveled. It is SO important for readers to read a variety of texts – not simply stick to a specific range of levels. Their reading skills will still improve, even if they sometimes read something that is easy or just a bit of a stretch for them. The more important part is that they are enjoying the reading process and seeing reading as a rewarding act.

3. Readers’ Theater Supports Fluent Reading

You’ve all listened to dysfluent reading from young readers – word-by-word, slow, monotonous. It’s not fun to listen to – and you wonder if the reader is making any sense of the story… But how do you change this?

Readers’ Theater is a great way to encourage fluent reading. Why? Because it’s fun! Engaged readers are more likely to read fluently. Also, the dialogue in a Readers’ Theater script encourages phrasing and expression. It’s hard to read the part of the Big Bad Wolf without using expression.

For more tips to encourage fluent reading, check out this post.

4. Readers’ Theater is Perfect for Repeated Reading

First, like any activity, the only way to improve in reading is through consistent practice. A basketball player might try the same shot over and over and over, in an effort to build muscle memory and automaticity during a game. That same basketball player will likely practice daily to continue building skills. 

Reading is no different. When children read, they improve their reading skills. Repeated reading allows children to solve the same words over and over, frequently picking up speed in decoding those words in subsequent readings. This improves their ability to decode similar words in the future.

Additionally, repeated exposure to these words helps commit them to memory, creating sight words.(Education researcher Nell Duke has some amazing tips about linking kids’ developing phonics skills to sight word instruction.) As students are learning high frequency words, it is important to analyze the words in isolation, but also to encounter them within sentences in texts. This helps students see reading (and high frequency word practice) as a meaning-making task.

Finally, because many Readers’ Theater scripts are based on traditional tales (fairy tales, folktales, etc.), students may be exposed to different vocabulary or language phrasing. This exposure helps build strong oral language skills, which support reading and comprehension. Reading is a prime way for students to build their vocabulary of known words (in both oral and written language).

5. Readers’ Theater is Engaging for Partner Reading

When you work with small groups, you might have students do partner reading. Readers’ Theater scripts are perfect for partner reading! They are so much fun for kids that they stay more focused on the task. Also, the fact that there are multiple parts in most scripts makes it easy to share the reading work. Plus, kids are having so much fun, they don’t even realize they are practicing reading.

What’s Next?

Ready to try Readers’ Theater in your classroom?

Try these easy tips:

  1. Some books are set up for easy Readers’ Theater. Just have students choose a character and read that part:

(These are NOT affiliate links.)

2. Try some FREE Readers’ Theater scripts from my store:

Photo shows pages from The Fox and the Crow - a free script for Reader's Theater in 1st grade.
Photo shows pages from The Itsy, Bitsy Spider - a free Reader's Theater script.

3. Create your own. I explain how in this blog post.

4. Grab my best-selling Folktale Readers’ Theater set. It includes Readers’ Theater scripts for The Three Little Pigs, The Gingerbread Man, The Little Red Hen, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Photo shows pages from The Little Red Hen, a perfect Readers' Theater for 1st grade.

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Text says: Why You Need Readers' Theater in 1st grade. Photo shows a readers' theater script with a headband for the character of Hedgehog (from The Mitten.)

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