Developing the Big 5 of Reading Using Reader’s Theatre


Did you know that giving students repeated practice with phonics skills is critical for student mastery? This means our students need more ways than just reading phonics patterns in decodable readers and using known sounds in small groups. These decoding skills should be infused into as many different parts of our teaching day as possible. One of those ways is Reader’s Theatre. 

Utilizing reader’s theatre or partner plays really brings life to decoding practice. A partner play is a short script that two students can act out together to gain confidence with fluency and reading out loud.

Typically partner plays do not focus on decoding and often contain words and sounds that young readers are unfamiliar with. This can be frustrating for your students and defeats the purpose that we as teachers are trying to achieve with reader’s theater. This can easily be remedied by using decodable partner plays within your classroom!

What Makes a Partner Play “Decodable”?

Decodable partner plays follow a strict scope and sequence and incorporate high frequency words along a decodable timeline. The phonics skills are introduced from simple to complex and are aligned to The Science of Reading. In doing this teachers are able to isolate the phonics skills that they have taught and give students extra practice with decoding and fluency!

The Science of Reading is a powerful body of research that guides the way in which reading should be taught in order to build strong neuro pathways and help all students become fluent readers.

Did you know that Education to the Core is a leading publisher of SOR-aligned materials? There are sound walls, letter tile mats, an entire decodable reader library, and so many stations, centers and activities that are aligned to the Science of Reading on the ETTC Premium site. If you are ready to make the jump to being a fully aligned Science of Reading classroom, then being an ETTC Premium member is a must!

How Are They Set Up?

Each play has two characters and a simple setting. Before practicing the play, students can become familiar with the phonics skills covered by using a word warm up. For the script, the two characters are indicated with picture icons. There are even crowns or character tags you can have your students wear to show which characters they are!

Each play also includes supplemental activities that support the phonics skill practiced in the play. The best part is that every word in the play is decodable. They only include sounds that are within the target skill or have been taught prior to that target skill! So for example if you are doing the blends decodable plays all the words in the plays only have blends and short vowels.

Reader’s Theatre That Meets ALL the Standards

Do you ever feel like there are so many standards to cover, but not enough time to teach all of them? I often feel the same way! So instead of teaching standards in isolation, I look for ways to incorporate many standards into my teaching and review.

Decodable partner plays cover first and foremost the Reading and Writing Foundational Standards that focus on the importance of learning HOW to read and spell. Because the text is decodable it gives students the chance to sound out with confidence. It lets them practice their decoding and recoding skills.

Additionally, fluency and prosody are skills that decodable partner plays practice. Fluency is a measure of the speed in which students read. Prosody refers to expression. Confident readers model both fluency and prosody! Partner plays allow your students the chance to reread not only quicker but also read with expression. This eventually makes what they read sound like how they talk.

When you use these plays in your classroom you can teach about characters and dialogue, setting, point of view, and the literary structure of drama! That’s the benefit of using research-based quality materials in your classroom. You can be sure that your students are learning the concepts and standards they need to grow into successful readers that can both read fluently and understand what they read.

Social Emotional Benefits

The learning that happens when you incorporate decodable partner plays into your reading instruction is not just limited to reading skills. Partner plays help students with social emotional skills too. Your students will learn to take turns and actively listen to their partners when acting out their scripts. They will get chances to practice what it looks and sounds like to be a good audience while classmates proudly present a finished play.

Most importantly your students will let their confidence shine! Our students deserve chances to focus on fun in learning and decodable partner plays are a simple way you can cover all your standards and give your students the chance to giggle and learn together.

How to Use Them in Your Classroom

There are so many ways to use decodable partner plays in your classroom. Here are a few of the ways you can incorporate them into your literacy block.

Whole Group Fluency: Choral reading is a great way to model and practice fluency. Using a decodable partner play script, divide your class into two groups and assign each a character. Then practice reading the play. The two groups chorally read their parts. Make sure to jump in and model expression. Offer error correction to make sure students learn all the words.

Small Group Reading: In reading small groups, it’s important to extend and reinforce your target phonics skills. Decodable partner plays do just that. I recommend using the plays on Thursday or Friday. Your students now feel confident with how to sound out and read words with the target sound. Then partner them up and practice the play. Since you are in a small group it gives you a chance to give specific feedback. Remember to support when students struggle with words in the scripts.

Centers or Stations: Once your students have practiced a play in whole group and small group, move it into your fluency station. Since they are familiar with all the words in the scripts, students are able to independently grab a partner and a script and practice the play. This repeated practice is necessary for strong readers – practice makes permanent!

Culminating Activity: Another fun way to use the decodable partner plays in your room is as a culminating activity. Once your students have mastered all the phonics sounds in a set (for example vowel teams) you can use the plays as a way to show what they know!

Because there are multiple scripts you can have your class pair up and pick a play each without too many duplicates. Then have students practice and perform for their classmates or another class! You are sure to see their confidence soar as they act out and read their scripts with fluency!

Are you ready to incorporate decodable partner plays and reader’s theater into your classroom? With a strong alignment to the Science of Reading and the ability to incorporate multiple standards, these simple plays will be a resource you come back to time and time again.

You are sure to see growth in fluency, decoding, and most importantly confidence. It’s fun when your students get a chance to read, act, and enjoy each other. What are you waiting for? The world is a stage and your students are the stars!

Written by: Andrea Gudmundson

At Education to the Core, we exist to help our teachers build a stronger classroom as they connect with our community to find trusted, state-of-the-art resources designed by teachers for teachers. We aspire to be the world’s leading & most trusted community for educational resources for teachers. We improve the lives of every teacher and learner with the most comprehensive, reliable, and inclusive educational resources.

If you enjoyed what we have to offer at ETTC, be sure to join our email list, so you won’t miss a beat. We are here to help with all your resource needs. Become a Premium Member of Education to the Core and receive immediate access to thousands of printable activities. For one small monthly or annual fee, everything ETTC can be at your fingertips all of the time.


Welcome! I’m Emily, Founder of Education to the Core. We are all about helping K-2 teachers by providing unlimited access to affordable printables for every subject area.