Getting a hand with reading

Published 10:10 pm Thursday, November 24, 2011

Puppets and scripts help children learn to read and to appreciate reading at Suffolk elementary schools through the Reader’s Theater program.

Puppets used to help make better readers

At least once a week, Melissa Glanden’s library at Elephant Fork’s Elementary School is littered with puppets.

Lions, foxes, elephants, birds and several other fluffy friends are scattered on the tables, but it isn’t playtime for the students when they get to the library.

The puppets are there to help the students learn through Reader’s Theater, a program in which students perform scripts by taking on characters and perfecting their lines to improve their reading skills.

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The puppets help the students get into their characters.

“The kids love the puppets,” she said. “They lose themselves in the character. Kids who have trouble reading aren’t so self-conscious anymore.”

Teachers have been participating in Reader’s Theater for the past couple of years, Glanden said. But last year, she had the idea to make the program a staple for elementary school media specialists in Suffolk.

“We get to do things teachers don’t have time for, like improving their fluency,” she said. “I want to see if we could get it for all the schools.”

To make that happen, Glanden applied for a grant from the Suffolk Education Foundation last spring to buy several Reader’s Theater scripts and puppets that could be used by all of the media specialists in the school division.

She received about $900 for the project, and she purchased about 35 puppets.

All grade levels can participate in Reader’s Theater, but scripts are tailored to different ages.

“The lower grades focus on learning to read and practicing,” Glanden said.

In contrast, students in third, fourth and fifth grades get to practice fluency and public speaking, and they also touch on standards of learning for other subjects.

For example, one of Glanden’s third-grade classes is practicing a script on the seven continents, which is a social studies SOL for that grade.

“When it is SOL-based, other teachers love it, because its review,” Glanden said. “We can hit on SOLs we think are important.”

Glanden also ties in technology with Reader’s Theater by having the students prepare a PowerPoint on their story.

Glanden does Reader’s Theater with classes two or three times a week, and she said she thinks all students benefit from it whether they read perfectly or have trouble.

“I think they like it because they get to be characters,” she said. “It’s like them being in the books.”

To make the program available to all of the media specialists, Glanden has posted the scripts on the media specialists’ blog.

“Every elementary school could have access to it,” she said, and she has high hopes that they will.

“I hope we’ll have a lot of people using them,” she said. “My hope is to give the librarians more access to Reader’s Theater and to have materials readily available.”

But more than that, Glanden said, she wants to expose more students to the program and get them excited about reading.

She said, “My goal is to get them exposed and loving the stories.”