Readers Theatre: A Story of Tradition

March 15, 2024 4 min read

Ask a student in Kindergarten to Grade 4 what they’re excited about in March, and the majority will give the same answer: Readers Theatre Festival.

This annual event is a cornerstone of Calgary Academy’s Junior School experience—a tradition at Calgary Academy for much of the school’s history. Hundreds of students have practiced and read their stories over the years, preparing them for future learning.

Parents, students, and CA staff gather in the Senior School theatre to watch students perform stories they practice for weeks in advance. With program brochures in hand, audience members enjoy an hour of imagination as performers recite poems, children’s stories, or plays in colourful detail.

The early years of learning are some of the most important, and Readers Theatre helps students flex their reading muscles while telling a compelling story.

An Essential Junior School Tradition

Readers Theatre has been at Calgary Academy for over 20 years—evolving from an educational technique familiar to CA Learning Team member Maureen Kelly-Gibson. It was one shown to her in her early days of teaching.

A classroom chooses an appropriate script for the grade and works together to read, understand, and eventually perform for others. According to Ms. Kelly-Gibson, this final performance is key—it provides a challenge for the students to overcome. They can improve on all aspects of reading throughout this process, including fluency (reading smoothly and quickly), vocabulary, grammar, and everything in between.

Students from across Alberta used to visit an event to participate in Readers Theatre, though it no longer exists today. Ms. Kelly-Gibson eventually wondered if the school could host its own version.

“The idea of children building their confidence to read in front of an audience at an event was terrific… So, 24 years ago, I said, well, ‘why can’t we do this at CA?’ That’s how Readers Theatre evolved.” – Ms. Kelly-Gibson

Students spend several weeks preparing for Readers Theatre—practicing lines and understanding their scripts from beginning to end. On performance day, they coordinate all-black outfits, ready to bring a story to life with the magic of their voices, crafting a world in the audience’s imagination.

Ms. Kelly-Gibson has always been impressed by how invested students, teachers, and even the audience become. One of her favourite memories is from 20 years ago, which she believes shows the importance of the school tradition.

“I remember the theatre absolutely packed with laughter and pure enjoyment. Everyone was so captivated by their performance. You could hear a pin drop when the children weren’t reading… everyone made sure the event was something the whole family celebrated.”

Building Fluency While Having Fun

While Readers Theatre seems simple, someone must read between the lines to see all its benefits.

Students aren’t just looking off a sheet of paper—they have to know where jokes are, identify moments of suspense, use rhythm and rhyme in their delivery, and understand how their lines impact the story. It’s a captivating performance where students can build their reading skills and confidence while working as a team.

“Readers Theatre, unlike any other practice that I’ve seen, touches every layer of reading… We choose scripts that bring students to a higher level than reading independently because, with frequent practice, they become fluent and build upon their oral reading.” – Ms. Kelly-Gibson

Performing for family and friends makes the experience more meaningful than reading in front of the classroom. While the scripts may initially seem difficult, students work with their teachers step-by-step until they’re ready.

Ms. Kelly-Gibson sees this process when she steps into classrooms to support teachers, helping students polish their performances and work together. The early bumpy road becomes smooth with practice, and students can eventually show off their skills.

This event is more than a way to build essential learning foundations. It’s a tradition that brings the community together—a safe place where family, friends, and teachers can celebrate students’ hard work.

“Readers Theatre is a tradition I hope will last forever and ever because it’s part of our culture and community.”