DNDL Readers Theater

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Teatro de lectores • Readers Theater

What Is Readers Theater?

Readers theater, frequently defined as “theater of the mind” or minimal theater, is, to quote Aaron Shepard, a “convenient and effective means to present literary works in dramatic form.” In readers theater, individuals read from literary works, most often without costumes or sets, letting their voices convey the emotion and situations of the various characters. Each reader should have a copy of the script with each part clearly identified.

Frequently passages that reflect interaction between or among characters are selected, with each participant reading the part of a single character. Use the dialogue of the literary work and omit identifying phrases such as “he said” or “she said” to create the part. A narrator introduces the book, identifies the characters, provides background necessary for understanding the production, and reads narrative material to connect the dialogue. Although readers will have printed scripts in front of them, thus freeing them from memorizing their “lines,” some practice reading their parts aloud, both individually and with other “cast members,” will be required.

Preparing the Script

Adult Scriptwriters

Few literary works are written entirely in dialogue. Although works such as James D. Macdonald and Debra Doyle’s “Nobody Has to Know,” found in Jane Yolen and Martin Greenberg’s story collection Vampires (HarperCollins, 1991), make terrific readers theater scripts without modification, some script adaptation is typically necessary. Below is a sample partial script for Charlotte Pomerantz’s The Outside Dog.

Here is the original segment of the book:

“Marisol,” said Grandfather, “I told you not to pet the dogs. They have fleas and ticks and who knows what.”

“But, Abuelito, this one does not,” said Marisol. “Look!”

“¡Qué raro!” Grandfather said. “There is not a flea on him.”

“So may I pet him?” asked Marisol.

“You may pet this one. But only this one. And don’t feed him a thing! ¿Entiendes?” said Grandfather.


Here is a sample readers theater based on that segment:

Narrator: Today we are going to read The Outside Dog by Charlotte Pomerantz. This story is about a little girl named Marisol who lived in Puerto Rico with her grandfather. ___________ will read the part of Marisol and ___________ will read the part of Grandfather. I, _________________, will be the narrator.

Narrator: Marisol had always wanted a dog, but Grandfather said “No.” One day Marisol saw a stray dog near her house and, while she thought Grandfather wasn’t looking, began to pet the dog.

Grandfather: “Marisol, I told you not to pet the dogs. They have fleas and ticks and who knows what.”

Marisol: “But, Abuelito, this one does not. Look!”

Grandfather: “¡Qué raro! There is not a flea on him.”

Marisol: “So may I pet him?”

Grandfather: “You may pet this one. But only this one. And don’t feed him a thing! ¿Entiendes?”

 (Reprinted by permission of publisher HarperCollins)

Three readers will perform the above readers theater: a narrator, the voice of Marisol, and the voice of the Grandfather. Each reader will have a script and will read his or her part to the audience.

Notice that the readers here must be familiar with both characters and story. For example, Marisol will be pleading when she says “So, may I pet him?” and Grandfather will be disbelievingly sarcastic when he says “There is not a flea on him.” Such a situation points out one of the advantages of readers theater: youngsters must be involved in the story, or, as Louise Rosenblatt states, have an “efferent response” to the work, in order to perform well.

While a readers theater based on The Outside Dog could be performed by young children (the book does not contain sophisticated vocabulary), it can also be produced by teenagers for their younger peers during El día de los niños/El día de los libros celebrations. Most often, however, teenagers perform readers theater from passages of books they have read and loved (in contrast to the whole text performance recommended in the case of The Outside Dog).

Librarians can select books and passages appropriate for adaptation for a readers theater production. For example, the passage from Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Esperanza Rising (Esparanza renace), in which Esperanza’s father is killed makes a dramatic production and creates a fine introduction to the story. In this case, readers theater could be performed in either English or Spanish, or as a bilingual or dual language production because there is a recommended Spanish language translation of the book available. Readers not overly fluent in English will have the opportunity to practice their linguistic skills, including pronunciation and intonation, if they employ the English text. Conversely, readers not overly fluent in Spanish will have the same opportunities if they read from the Spanish text. Either way, both the performers and their audience will have access to a muti-layered story that celebrates a culture and an admirable young girl. Martha Lengeling, Casey Malarcher, and Leath Mills discuss particular advantages of using readers theater with non-native English speakers in the July-September 1996 issue of Forum, reprinted on the Internet at http://exchanges.state.gov/forum/vols/vol34/no3/p84.htm.

Young Adult Scriptwriters

Teenagers, however, are quite capable of producing their own readers theater scripts. This process requires some familiarity with the book, but also allows purposeful practice with the two critical reading and creative writing skills: selecting a passage that both conveys a central or enticing event in a book, and transforming that passage into a meaningful script. Other educational values for adapting readers theater script are discussed in Kathy Latrobe’s fine article, “Readers Theater as a Way of Learning,” printed in 1993 in The ALAN Review.

Passages containing dialogue do not have to be the only literary forms considered for readers theater. For example, the dual language text in Demetria Martínez’s poem “Fragmentos/Fragments,” anthologized in Ilan Stavans’s Wáchale!, could be performed by three readers: one, the narrator, to read the biographical information about the poet; two, another adolescent to read the Spanish sections; and three, yet an additional teen to read the English sections. This poem would be particularly appropriate for a performance at El día de los niños/El día de los libros celebration for it highlights the strain one individual experiences in her bilingualism.

Readers theater scripts can also be created for folktales that contain little dialogue. Here is one for “Why the Hummingbird Lives in the Mountains,” a tale from the Yamana people of Tierra del Fuego from Hummingbirds: Facts and Folklore from the Americas. One tip you will notice in this script is that descriptive text has been turned into something the character can say.

Why The Hummingbird Lives in the Mountains by Jeanette Larson

Narrator: This is a tale told by the Yamana people of Tierra del Fuego to explain why...

Hummingbird: I, the Hummingbird, live in the mountains in South America.

Fact: Hummingbirds only live in the Americas, but they live in every area from Alaska to the tip of South America. Their habitats includes forests, swamps, deserts, and the snow line along the Andes.

Narrator: Long ago the land was very dry, and water was very hard to find. All of the animals were dying of thirst.

Fox: One day, I, the Fox, found the last remaining pool of water. I hid the pool from the other creatures and built a fence around it to keep them out.

Narrator: The other animals begged Fox to share his water with them, but he refused.

Fox: “There is not enough water for me and my family. Why should I help you?”

Narrator: As more creatures died from lack of water, others tried even harder to barter food for water. Still Fox refused to trade.

Fox: Nope. The water is all mine!

Narrator: The animals became weak from thirst. They called on tiny Hummingbird to help. Although she was small, Hummingbird was brave, and she flew to see Fox.

Fact: Hummingbirds are known to be fierce protectors of their territory and food sources.

Hummingbird: “Why are you being so selfish, Fox?” Please share!

Fox: I don't care what you say. I won't share.

Narrator: Outraged by his behavior, Hummingbird gathered a stone and flung it at Fox, killing him.

Hummingbird: Now Fox is dead and we can have the water.

Narrator: Just then the other animals trampled down the fence and rushed to the pool. Quickly they consumed all the water. The last to arrive were the birds, but by then the water was all gone. Desperate, the birds joined together and used their beaks and feet to gather mud from the pool. They flew into the mountains and created crevices wherever they dropped the mud.

Hummingbird: From these crevices small streams of water flowed, providing cool water for me and the other birds to drink.

Narrator: And that is why in the farthest lands of South America, hummingbird lives in the mountain.

Fact: The Giant Hummingbird, the largest of the hummingbirds, is still pretty small, weighing only 20 grams. Yet this small bird regularly migrates over the Andes mountains between Chile and Peru enduring harsh weather to find food and water.

Narrator: So now you know why the hummingbird lives in the mountain!

Readers theater scripts can be developed for books that reflect other cultures and may include words in another language or that are from other languages. This script by Janet Hilbun, PhD is for high school students and features a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who decides to wear the Hijab, the traditional muslim scarf, to school.

Does My Head Look Big In This by Randa Abdel-Fattah


  • Narrator
  • Amal
  • Leila
  • Yasmeen
  • Mother
  • Father

Narrator: Amal is about to make a big decision—whether or not to wear the Hijab, the Muslim scarf, full time.  She knows that she may be ostracized, that the other students at her snobby private school will taunt her, but her decision arises from her faith. She even makes a list of people who will be okay with her choice and those who won’t. Amal decides to call Leila, her friend who has been wearing the hijab full-time since seventh grade. If they are out and somebody throws a comment at her, her tongue whips out a comeback before they’ve had a chance to finish their sentence. It was natural for Amal to talk to her first.

Amal: Guess what?

Leila: What?

Amal: I’m thinking of going full-time.

Leila: You got a job?

Amal: Not that full-time. The other full-time.

Leila: Get out!

Amal: Yeah. I mean, I haven’t decided completely yet, but I’m seriously thinking about it. I’m going to get Mom to take me to the mall tonight. See how I do with it.

Leila: I can’t believe it! We’ll both be wearing it now! How cool is that?

Narrator: Amal and Leila talk awhile longer. Next Amal calls her friend Yasmeen.

Yasmeen: You’ve lost your mind. How can you even think about wearing it at McCleans Prep?

Amal: Yeah, well, that’s what’s holding up the decision.

Yasmeen: Well, duh! What are you trying to do to yourself? Isn’t it hard enough to have a last name the length of the alphabet? Now you want people to wonder if you’re battling for Osama’s team? Stick with anonymity, girl!

Amal: What can I say? No pain, no gain.

Yasmeen: Are you sure, though?

Amal: Nope.

Yasmeen: How will you know when you’re sure?

Amal: Don’t know…I’ve got until Monday to decide.

Yasmeen: Why? There’s no time line, you know.

Amal: Yeah, well. I just figure it’s better to do it from the start of the semester. Less complicated that way.

Yasmeen: Well, you know I’ll support you no matter what. I know you’ve got guts. If anybody at school says anything, tell them to shove it. Anyway, this mean we have to go shopping soon and get you a whole new wardrobe. Mix-and-match spree. What do you think?

Amal: Sounds like a plan.

Narrator: Later that evening at dinner, Amal decides to tell her parents of her decision. Her parents look at each other nervously.

Amal: Hmmm. Would you prefer I get a tongue ring?

Narrator: Her dad rolls his eyes at me and my mom sips on her soda water, her eyes fixed intently on my face, as though trying to work out if she is joking.

Amal: Wow, bring on the enthusiasm. I can’t believe you guys aren’t even happy for me! I thought you would be ecstatic! Sheesh! A little support would be nice! You’re always encouraging me to pray more and talking to me about finding spirituality and all that, so why aren’t you happy that I’m taking the extra step? Like you did, Mom? Huh?

Mother: We’re proud of you. But it’s a big decision, honey, and you’re not at Hidaya anymore. It’s a different environment at McCleans. It might not even be allowed.

Amal: Yeah right! How can they stop me? It’s up to me whether  I want to or not!

Father: Ya, Amal, don’t be so unreasonable. Of course it’s your right to wear it. But don’t be under any delusions as to the power of school rules and tradition. Especially at a school like McCleans. It’s not a public school. The system is entirely different.

Amal: They don’t scare me.

Father: Ya, Amal, calm down. We’ll support you but you have to think this through. Are you sure you are ready to cope with such a huge change in your life?

Amal: What’s the big deal? It’s a piece of material.

Mother: Since when do people see it as a mere piece of material? You and I both know that’s being a tad optimistic, Amal.

Amal: So what? I can deal with all the crap…I want to try…and I want that identity. You know, the symbol of my faith. I want to know what it means to be strong enough to walk around with it on and stick to my right to wear it.

Mother: Why don’t you try it out until Monday?

Amal: You both treat me like I’m some kid. I’m an adult. I can think like an adult too. That’s exactly what I planned on doing.

Narrator: Amal wears her hijab when she goes to the mall. She’s rather timid, but also in combat mode as she walks around, avoiding eye contact and waiting for something to happen. There are a few stares, but most people ignore her and her mother who is also wearing her hijab. Too soon, though, it is Monday morning.

Mother: Come on, Amal. First day back to school.

Amal: Five more minutes. Leave me alone.

Mother: I’m making you a nice breakfast. A good start for your first day back.

Amal: (Thinking out loud.) I’ve just got to take the plunge; that’s the only way to do it. Wear it and then deal with the consequences as they come. It’s a new term. It’ll be a fresh start for me. I feel like I’m ready but my fears have ganged up on my confidence and grabbed it in a headlock…It’s like somebody taking weeks to decide to go sky diving. They finally psych themselves up to do it but then end up standing in the plane ten thousand feet in the air stressing about whether they want to go ahead with it. It’s one jump and the decision is made. Not turning back. That’s how I see it. I don’t want to wear it today and then chicken out and go back to school tomorrow without it. It’s not a game or a fashion statement or a new fad. It’s more serious than that.

Narrator: Amal decides to wear the hijab to school, but can she handle the taunts of “towel head,” navigate a first love, while still staying true to herself. It won’t be easy and she knows that.

Readers Theater Resources

Librarians unfamiliar with readers theater can consult Aaron Shepard’s thorough instructions for selecting scripts, editing scripts, reading scripts, and staging a performance (http://www.aaronshep.com/rt/index.html#Tips).

Suggested Books and Journal Articles

  • Latrobe, Kathy. “Readers Theater as a Way of Learning.” The ALAN Review.
  • Latrobe, Kathy and Mildred Laughlin. Readers Theater for Children.
  • Latrobe, Kathy and Mildred Laughlin. Readers Theater for Young Adults.
  • Lengeling, Martha, Casey Malarcher, and Leath Mills. “The Use of Reader’s Theater in the EFL Curriculum. Forum.

Suggested Web Sites

Created on Jul 27, 2016 | Last updated July 27, 2016