Y’all, my students LOVE performing Readers Theater! Even the less-proficient readers clamor for a part when I start passing out scripts. And since you can reinforce so many soft skills along with the academic ones with readers theater, I try to use use it with each grade level at some point during the year.
Here are some of my favorite picture books to read aloud and follow up with readers theater performances:
The Gruffalo – by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
A mouse is taking a stroll through the deep, dark wood when along comes a hungry fox, then an owl, and then a snake. The mouse is good enough to eat but smart enough to know this, so he invents the gruffalo!
I like this choice to introduce students to readers theater in September. The story is funny and suspenseful, there’s lots of repetition which makes it easy for readers to do their part, and it’s a rhyming book that is done REALLY WELL (which is not always the case). Plus there are lots of additional resources to use with the book:
Piggie Pie – written by Margie Palatini, illustrated by Howard Fine
Gritch the Witch is grouchy, grumpy, and very hungry. The only thing that could make her happy is something extra special for lunch, and that is: Piggie Pie! Gritch zooms off on her broomstick to find eight plump piggies on Old MacDonald’s Farm.
This is a super silly book that’s great to use in October because it involves costumes/disguises and a witch, which makes it seasonal. Performing the script is fun for kids because they get to practice using different voices (and it’s fun for me to watch them try to outdo one another making their classmates laugh!), and it also involves lots of repetition so most of the parts are easy to perform.
There are two sequels to the book: Zoom Broom and Broom Mates. The author herself has provided an activity guide for the Gritch books, and you can get a 5-day lesson plan from Mrs. Jump’s Class.
Turk and Runt – written by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Frank Ansley
Turk’s parents are proud of him, the biggest, strongest, most graceful bird at Wishbone Farm. “He’s a dancer,” says his mother. “He’s an athlete,” says his father. “He’s a goner,” says his little brother, Runt.
But no one ever listens to Runt — even after people with seasonal plans and roasting pans begin showing up at Wishbone Farm, or even after the juiciest turkeys are chosen, one by one.
This is my choice for November since it’s a Thanksgiving story. This is another book that is humorous, involves funny voices, and has some repetition. (Are you seeing a theme in my readers theater preference?!?) By now the kids are getting more comfortable with performing, so they tend to really ham it up, and by this point you can add some movement rather than having kids remain in their seats (if you choose) and the kids enjoy imitating a ballet dancer, a football player, a little old lady, etc.
The author has an activity guide on her website, or you can use this activity guide from Wild Geese Guides If you’d rather have kids present this as a puppet show, you can get printable paper bag puppets for all the characters (to color yourself) from the author’s website.
One Eye, Two Eyes, Three Eyes: a Very Grimm Fairy Tale – retold by Aaron Shepherd, illustrated by Gary Clement
In this playful retelling of a tale from the Brothers Grimm, a young lady with cruel sisters gets help from an old woman, a handsome knight, and some magical verses — and in the end finds out she is not so alone as she believed.
December is usually too busy for reader’s theater, but in January we’re ready for another funny tale. This story is longer and more complex than the previous ones, so it’s better to use it with more experienced “thespians” and readers.
Aaron Shepherd has a whole website dedicated to folk tales and readers theater scripts, if you don’t need a picture book version of the stories to introduce them to students. He has a section of resources for the book, including the text of the tale, a music file for the magic song, and some color posters of the characters.
The Moon Over Star – written by Diane Hutts Aston, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
In July 1969, the world witnessed an awe-inspiring historical achievement when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon. For Mae, the young protagonist of this lyrical and hopeful picture book, that landing is something that inspires her to make one giant step toward all of the possibilities that life has to offer.
I always use this book in February since it ties into Black History Month. In addition to using it for readers theater, it’s a nice segue into introducing students to Mae Jemison and Guion Bluford, the first African American female and male astronauts. (Side note: We also mention Ronald McNair, the second African American male astronaut in space because he’s from our home state of South Carolina.) This is the first book on the list that’s not humorous; by now the students are invested in readers theater, and the listeners can handle “straight” material versus comedy.
Because this book is a multiple award-winner, there are lots of extra resources available:
The Little Red Hen – written and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
In March I’m ready to introduce readers theater to my beginner readers, so this simple story is great for second grade and sometimes even first grade. We can then riff on the traditional story by enjoying variations like The Little Red Hen Makes Pizza and The Little Red Pen. Of course there are many other traditional versions of The Little Red Hen, like the one by Paul Galdone (an oldie but a goodie) or the one by Heather Forest (with lots of fun rhymes), but I like the Pinkney retelling (his second appearance on this list!) with its oversize format and its use of color in the text to denote the different animals speaking.
Clara Caterpillar – written by Pamela Duncan Edwarts, illustrated by Henry Cole
A carefree cabbage caterpillar named Clara, who becomes a common cream-colored butterfly, can′t possibly compete with a catty, conceited caterpillar named Catisha, who becomes a captivating crimson-colored butterfly. Or can she?
Spring is a great time for a story about caterpillars and butterflies, so we read this book along with Waiting for Wings by Lois Ehlert in April. If you didn’t catch it in the book summary above, this book is FULL of alliteration! Many of the words are new to (and a little difficult for) my students, so using it in the spring after they’ve had time to develop their reading skills a bit makes sense. This author/illustrator duo have also published Some Smug Slug, Four Famished Foxes and Fosdyke, Dinorella, and Rosie’s Roses (among others) if you’re looking for other books to teach alliteration. Here’s an activity guide that can be used with any of their alliteration books.
The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors – written by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Adam Rex
Tells a humorous story of how the rock, paper, and scissors found each other and formed a battle game.
You know I have to end the year on a humorous note, and this book fills the bill. Just be prepared for games of rock, paper, scissors to randomly break out all over the room! (I bow to the inevitable and give everyone 5-10 minutes to get it out of their system before I even begin reading!) And yes, that is the same author of the book The Day the Crayons Quit!
Harper Collins put out an activity guide, and you can get a classroom activity packet from Stories by Storie. If you’d like to have students make popsicle stick puppets, you can use this printout of the characters to color and cut out.
BONUS: You’ll want to bookmark this huge collection (769 pages!) of printable readers theater scripts adapted from picture books by James Servis. I just found this resource while writing this post so I haven’t used any of the scripts myself yet, but I’m looking forward to taking a closer look at them.
Check back for my next post (or subscribe to the blog using the link on the left to receive updates by email), which will feature some tips and tricks for using readers theater activities with students. In the meantime, if you have a favorite book or two that lends itself to a fun performance, please share in the comments!
Note: All book titles in my posts are affiliate links to Amazon.
Their "Look Inside" feature allows you to preview the books,
and I earn a small commission at no cost to you if you make a purchase.
Thank you for your support!