Way back in the day of my graduate school days at the University of Georgia, I took a Folk Literature class with Dr. Linda DeGroff as part of my coursework (sadly, Dr. DeGroff passed away last year). It was in this course I was introduced to the joys of Reader’s Theatre. You can find all kinds of resources about Reader’s Theatre and best practices for writing a script, but basically RT is a brief script designed to get students actively reading and performing a text. That text is often an adaptation of a literary work or excerpt of a literary work that either a teacher composes or that can be student created (they LOVE doing this at any age!); however, I have found over the last 10 years it is a great alternative to lecture when you need to introduce information to students. I have used them with students from everything to Arthurian legend to library orientation to advisement group topics of study.
This past week, we were preparing to read some Puritan literature as well as an excerpt of “Sinners in the Hands of Angry God” as part of our final push to wrap up our first unit of study of early American literature. While some students find this time period interesting, many find the texts difficult and the time period values extreme or difficult to comprehend in modern times. Because my classes meet in 90 minute blocks Tuesday-Friday, I knew that lecture was not a viable option for us, and frankly, I dislike lecturing these days and try to keep it to a minimum and do it strategically when necessary.
I thought it would be fun to write a Reader’s Theatre script to introduce the time period; I created seven “student” parts as well as the characters of Jonathan Edwards (who wrote the sermon) and for fun, threw in a part for our principal, Dr. Reuben Gresham! Needless to say, the kids were not expecting to perform a play in class, some of the modern lingo, or to discover their principal in our performance. I did this activity with my Honors classes as well as my team taught and college-prep level classes. Each seemed to enjoy it; my two honors classes and my 4B CP course seemed to get into the activity the most of my five sections. It was great fun to see them “get into” their roles as well as their surprise at some of the humor I wove into the script (you can copy this to your Google Drive).
It took me roughly two hours at home to write the script simply because I needed to review and think about what content I wanted to emphasize; I then printed them the next morning, made folders for each script (one per role in the play), and highlighted the part for each folder/script so that it would be easy for the students to read it “cold” in front of their peers. Prior to the performance, we reviewed our expectations for our Puritan Players performers as well as audience members to reinforce a culture of love, respect, and support for each other as active listeners and those brave enough to perform with no rehearsal! I posted the script on our course blog so that students could review after class if they so desired.
Please note that sometimes you can craft these scripts more quickly, but the amount of time invested will vary by topic. You can also give students the job of jigsawing material by having them write the scripts themselves and then sharing with the class to perform—this was an enrichment option with my middle schoolers last year for their inquiry unit work, and many found this activity to be one of their favorite forms of informational writing!
Interestingly enough, several of the students in my 3B Honors course told me on Friday that they had a quiz over the same material in their AP U.S. History class. One student in particular came up to me and said, “Ms. Hamilton–thank you for having us perform the play because it helped me remember so much information I saw on my quiz on the same material in APUSH today!” The feedback from the students reinforced my belief that active performance and presenting information in a creative way will certainly resonate with many students.
This activity prepared us to read the excerpt of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and our annotating/sketchnoting activity that I’ll share with you in an upcoming post.