The University of Iowa

Drama in the Classroom: Reader’s Theatre as Fluency Practice

Girl and classmates participating in reader's theatre at school

During reader’s theatre, remind students to focus on reading fluency components such as expression and phrasing.


Meg Mechelke

Communications Assistant, Iowa Reading Research Center

Posted on: December 20, 2022

In 2000, the National Reading Panel highlighted reading fluency as a particularly neglected area of reading instruction in the United States (National Reading Panel, 2000). Since then, literacy researchers and educators across the country have attempted to find new and creative approaches to helping emerging readers improve their reading fluency. One strategy for implementing reading fluency instruction and practice in the classroom is the inclusion of reader’s theatre.

Reader’s theatre is defined as the interpretive performance of a dramatic piece, typically done without the use of costumes, props, or set pieces (Vasinda & McLeod, 2011). Students are not required to memorize their lines, and instead read aloud with their scripts in hand. This allows them to focus on oral expression and fluency skills in a fun and unique setting.

Fluency Benefits of Reader’s Theatre

Reading fluency consists of three primary skills: accuracy, automaticity, and prosody (Young & Rasinski, 2009). Accuracy, or the ability to recognize and pronounce words without error, is often successfully taught through explicit phonics instruction. Automaticity is the ability to read words correctly and effortlessly without consciously thinking about the process. When students can read automatically, they do not have to put as much effort into decoding individual words, which allows them to direct more cognitive energy toward text comprehension. Prosody is the ability to read with appropriate expression and phrasing. For emerging readers, developing prosody and automaticity requires active and repeated practice (Garrett & O’Connor, 2010). This is where reader’s theatre comes in. Reader’s theatre can be an excellent avenue for practicing both automaticity and prosody, as it provides various opportunities for repeated and assisted reading, two instructional methods that have been shown in various studies to improve students’ reading fluency (Young & Rasinski, 2009).

In repeated reading, students read a text aloud multiple times. When paired with specific, explicit feedback from a fluent reader, repeated reading can increase the speed at which students are able to process words and increase students’ abilities to recognize words on sight (Mostert & Glasswell, 2012). Through reader’s theatre, teachers can ask students to read the same script several times to rehearse for a whole-class performance, giving them the same type of practice they would have had during a typical repeated reading session while also increasing engagement and motivation.

Reader’s theatre scripts can also be used for assisted reading activities, which are activities that involve reading along with a fluent model (Esteves & Whitten, 2011). In paired reading, students read a text aloud at the same time as a proficient reader (such as a teacher or caregiver), which has been shown to increase both reading fluency and comprehension. In a reader’s theatre unit, teachers might assign students to bring their scripts home and read them aloud with a caregiver. Or, this activity could be expanded into a choral reading, in which a group of students read a selection aloud together. For more information on paired readings and other non-repetitive reading strategies, see our previous blog posts “Supporting Your Children’s and Teens’ Home Learning: Paired Oral Reading” and “Meta-Analysis Shows Non-Repetitive Reading Fluency Interventions as Options for Teachers,” as well as this article on choral reading from Reading Rockets.

Reader’s Theatre and the Motivation Gap

Results from a 2009 study of a second-grade classroom that used reader’s theatre as one method of fluency practice showed that students who participated in reader’s theatre not only demonstrated growth in word recognition, reading automaticity, and prosody, but also reported higher levels of enthusiasm for completing their reading homework and assignments (Young & Rasinski, 2009).

The motivation gap between struggling and proficient readers is one impediment encountered by those teaching literacy. Research suggests that more proficient readers tend to feel more satisfied with their reading abilities, and thus feel more motivated to read—which in turn facilitates further improvements in their reading abilities. On the other hand, frustration tends to cause struggling readers to be less motivated to read, which makes it difficult for them to improve their reading abilities (Mraz et al., 2013). However, reader’s theatre is one way to break through this cycle and encourage struggling readers to build confidence and improve their fluency skills. In the 2009 study mentioned above, struggling students participated just as much, if not more than the more proficient readers in the class (Young & Rasinski, 2009). Other studies have shown that reader’s theatre leads to an increase in motivation, class participation, and transferable fluency skills amongst students with learning disabilities (Garrett & O’Connor, 2010).

Implementing Reader’s Theatre in the Classroom

In an educational setting, successful reader’s theatre should include modeling, explicit feedback, and both individual and group practice. Here are some steps you can follow to develop a reader’s theatre lesson that is appropriate for your classroom.

First, select a grade-level-appropriate script for your classroom to use. The Iowa Reading Research Center has a handful of free reader’s theatre scripts for kindergarten through Grade 5 (see “Supplemental Materials for Teachers”). This article from Reading Rockets also includes several reader’s theatre-inspired lesson plans and scripts.

You might also consider looking for scripts that are relevant to other material being taught in the classroom. For example, if students are learning about a social studies topic such as the Boston Tea Party, you might be able to find or develop a script that includes relevant vocabulary or historical facts.

The script you select should be well within the achievable reading range for all your students, but may include some more challenging vocabulary words, which the teacher may pre-teach as needed and/or post on a classroom whiteboard or poster for easy reference (Mraz et al., 2013; Carrick). When in doubt, err on the side of a text that will not require students to think too hard about individual words. Short scripts with lots of parts are ideal (Bafile, 2021).

Next, provide each student a printed or electronic copy of the script. Start by reading the script aloud to the class. This is a great opportunity to have students practice reading strategies such as predicting and asking questions (Carrick). For example, you might choose to have students fill out this Asking Questions graphic organizer before, during, and after the read-aloud, or you might pause periodically while reading and ask students to predict what will happen next in the story. For more information on the importance of making predictions to reading comprehension, see our previous blog post “Effective Literacy Lesson: Making and Evaluating Predictions to Support Comprehension.”

Teacher read-alouds are also an important modeling activity. You should use this read-aloud to show students how to read each part with clear expression and phrasing. You may also include “think-alouds” to show students how different phrasings can affect the meaning of a sentence. For example, one of our free scripts includes the line:

“You know, nothing goes better with a cup of tea than some warm, fresh gingerbread.”

This line would be an excellent place to use a think-aloud to demonstrate the importance of expressive phrasing. In this script, the character is talking to the gingerbread man, who she is thinking about eating. If the line is read with a neutral cadence, a listener might assume that the speaker is being genuine and stating an objective fact about tea. However, if the line is read with an emphasis on the word “gingerbread,” the listener is primed to understand that the speaker is thinking about eating the gingerbread man.

After reading the script aloud, have students fill out a graphic organizer such as this Story Map or this Sequencing Graphic Organizer to practice their reading comprehension skills and ensure that they understand the story they have just heard. From here, there are several ways to execute a successful reader’s theatre lesson. For example, you can group students together and have them read the script, assigning each student to read one-or-more parts (depending on the part-to-student ratio). Encourage the students to give each other feedback on oral reading skills they have previously been taught, such as pacing, expression, and pronunciation. You might also have the class participate in a large group choral reading of the text.

The instructor should also attempt to give students as much specific, explicit feedback as possible. Ideally, instruction will be spread across several days, to give students time to practice and grow in the text. For example, you might introduce the text with a read aloud on Day 1, do a choral reading on Day 2, and do paired readings on Days 3 and 4. Inform students that all of this practice is a way for them to rehearse for a class-wide performance at the end of the week.

For a class-wide reader’s theatre performance, each part in the play is read by a student, performed for the class or another audience. As few reader’s theatre scripts will include enough roles for each student, the class will need to be organized into small groups so that all students have the opportunity to participate. You may choose to have the same script read multiple times, or, if time allows, you could introduce multiple scripts at the start of the week and assign a different script to each group.

For the performance, certain props or costume pieces may be added as an additional way to increase student engagement and enthusiasm, but the focus should remain on oral fluency and expression. Also, if you are a technology-savvy teacher who would like to give your students the opportunity to listen to their own performance and share it with their caregivers, consider recording the performance as a podcast. Recent research suggests that reader’s-theatre style podcasting may increase the benefits of this activity (Vasinda & McLeod, 2011). It allows students to share their successes with loved ones, thereby increasing personal engagement without overshadowing the literacy techniques being practiced (note: research does not support turning reader’s theatre into fully staged dramatic productions, as this can detract student attention from the text itself). Recording readers theatre performances also allows students to listen to and reflect on their own performances. For example, you might have students fill out this Reader’s Theatre Rubric from, which includes categories such as expression, group collaboration, and participation. Teachers can use the same rubric to provide their own feedback to students.


Reading fluency is a hugely important literacy skill. Not only does it contribute to improved word recognition and comprehension skills, but it also increases students’ reading-based self-esteem and confidence (Garrett, 2010). Through reader’s theatre, teachers can encourage students to practice repeated reading for a purpose beyond just succeeding at classroom assignments or tests, helping students see the value of literacy in their lives outside of the classroom.

Supplemental Materials for Teachers

PDF iconReader’s Theatre Scripts Grades K–2

PDF iconReader’s Theatre Scripts Grades 3-5

The scripts include roles for 6–8 readers and lists of potentially unfamiliar vocabulary words. Some scripts also feature a list of idiomatic or colloquial expressions used within the piece, which teachers and caregivers can pre-teach, especially for bilingual students.


Bafile, C. (2021). Reader's Theater: Giving students a reason to read aloud. Reading Rockets.

Carrick, L. U. (n.d.). Readers Theatre Strategy Guide. Read Write Think.

Esteves, K. J., & Whitten, E. (2011). Assisted reading with digital audiobooks for students with reading disabilities. Reading Horizons: A Journal of Literacy and Language Arts, 51, 21–40.

Garrett, T. D., & O'Connor, D. (2010). Readers' theater: “Hold on, let's read it again.” Teaching Exceptional Children, 43, 6–13.

Mraz, M., Nichols, W., Caldwell, S., Beisley, R., Sargent, S., & Rupley, W. (2013). Improving oral reading fluency through readers theatre. Reading Horizons: A Journal of Literacy and Language Arts, 52, 163–180.

Mostert, W., & Glasswell, K. (2012). Dreams to reality: Closing the reading achievement gap with a focus on fluency. Practically Primary, 17(3), 16–19.

National Reading Panel. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read (Reports of the Subgroups). National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. 

Vasinda, S., & McLeod, J. (2011). Extending readers theatre: A powerful and purposeful match with podcasting. The Reading Teacher, 64, 486–497.

WETA. (2022). Reader's Theater: Classroom Strategy. Reading Rockets.

Young, C., & Rasinski, T. (2009). Implementing readers theatre as an approach to classroom fluency instruction. The Reading Teacher, 63, 4–13.