3, 2, 1…Action!

Growing Independence and Fluency

Amanda Mahoney

Rationale: As beginning readers start to master phonemes and learn to decode words, they focus more on fluency. Reading fluency is the ability to read faster, smoother, and with expression. In order to accomplish fluency, children need to "read and reread decodable words in connected text." Reading with expression involves changing the speed, pitch or volume of your voice to enhance understanding of the text once the decoding ability has been mastered. As teachers, our goals pertaining to reading fluency should be to get students to read at a faster rate, smoother, silently so they can skim ahead, with expression that involves them in the story, and voluntarily for pleasure and to learn; all of this will get them excited about reading. The focus of this lesson is on teaching students to read and reread decodable text with expression. It is important to encourage students to read more expressively, because after children gain this aspect of reading they tend to enjoy reading more. Expression makes any story more enjoyable and creates a relationship between its character’s lives and the reader; the reader will also become more involved in the plot, which will increase comprehension and voluntary reading. One of the most exciting parts of reading is when the reader becomes involved in the story characters' situations. In order to do this, the readers (students) must read with expression; they must fluctuate the tone of their voice and show emotion while they are reading. This lesson will encourage students to read expressively by pretending they are actors and actresses in a play given to them by the teacher.


  1. Poster board/Strips of paper with sentences written on them to use when reviewing punctuation and expression.
    1. Four sentences:

                                                              i.      Wow Bobby! You really did great!!

                                                           ii.      Where did you find my baseball mitt?

                                                         iii.      Sally…Sally…Wait for me!

                                                          iv.      Ewww! I don’t like icky, sticky, slimy worms.

  1. Chalkboard and Chalk
  2. Reader’s Theater Script (1 for every student and a master for you to use)
    1. Peddler Polly and the Story Stealer, by Aaron Shepard
  3. Construction Paper Strips to be used as hats by the actors/actresses so you know their characters name
  4. Crayons/Markers/Colored Pencils to decorate hats and write characters name
  5. Stapler/Tape to create hats from the paper strips
  6. Signs for the play, written on poster board or sheets of white paper before class begins:
      Goods Bought Here
      and Sold There
      Bring a story
      (if you still know one)
      Entertainment Paraphernalia
  7. Any props/costumes/items from around classroom/school (check with art/drama teachers) that will make the play more real and will help the students get into their characters.
  8. Assessment Checklist with the following questions for each student; this could be done on approximately a half sheet of paper.
    1. Does the child read smoothly? 
    2. Do they show any expression in their voice or on their face to fit the mood that they are trying to act in? 
    3. Also answer or comment on whether the student varies tone of voice, change tempo in the reading when necessary, shows emotion with facial movement, understands that punctuation is guide for what kind of expression to use, and attempted to distinguish between the characters. 
    4. Space for additional comments/feedback


  1. Introduce lesson by explaining that reading will become just as natural and smooth to the students as their spoken language is now. All anyone needs is practice reading (by rereading and reading more) and other literary experiences (rereading with sub goals in mind: speed, smoothness, expression, silent reading, and voluntary reading) that are fun, engaging, and interesting to read, perform, or speak. First we are going to review some of our strategies for decoding a word that we do not know in a sentence. Today, we are going to work on reading with expression! First, though, let's review what we've learned about coming to words that we do not recognize right away. What are some of the strategies you use? Wait for responses. Yes, remember, we can use cover-ups, where we cover up some of the word so we can read it piece by piece. We can also use cross-checking, where we do what?...Right that is where we read the rest of the sentence and go back to see if the word makes sense. And lastly, what do we always do after we decode a word? Wait for responses; hopefully it’s drilled into them. That’s right; we always go back and reread the sentence or phrase from the beginning. This will help you to get the expression of the line correct.
  2. Next, introduce the topic of the lesson by talking about the children’s favorite television show. Ask questions like, Why do you like these shows? Is it because the shows are interesting? How do the actors and actresses talk in the shows? Do you think you would still like the show if the actors/actresses talked like this: “Hey Jim. There is a bear behind you.” Speak monotone and without expression. or “Hey…Jim…There is …a bear ….behind … yyyou.” Speak slowly and with pauses in awkward places. How do you think this sentence should be read? Class response hopefully: “Hey Jim! There is a bear behind you!!” You can reply by stating, That's right, the actors should use expression as they talk. Actors and actresses change their voices in different situations. Sometimes they use loud or soft voices and sometimes they talk at a slow or fast pace. Sometimes they change the tone of their voice according to how the words are used; making their voices whiny, loud and thundering, or whispery. This makes the show more interesting. You can also use expression as you read. This will make your reading more interesting, too. If actors and actresses talked in a boring voice the whole movie you would not watch it – right? The same goes for books. They are not any fun to read or listen to if you do not put any expression into them. You need to make the books come to life so you can find the exciting parts about them.
  3. Review with the students: punctuation and other writing symbols/prompts/ cues (examples: exclamation point!!, quotation marks “”, questions mark??, commas,, pauses… , periods., and so on). The teacher should write one symbol on the board at a time and allow students to give name for the symbol and its meaning. As the students tell you the needed information, together, the teacher and the students can make up a sentence on the board that uses the punctuation or writing symbol that is being discussed. Review these concepts (especially any that will be in the play you are going to perform) by saying, When you read, think of yourself as an actor or actress and it is your job to make the words on the page take action. You need to look at the punctuation to see how to act. We are going to look at a couple of sentences and practice using expression while we read. Hold up poster with sentences Okay, let's look at the first sentence (read without expression): “Wow Bobby!  You really did great!” How do you think I should read this sentence if I am going to use expression?  Right!  I should be excited. What tells you that I should act excited when I read this? Exactly... because it has exclamation points. Now let's all read the sentence together with expression (read aloud and together). Here's another sentence (read without expression): “Where did you find my baseball mitt?” How should we read that sentence if we are using expression. Right... we should sound confused or questioning because there is a question mark. Let's all read it together with expression (read aloud and together). Look at the third sentence, read slowly and at an even pace, “Sally…Sally…wait for me!”, there are three dots in the sentence, what does expression does that tell us to do? Right…we should pause or wait when we see those marks and the exclamation point at the end tells us that we should be talking loudly and excitedly. Let’s all read it together with expression (read aloud and together). Now, let’s look at the last sentence, “Ewww! I don’t like icky, sticky, slimy worms.” What does the punctuation in this sentence tell me…how should I read this sentence with expression? Exactly…the “Ewww” part should be read slightly louder and with disgust and the icky, sticky, slimy worms’ part should be read with slight pauses, not big enough to take a full breath, but just so that they don’t all run together.
  4. Explain, Now, you are all going to be actors and actresses today. While you are passing out copies of the play, ask the students what is one quality that makes a good actress? Whatever they say, tie it in to the fact that they read with whatever expression to fit the mood that their character is in. If the character is supposed to be sad, the actor's/actresses' face looks sad, and they may read very quietly in a whining voice. Then explain what you are going to be doing as a group, We are going to make the words we read jump to life.  Has anyone ever heard of reader's theater?  Well that's what we are doing today. It's like a play but you get to keep your script, or copy of the play, while you read so you don't have to memorize all the words. Everyone will have a part and we are going to make a small part of the costume and practice and perform. The story is called Peddler Polly and the Story Stealer by Aaron Shepard and it is a fable about how the storytellers of Taletown are mysteriously losing their stories, while a stranger sells “story boxes” in the town square. Be sure to go over what kind of story fables are and the characteristics about them…as review or as introduction to the class.
  5. Everyone will be a part of this play and everyone’s part will be important. I'm going to come around with a hat and everyone needs to take only one piece of paper and that will tell you what your role in the play will be…there are Narrators 1–4, Peddler Polly, Penny, Spellbinder, Crowd 1–3, Bertha Bigwig, Milton Marbles, and Jack (If need more parts, double up the crowd and narrator parts, so that there are two students speaking the part). Describe the parts to the class; Does anyone know what a narrator is? Right…he/she gives all the background information for the story that we can not see, maybe something that happens off the set or before the play starts. Continue on explaining the parts as you are passing them out, who the characters are and so on. If a large class, break them into two groups first and then pass out the parts, so that you will have two groups for the same play.
  6. Now that you have your characters, we are going to make hats so we know who each person is and so we can be in costume while we are acting. Pass out construction paper strips, and allow the students to quickly write their characters name and decorate their hat as they would like, to go with the character (may want to wait till after first read through). Once they are decorated, staple them into a ring, so that they will fit on students' heads.
  7. You can get together with another class and do these on the same day, then perform for each other at the end of the day. Or, you can have the students take home their scripts and hats and read through/practice and decorate their hats and come back and perform it for you in the morning. You could also invite parents or other school workers, if you wanted. Before we actually perform, we are just going to practice reading the script a couple of times and using expression when we read. Everyone needs to pay attention so you'll know when it is your turn to read. Also you need to make sure you use expression... sound excited if there is an exclamation point, and so on. We will practice three times just reading, then we'll stand up and act it out a couple of times. If we use tons of expression, we can perform for another class. Begin read through, be sure to discuss the expression and allow the student’s time to talk and make changes when it is needed.
  8. Perform play as a group; you can perform it outside on a nice day or for another class if available. You can always invite other school workers (librarian, principle, office staff, counselors, etc) to come and watch play or parents if it is in the morning of afternoon. Use the assessment checklist to assess the students throughout their practice and their final performance.
  9. Assessment: Have a checklist with every students name on it; as the class reads through the play for the first couple times, make notes and check that students are attempting to read their parts with expression, they are using decoding strategies if necessary, and they are getting into character. Also, be sure to check off when students are not paying attention, when they are laughing at others, and when they are not helping/contributing to the class project/discussion. Then, as the final play is being performed, have a check sheet for each student. Write their name at the top and answer the following questions: Does the child read smoothly?  Do they show any expression in their voice or on their face to fit the mood that they are trying to act in? Also answer or comment on whether the student varies tone of voice, change tempo in the reading when necessary, shows emotion with facial movement, understands that punctuation is guide for what kind of expression to use, and attempted to distinguish between the characters.  If you need to hear more from a couple of students, ask them to perform a couple of lines for me using expression, after the play has ended.


  1. Reader’s Theater Script Webpage: www.aaronshep.com/rt 
    1. Peddler Polly and the Story Stealer, by Aaron Sheperd
    2. This website offers many other Reader’s Theater Scripts and gives information about how to use the scripts and what is needed to do a readers theater
  2. The Reading Genie Website: http://www.auburn.edu/rdggenie/discov.html
    1. Thundering Thespians by Kathryn Boyd


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