In November, at ACTFL, I had wanted to attend Carol Gaab's presentation on Readers Theater, but it was right after the main general assembly and by the time I finally found where her presentation was, the room was overflowing. Last semester, I attended a TPRS workshop led by Karen Rowan, and as the workshop was held at a school during actual school hours, we registrants got the chance to see her demonstrate it with an actual Spanish class. And she did a WONDERFUL job with Readers Theater with a group of students whom she had just met, and these students had never done this before. Bolstered by what I saw, this past week, I decided to give it a try with two of my Latin 2 classes.
Here are a few things which I knew going in:
- The reading needs to be comprehensible
- The reading needs to be compelling
- There needs to be ACTION in the reading. Yes, there can be dialogue, but as students will be acting this out, ACTION is what will get students' attention and keep them engaged
- Props, props, props!!
Gianni in Starbucks cum barbara (barbaric) puella sedebat, bibentes caffeam et ridentes. Gianni clamavit, “mea cor (heart) est plenum amoris!” subito Henry intravit; barbara puella et Henry erant hostes (enemies). ingressus (having entered) Starbucks, Henry barbarm puellam conspexit. barbara puella erat irata, deiciens Henryem in pavimento (floor). Gianni erat iratus, deiciens barbaram puellam in pavimento (floor). subito mater barbarae puellae intravit; Gianni et mater erant hostes (enemies). ingressa (having entered) Starbucks, mater clamavit, “mea cor est plena irae!”
Here is how I did Readers Theater for the story:
- Like I do with any reading, before I handed students the actual text, I read the story aloud to the class, as I myself acted it out. The job of the class purely was to listen and to watch me. Any word which they did not know (shown by the words in parentheses), I had writen on the board with English meanings and pointed to them during the story.
- I then handed out the story for the class to read silently, as I read it again. This time, I asked if there were any words which they did not know, and then I gave them the meaning.
- We did a bit of basic comprehension questions. I did not want to tire students of the story just yet by doing too much circling.
- I then told the class that we would be doing Readers Theater and to tell me who they thought in the class would be good actors. This way, the burden was on the class and not on me. We needed four actors. The class was VERY willing to volunteer each other. If a student did not want to act it out, then he/she did not have to.
- My props were 2 desks, 2 coffee mugs; a beard and helmet for the barbara puella; a plastic sword and beret for the mater
- Once I established who was playing what character, I simply had the actors listen to the story and act it out as I read it aloud slowly in Latin.
- If I did not feel like the actors were "emoting" enough, I would call "cut" and give them new stage directions in English for "motivation," i.e., the point was for the play to become incredibly melodramatic so that the audience would be engaged. An example was anytime anyone entered, they had to open a pretend door, walk through it and then slam it (complete with the person saying "SLAM").
- Following 10-15 minutes of Readers Theater, I did some comprehension questions in Latin, asking "qui erant in Starbucks? quid agebant? quis intravit?" and then I had the class do a timed write of the story.
- One of my classes absolutely loved it and could not get enough of it. The other class, although they "enjoyed" it, did not seem as engaged, and I actually had a difficult time finding willing participants. This does not mean that it was not a success with that particular class; I just feel like that class was more self-conscious and introverted.
- Calling "cut" and asking for students to act out a sentence again lent itself for a natural repetition of the Latin sentence.
- In both of the classes, if the students were not pleased with the acting which they were watching, they themselves actually called out "cut" and gave suggestions for what the actor should do.
- The props were wonderful and really got the actors engaged.
- The visual acting out of the story gave students another level of comprehensibility, as they were able to associate what they heard with a visual representation.
- Students were definitely engaged in the activity, as they were watching their peers act out an "over-the-top" story.
- It is amazing how 10-15 minutes of Readers Theater can go a LONG way in student language acquisition.