National Writing Project

Using Drama to Extend the Reader—A Chapter From You Gotta BE the Book

Date: August 2016

Summary: This chapter examines disengaged and struggling readers, arguing that the source of their struggle is an inability to create and step into a "story world," bringing to bear one's own experiences, interpretations, and prior knowledge in order to create meaning along with the text. Wilhelm then demonstrates, through a series of case studies, how drama activities can scaffold this process, helping these readers appreciate the stories they read for the first time.


Excerpt from Chapter:

The findings about the less engaged readers strike me as very important. The collected information reveals that we often ask less engaged readers to reflect on something that they have not experienced. This suggests that if we would help them to develop evocative, experiential response to literature, response on other dimensions would be possible for them—and the door to engaging literary worlds would finally be opened. Defining the dimensions of evocative response and thinking about questions and activities to encourage this sort of response seem to me to be important steps for teachers to take toward helping less engaged readers into the experience of reading.

My question at the point when I began to use drama, some 12 weeks into the school year, was, How could I help the rest of my student readers to think of reading as something that required the creation of meanings that were not completely printed on the page? How could I help them use words to create characters and pictures that went beyond the words? It was then that I began to think of story theater, or enacting story events, and story drama, or enacting story suggestions and possibilities, as a way to help these readers."

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