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From Reading to Theatre: Arts Integration Comes Full Circle

Last week I finished up a Curriculum-Based Readers Theatre residency with 4th and 5th graders at a local school. It was part of the Kennedy Center’s CETA (Changing Education through the Arts) program, which focuses on helping classroom teachers learn to use arts integration teaching and learning methods.

Curriculum-Based Readers Theatre (CBRT) fits The Kennedy Center’s Definition of Arts Integration because it engages students in a creative process that connects an art form (in this case—theatre or readers theatre) and another subject (Math or Science, for example) and meets evolving objectives in both.

I am fully aware that CBRT gives students a very small experience of the art form of theatre, but I’ve found that even a small experience can be significant for many students. In today’s educational climate, sadly, performing a readers theatre script on a curriculum topic may be the only theatre experience some students have in their elementary school years.

My work with the 4th and 5th graders last week was fun and creative as we moved from simply reading the words on the page aloud to exploring options for gestures and sound effects we could include in the delivery of the script to reading and re-reading to increase fluency. In the first two sessions, we made a lot of decisions and rehearsed the lines of the one to one-and-a-half page long scripts on topics like Figurative Language, the Solar System, Decimals and Fractions, and Characterization. In the third session, our focus was more theatrical—how to deliver lines and perform gestures and sound effects with energy and expression.

What really struck me in this last residency was how the arts integration had come full circle. We began in the realm of the curriculum—scripts based on topics that the students study, and reading comprehension and fluency. By the end of the third hour we had together, the students were fully in the realm of the art form. They were bursting with ideas about how we could make these short scripts much more theatrical. Here are examples of some typical ideas:

  • “When Brian says ‘No way,’ we could all step forward and cheer.”
  • "I think we should do a rap at the end to repeat the stuff we want the audience to know."
  • "How about if when Maria says her line, we all whack our foreheads and look at her and go “Uhhhh!”
  • “Instead of saying ‘,’ could we sing it?”
  • “After the line ‘Malcolm is the fortune teller of weather,’ could we add a line that goes ‘I see snow in your future’?”
  • “Could somebody think that Jasmine said ‘idiot’ instead of ‘idiom’? And then we could all look at the person and say ‘NO!’”
  •  “I think we should all throw our scripts up in the air at the end.”
  • “At the part about the football, we could add ‘Blue 42—down, set, hike’ and all pretend like we’re quarterbacks throwing the pass.”
  • “Instead of just saying ‘Meow’ and ‘Ruff,’ we could sing that ‘Meow, meow, meow, meow’ kind of song from that commercial.”
  • “When we’re supposed to act like we’re hot, we could use our scripts like they are fans.”

So, while it’s not the class play experience that I had back in what we called grammar school, Curriculum-Based Readers Theatre still offers students a little taste of the creative process of theatre and the excitement of performing what they have created and rehearsed for an audience. I think it’s a simple, but powerful example of arts integration in action. See what you think in the video that follows.