Reader’s theatre

Implementing Readers Theatre as an Approach to Classroom Fluency Instruction by Chase Young and Timothy Rasinski in The ReadingTeacher 63(1) 2009, discusses the success seen through the use of reading theatre in a grade 2 class. “Accuracy, automaticity, and prosody lead to good comprehension”. Reading theatre encourages students to improve on their reading speed without adversely affecting their attention to meaning. It is in the nature of reading these scripts that students also work on discovering meaning, and how intonation and stress naturally develop that meaning for their audience. It is in the nature of readers theatre that no props or costumes are required. However, some of the scripts I have used do allow for the use of masks. This suits the needs of some of my less confident students.

I’ve just come across this website, “Readers theatre all year” offering reader’s theatre scripts. The scripts are interesting and of varying durations so that I can differentiate in the classroom. My students and I have enjoyed working on short scripts in class before but I haven’t until now found scripts that weren’t childish.

The challenge I have is in finding themes that can appeal to my mature 18 year olds as well as my younger 13 and 14 year olds all within the one class! On the whole I find I have to steer away from animal centred texts that don’t appeal to the teens.

Another website that offers reader theatre scripts is the super teacher site. Check out these others too. “The best class” at has a huge range directed at grade 2 level. Teaching has scripts that are slightly more difficult. I have modified a couple for use. And I love using the materials from “a-z learning”.

Last term I had students work on performance poetry for their assessment. This term I’ll be using readers theatre. I think the opportunity to work with peers and the culmination of a term’s word on decoding and phonics will be harnessed through these activities. And students do enjoy the creativity of working on these scripts.

Some tips to see the smooth running of the programme:
-choose a range of scripts and explore the texts in class before students actually choose their role.
-ensure the scripts have difficult words modified prior to students seeing the script. It can be frustrating finding huge chunks of unwieldy text to deal with.
– some scripts had long unnecessary segments that confuse students. Adapt the script when necessary.
– work on pronunciation throughout the preparation stage. When students are performing in front of an audience, you want the best from them.
– part of the value in using such scripts and allowing students to choose their own roles is that students develop a realistic perception of what they can and cannot do. Some of my students choose difficult scripts, sometimes with just difficult pronunciation being the issue, and then make up their own mind to look for something more suitable. I think this development of self awareness is healthy.


Looking at esl learning

I came across this article on the teaching of French in an intensive setting. It embodies all the philosophies I have held about how the intensive language centre for English should be. I’ve ordered the research articles it is based on and look forward to receiving that.

I’ll look at one principle here and that is the need for authentic communication. Many of my students are older and have had learning in their own languages. Place an older esl learner in the same classroom as a 13 year old who has not been exposed or has not developed ideas to the same extent and there can be a great deal of disparity in their needs. However, this can also lead to some great opportunities for authentic conversations as older, or more knowledgeable students guide the younger or less experienced ones towards learning. The common factor for them is that they all need the language to access the knowledge.

Currently, I ensure my students work towards preparing some spoken task every week. The task may be linked to any of the content subjects but it allows students to internalise and use language learnt for the topic.

The powerpoint makes another suggestion that I will have to look into. The suggestion made is that there should be a routine of beginning each day with an interactive activity. I can see how valuable this would be but I will need to look at how this can be incorporated into the very very busy schedule we already have.

Another area I want to look at is my students own interests. Many of my students crave to communicate their feelings and knowledge, but feel frustrated when they are hindered by language. I’m looking at ways to open up this communication.

One new lesson component I will be introducing next term centres around the use of pictures to elicit talk. I have collected a range of photographs mainly from magazines and newspapers and will be using these for speaking segments. These photographs will allow students to acquire vocabulary but also develop their own responses as they share their perspective on the images.


This 1991 Smithsonian lesson plan (See link below) activated ideas on how a unit on kites could be used with my early ESL learners. The articles provide some valuable background information on kites that I found useful.

1. Get students to make a kite of course! (Many students already had prior knowledge on this and were keen to show others how to do it too!)

Language focus
– Get students to identify the items that they will need to get to create the
kite. List these as nouns on the whiteboard.
– While the demonstration is taking place, list the verbs used on the
whiteboard. Link them to the nouns where possible.

2. Link this up to a lesson on writing procedures out. Teach the language of procedures. Write the steps on the whiteboard while a student explains or demonstrates the making of a kite. While students make up the kites, take pictures of the various steps and use them later for a sequencing exercise.

3. Write an informative text on kites. With the early learners, I use the following three phrases to get them thinking about the item in discussion:

It is —-
It has —-
It can —-

An initial discussion could centre on descriptions based on pictures of different kites.

Move on later to introducing some facts about kites such as the background, uses etc (the Smithsonian lesson plan may come in useful for this)

4. Students can use one of the comic creators such as Strip Designer or Comic Life to sequence the pictures and add instructions. This would be a motivating creative exercise for the students. Some students may prefer drawing and illustrating their procedures using a drawing app.

5. Link this to a Language reading exercise. “Playing with Paper” and “Anna’s Kite” are two grade 2 reading passages you can use. They are found in the Superteacher Website.

6. Create poems using kites as a theme. The Smithsonian lesson plan has some samples on this.


Decoding and Fluency

I’ve been prompted to write this entry after reading a letter to Shanahan (the link is provided below).
The question asked if students who hadn’t achieved the standards for decoding and fluency should be retained even though all other achievement standards had been met.  Shanahan points out that recent results with Florida’s policy of retention have shown that this is the way to go. I look forward to his next blog post when he suggests why, despite this compelling evidence, it may not be the best policy. My students are with me for a 10 week programme before they move up the ladder within the Intensive language centre. These students are moved on based on our assessment of their development and needs and many are able to move into the ESL programme or mainstream within 2 years. I’m close to the end of the 10 week programme now and have 3 students who have developed remarkedly well in all areas except their decoding skills. I do not think they should remain another term with me just for this, but I am conscious that the majority of students who leave my level have achieved a very good standard of decoding and fluency skills. I agree with the evidence that shows how crucial the early acquisition of decoding skills is, but how does it weigh against all other achievements?

What does the ESL learner need?

I never really saw myself as a teacher of ESL learners. At least, not when I was teaching within the Singapore context, perhaps because the standard of my students language skills was relatively high and my whole training was around teaching to the Cambridge O’levels. When I moved to Australia, I first taught in mainstream English classes. The language needs of students was not very different. Many within the state school system came from non- English home environments and needed the type of scaffolding that I was used to providing. There were however, a few native speakers in my classes and it was quite evident that they could do so much more within the language classroom and required a very different learning environment.

But soon after I found myself teaching ESL within the state school system. I love it here, mainly because the students are so appreciative of everything you do for them. But I have been driven to begin this blog after teaching for 2 years in this centre because I think that not enough is said about the needs of the ESL learner.

My current students range in age from 13 to 18  within the one class. They are generally refugees and they all have about 3 months to 6 months of exposure to learning English before coming over to my class. As a teacher trained  and experienced in  teaching graduating students, the sudden change to teaching the basics is more than challenging. After two years, I have begun to get the hang of it, but as I devoured all the literature out there to help me meet this challenge I realised there is more not said than said. I hope to clarify my thoughts on these issues through this blog.