Reader's Theater

Get Them Out of Their Seats
Ongoing Activity
Grades 6–12
Language Arts, History, Performing Arts
Small Group, Cumulative, Entire Class, Out of Seat


  • Students will gain a greater understanding of the themes and conflicts through the language used in Travels with Charley.
  • Students will evaluate the performance of others in a respectful way.


Reader’s theater is an effective, fun, and different (“out-of-the-box”) way to help students understand problems that characters experience throughout Travels with Charley. Groups of students are assigned a small portion of the text to present to their class. Unlike the presentation of traditional plot skits, reader’s theater asks students to create a performance that reveals a message, theme, or conflict represented by the text they have chosen. The goal is not to perform a skit of the scene, but to use specific language (words and phrases) to represent the conflict, theme, and/or underlying message of that excerpt. Reader’s theater can be especially helpful for students who are not yet proficient in writing.

The more experience students have with reader’s theater, the better they will become at using the words of the text to depict concepts and ideas. This may sound abstract at first, but it can be made relatively simple and fun. It is important that students are not intimidated by the process.

Materials Needed/Preparation

  • Travels with Charley copies
  • Notebooks for Travels with Charley
  • Depending on how many students are in the class, identify four to five excerpts or “scenes” for this activity. Typically, groups of four to six students are assigned different sections of a text to interpret, although it is certainly possible to have groups interpret the same excerpt. When selecting excerpts for use with reader’s theater, keep in mind these suggestions:
  • ~Shorter excerpts allow students to look more deeply at specific language than do longer excerpts. Often excerpts are only a few paragraphs in length.
  • ~Use excerpts that contain one main action or decision-making point.
  • ~Excerpts should address an important theme in the text; that is, more than just the plot line.

For example, excerpts could include:

  • Steinbeck gets lost (again) trying to find Sauk Centre (97-102).
  • Steinbeck stays at a small group of cabins and meets the proprietor and his son, Robbie. Robbie wants to become a hairdresser (127-134).
  • Any of the instances where Steinbeck stops at a diner and experiences a sterile environment.
  • When Steinbeck visits Johnny Garcia’s bar in Monterey, he experiences the challenges of “returning home” (148-155).
  • Any of the scenes in Part Four of the book dealing with racism (173-207).

Estimated Time

This will vary greatly depending on the class, its level, and size.

  • 1-2 class periods for preparation.
  • 1 class period for performance and evaluations.


  • Before groups are assigned scenes to interpret, give all students the opportunity to read the selections silently and aloud. This step familiarizes students with the language of the text. After the text is read aloud, invite students to ask clarifying questions about the vocabulary or plot. That way, students can begin their group work ready to interpret their assigned scenes.
  • Assign scenes (excerpts) to groups. In their small groups, students read their assigned scenes aloud again. As they read, students should pay attention to theme, language, and tone. Teachers might ask students to highlight or underline the words that stand out to them. Groups may choose to read their scenes two or three times and then have a conversation about the words and phrases they have highlighted.
  • When groups discuss the scene. At the end of this discussion, students should agreeon the words, theme, or message represented in this excerpt that they would most like to share with the class. To help structure the groups’ conversations, teachers should provide them with a series of questions to answer. For example:
  • ~What conflict is expressed in this excerpt?
  • ~What theme is represented?
  • ~What words or phrases are important?
  • ~What is the message of this text?
  • ~What is most important or interesting about the words or ideas in this excerpt?
  • Students are now ready to prepare their performances. Students should be reminded that the goal is not to perform a skit of the scene, but to use specific language (words and phrases) to represent the conflict, theme, and/or underlying message of that excerpt. Portions of the performances can be silent, or students can use voice in creative ways, such as by composing a choral reading that emphasizes key phrases. Students can use movement, or they can hold their body positions to create an image frozen in time, much like a photograph. It often helps to give students a list of guidelines or suggestions to follow when preparing their presentations. For example:
  • ~Repeat key words, phrases, or sentences.
  • ~Read some or all of the selection as a group, as part of a group, or as individuals.
  • ~Alter the order of the text.
  • ~Students may position themselves around the room as they see fit.
  • ~Props are not allowed (this is not a skit), but students may use body positions to achieve a certain effect.
  • ~Everyone must participate!
  • Students should take notes during the performance and be ready to provide some constructive feedback. It is best if students’ comments are phrased in the form of positive feedback rather than “It would have been better if…” Some positive sentence starters include:
  • ~“It was powerful for me when…”
  • ~“The performance that helped me understand Travels with Charley in a new way was…because…”
  • ~“It was interesting how…”
  • ~“One performance that stood out to me was…because…”
  • ~“I was surprised when…because…”

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up

Post Activity

  • For homework, students can write their brief reactions to each performance.
  • The groups can evaluate what worked/what did not work for their performances.


  • This new activity helps create a stronger connection to the themes/ideas/messages of Travels with Charley through words and performance.
  • This activity reinforces students’ abilities in critical thinking and “out-of-the-box” thinking.


  • Teachers can have students write an evaluation of the project and what they have learned.


  • Teachers may give brief quizzes about the presented excerpts from Travels with Charley.

California State Content Standards Met

  • Performing Arts: Theatre Content Standards 6-12
  • ~Artistic Perception: 1
  • ~Creative Expression: 2
  • ~Historical and Cultural Context: 3
  • ~Connections, Relationships, Applications: 5

Common Core State Standards Met

  • Reading Standards for Literature 6-12
  • ~Key Ideas and Details: 1,2,3
  • ~Craft and Structure: 4,5,6
  • ~Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 7
  • ~Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity: 10
  • Writing Standards 6-12
  • ~Text Types and Purposes: 2,3
  • Speaking and Listening Standards 6-12
  • ~Comprehension and Collaboration: 1,2,3
  • ~Presentation and Knowledge of Ideas: 4
  • Language Standards 6-12
  • ~Conventions of Standard English: 1,2
  • ~Knowledge of Language: 3
  • ~Vocabulary Acquisition and Use: 4,5,6
  • Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12
  • ~Key Ideas and Details: 1,2
  • ~Craft and Structure: 4,5,6
  • ~Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 8

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