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Using Readers Theater and Puppet Plays in the Library
By Anastasia Mayberry
(Librarian, Granby Elementary School)
Growing up in Russia, I was exposed to theater and particularly puppet theater from my early childhood. I remember going to the Obraztsov Puppet Theatre in Moscow, Russia for the first time (https://puppet.ru/ ) and being completely enchanted by the talking puppets, a play, and how real they seem to be. The arts have this amazing capability to send young children into another world. All the arts, particularly theater, enhance the education of the whole child. In addition, theater involves multi-sensory learning, making learning more meaningful and therefore more memorable for students.
When I became a school librarian, I dreamed of introducing theater into my lessons, but I was not sure about the logistics. While taking professional development classes at the Ohio State University I learned about readers theater. Readers theater is a bit different from a full theater production, because the emphasis is placed on reading of the text with expression (not memorization), and because few props are needed. Therefore, when children are introduced to performing arts, their experience is stress-free and enjoyable. There is no pressure to perform in front of a large audience. So I decided to try it.
I noticed right away how much children enjoy performing in front of their peers. Students work extra hard to read their lines with expression. They try to act out their parts and make the story come alive. Granby’s 2nd graders perform mini-plays based on the life of president Abraham Lincoln when they are studying American presidents. 3rd graders usually perform readers’ theater based on famous folklore stories. 4th graders perform plays based on stories from the Revolutionary war. Finally, 5th graders perform plays based on Mayan and Aztec legends, and 6th graders based on Egyptian Mythology. By working with classroom teachers, I try to connect the library readers theater productions to the regular classroom curriculum, so students can be engaged in higher level thinking, such as creating and synthesizing knowledge. This kind of thinking allows the brain to transfer knowledge into long-term memory.
Last school year, I started offering readers theater and puppet shows during library noon options. Our 1st graders produced puppet shows based on fairy tales, such as The Three Little Pigs, The Three Billy Goats Gruff and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. 2nd graders participated in the production of Halloween plays. What made these productions memorable was that we did two performances for Kindergarteners and 1st graders as well as for students’ parents. Students were so excited to perform for their relatives that they spent extra time practicing at home, and many of them memorized their lines, even though this was not required. Watch an excerpt from The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams (script by Beth Saxman) performance by 2nd graders right here:
During the 2017-2018 school year, Worthington schools started offering 6th grade extension classes, in which all related arts teachers designed their own courses based on student’ interests. This gave me the opportunity to take puppet theater production to the next level. I wanted to inspire my 6th grade students not only to perform ready-made scripts, but also to challenge themselves by writing their own original puppet theater scripts. I had a small group of about twelve students who went above and beyond to create their original stories, practice them and finally perform them in front of a very enthusiastic audience of 1st and 2nd graders. You can watch a little excerpt shared on Granby’s Twitter right here: https://twitter.com/twitter/statuses/959808019780571136
When I asked my students what they liked best about their experience performing in a play/puppet show, they said, “Now we are famous in the whole school! It is hard to be famous!” This is because the younger kids view them as role models and look up to them now. Another student came to the library after this year’s performance of The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen and said, “Mrs. Mayberry, where are your plays located in the library? I want to do another performance with my friends at home.” Later she asked me to make her ten copies of the Snow White script. It was well worth it!