Lesson Design – Reader’s Theatre for Reading Expression

Lauren Cauthen     Growing Independence and Fluency



Fluency in reading involves three components: speed, smoothness, and expression. Each of these reading fluency goals will enable students to  read aloud in a speech-like pattern, which in turn helps to increase comprehension, further aiding in the reciprocal relationship that fluency and comprehension share. By breaking each of these fluency goals down and explicitly teaching each one separately, we are better able to provide children with the skills they will need to improve in reading fluency. Practice and repetition are key ways that children can increase in  fluency.  This lesson keys in on the goal of reading with expression, and this is achieved through explicit modeling and attention to the elements of expressive reading. The practice activity of reader’s theatre is a wonderful way to cultivate reading with expression because it is both fun and engaging while naturally lending itself toward expressive reading.



·        Photocopies of the The Three Billy Goats Gruff Reader’s Theater script for each student (I used a version found in Reader's Theater, Grade 1  by Evan-Moor published in 2003.)

·        Dry erase board with marker/ overhead/ Smart Board presentation with sentences: “We are having hot dogs for lunch” and ‘The red team won the ball game”.

·        Evaluation sheet for each student (below)

·        Previous student exposure to the book The Three Billy Goats Gruff (version of the teacher’s preference) would be an optional, but favorable, condition prior to using this lesson plan.

Procedures for carrying out the lesson in detail, with numbered steps.

1)    Explain the importance of reading with expression and model the skill. “The better we learn to read, the more reading out loud will begin to sound the same as when we talk. When we talk, you can hear in our voices and tell by our faces if we are sad, happy, excited, or angry. We call that expression. I am going to read the same sentence to you two different ways. See if you can tell the difference in my expression. If I came up to you and said ( revealing sentence and speaking as if upset), ‘We are having hot dogs for lunch today’ would you think that I liked hot dogs? Probably not. I sounded a little mad that we were having hot dogs because my voice was lower and my face was a little pouty. But if I came up to you and said (excitedly) ‘We are having hot dogs for lunch today!’ would you think that I liked hot dogs? It sounds like I do! I sounded happy about having hot dogs! I said that with a happy expression in my voice and a happy look on my face. My voice sounded high and cheerful.

2)    Practice reading some sentences as a class. “Let’s see if you can try reading with expression. Everyone read this sentence together. (reveal: The red team won the ball game.) Great! Now let’s read it again, and this time, let’s read it like we are all fans of the red team, and we are really excited that they won the game! Great job! I heard lots of high, happy voices and saw some happy faces! Now, let’s read it again, but this time, let’s pretend like we are fans of the blue team, and we are really sad that the red team won. Wonderful! I heard lots of lower voice tones, and saw some sad looks on some faces!

3)    Introduce reader’s theater. “When we go to a play, or watch a movie, the actors and actresses use expression in their voice to help tell the story and make it seem real. Last week, we read a story called The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Today, I have the scripts for a reader’s theater for that same story! I am going to hand out the scripts to each reading group, and you will be the highlighted character on the script that I hand you. In this story, there is a little billy goat, a medium billy goat, and a big billy goat. (Talking in a little voice) I think the little billy goat might talk like this! What do you think? Can everyone say, ‘I am the little billy goat with me in their best little billy goat voice? Ready, go! I am the little billy goat! Excellent! I heard some wee little voices! What do you think the big billy goat might sound like? Wonderful! I heard some biiig, deep voices. What about the mean old troll who says, ‘You can’t cross my bridge’? Yeah, he sounds a little angry and grumpy!

4)    Pass out scripts so that each reading group gets every character in the story. “First, I want each of your to whisper-read your parts to yourself to make sure you know all of the words in your part. Then, practice reading the scripts among your group and pretend you are getting ready for the upcoming school play! Remember to use lots of expression to help tell the story! I will walk around and give you help and listen for some great expressive readers.”


As you circulate the room, listen to students to see if they are using expression. You might help them with prompts, such as “How do you think he is feeling when he says that?” I have also found that modeling the same voice yourself while posing questions, such as saying (in a big mean voice), “How do you think that mean old troll sounds here?” really helped students to get into the spirit of the reading to see that you yourself are having fun with it.

          Listen to each groups performance, and answer the following questions about each child:

          -Was the student able to use voice tone to portray expression?

          -Was the student able to use facial movement to portray expression?

          -Did the student’s application of expression show comprehension of the mood of the story?

          It may help to carry a script around with you and write the student’s initials on your copy next to an excerpt where you noticed them using expression well.

Reference to a source that can tell us more. Provide all we need to track down the source.

These alternate lesson plan ideas for expressive reading are available online:

-Maggie Saye, 'Express Yourself?'.



            -Amy Berger, 'We're Messin' With Expression'.