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Reader's Theater sows seeds of literacy at Gilles-Sweet Elementary

Reader's Theater in second gradeOctober 25, 2023


In September, some Gilles-Sweet second graders gained important literacy skills while spending a little time in the limelight. 

Reader’s Theater is an annual event for Gilles-Sweet second grade students in Amy Stevens’ classroom. Twice a year, students practice and then perform shows for special guests in the building.

“Reader’s Theater helps students develop fluency through repeated exposure to texts,” Stevens explained. “It improves their fluency, comprehension and increases motivation. It really boosts their confidence, which is one of the major things I love about it.”

In terms of a theatrical performance, Reader’s Theater is a staged reading. Students practice and then perform with the script in hand to help develop these essential reading skills. They also perform in front of a live audience of first grade students and teachers.

“The repeated exposure to the text is really important,” Stevens stated. “We practice it probably ten times total before we perform. I read it to them to model expression, and the kids pick up on it pretty quickly. I encourage them not to memorize it because the idea is fluent reading, not memorization.” 

For many years in Stevens’ classroom, the subject of the fall Reader’s Theater has been about American legend Johnny Appleseed, whose real name was John Chapman. During the early 19th century, Chapman traveled the American frontier west of the Appalachian mountains, planting apple trees and apple orchards in various locations. Many of these locations were in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana.

After he died in 1845, Chapman’s life became legendary. He has been the subject of numerous stories, poems, movies and recognitions over the last 178 years.

“It’s their first exposure to Johnny Appleseed,” Stevens said. “They do a lot with apples in kindergarten and first grade. But we take a step further because we also do a comparative text with the Steven Kellogg version, which is a tall tale. That’s how we introduce tall tales, and talk about hyperbole, all the exaggeration that’s in that story, and how it compares to the Reader’s Theater version that we read.”

Students and teachers in both grade levels look forward to the performance in September. It provides opportunities for discussion in both grades.

“We always really appreciate the support of the first grade teachers and their willingness to bring the students,” Stevens added. “It makes it a more authentic experience for my kids because they’ve been rehearsing so much and they love to hear the applause at the end. 

“The first graders will tell them what a nice job they did, along with the first grade teachers,” Stevens added. “Very specifically, they talk about fluency, expression, volume, and prosody. It’s nice for the kids to hear that.”

“I really liked getting to see the first graders' reactions when they saw me come on stage dressed as old Johnny Appleseed,” Jimmy, second grader said. “My sister could not hold back her laughter and seeing her made it hard for me to hold back my laughter, but I did it!”

“I really liked it when my first grade teacher, Miss Eppler, came to our classroom and got to see me read,” Hazel, another second grader expressed. “It was also fun reading for the first graders and seeing them in the audience.”

In November, students in Stevens’ class have an encore performance of Reader’s Theater featuring a fictional character, the Grinch.

“When we are in the hallways, (first graders) recognize the (second grade) kids,” Stevens added with a laugh. “‘Hey, you were in Johnny Appleseed’ or ‘You were Johnny Appleseed.’ They smile, wave, and say hello to them like they are mini-celebrities now.”