Grade: Senior
Subject: Literature

#4189. Reader's Theatre & a Emily Dickinson Poem

Literature, level: Senior
Posted Tue Apr 22 10:45:43 PDT 2008 by Belinda Bair.
Cecil County Public Schol, United States
Materials Required: Nothing
Activity Time: 45-60 minutes max.
Concepts Taught: Reader's Theatre

Lesson Plan - Reader's Theatre & a Emily Dickinson Poem
1. Objective: 4.3 The student will evaluate textual changes in a work and explain how these changes alter tone, clarify meaning, address a particular audience, or fulfill a purpose. The student will use oral interpretation techniques of vocal tone, enunciation, and emphasis to present the poem aloud to an audience.
Reader's Theatre is an excellent way to involve students in oral interpretation of literature and poems lend themselves very well to this form of performance. It is a very "low risk" activity because students will have the text before them and can practice before reading aloud before a group. RT also helps students focus on important literary elements such as point of view, voice, and tone. The selection need not be a narrative poem in order for you to find different "speakers" within a text. I have included some websites and text references that may help you plan and prepare your own RT scripts or teach students how to do their own.
A few basics to know when you are dividing a work into various speakers:
a. Look closely for logical "breaks", for changes in point of view or where a speaker changes or could change
b.Speakers need not have names but can simply be designated as speaker 1, 2, etc.
c. Girls are considered generally to have "light" voices, i.e. softer, voices higher in the register; boys have "darker" voices, i.e. deeper, voices, lower in the register.
d. Encourage the use of punctuation to help students understand when to pause, how to emphasize certain parts, etc.
e. Consider pacing, enunciation, and pronunciation as important parts of the presentation and try varying the way the poem is read for different effects.
In the example below I have created one sample script for Emily Dickinson's poem "Because I could not stop for Death...". There are many possibilities. In the second column I have offered an analysis of what I have done and why, and how it might be presented.
Because I Could Not Stop for Death
Speaker 1: Because I could not stop for Death -
He kindly stopped for me

Speaker 2: The Carriage held but just Ourselves -
And Immortality.

Speaker 1: We slowly drove - He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor my leisure too,

Speaker 2: For His Civility -

Speaker 1: We passed the School, where Children strove
At recess - in the Ring--

Speaker 2: We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain -
We passed the Setting Sun -

Speaker 1: Or rather - He passed Us -
The Dews drew quivering and chill -
For only gossamer, my Gown -
My Tippet - only Tulle --

Speaker 2: We paused before a house that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground --
The Roof was scarcely visible-
The Cornice - in the Ground -

Speaker 1: Since then - 'tis Centuries - and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity --

I divided the poem into two speakers: one is the "I" persona in the poem, the other is the "Immortality" or "He" referred to but who never actually speaks in the way ED wrote the poem. By creating a RT version, I can allow the other character to come out. Who is this "Immortality"? How does your feeling about the poem change by letting this other character speak?

If I were to create a picture of these two, I would have Speaker 1 as a girl in white, Speaker 2 as a formally dressed male. His manner would be kindly, hers would be tentative, yet accepting.

I do not change any of the words of the poem. I wrote it exactly as it appears. Often, however, in translating a work into a RT piece, you may want to make some alterations or adaptations to meet the needs of the character/speakers. For example, I might change pronouns for speaker 2 to first person "I" in some cases, or alter who says each part. There are many ways to interpret the relationships in the poem. Through creating a RT script, you and the students can see the poem (or any other literary work) in a whole new light.