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Performance Reading


Performance Reading

Research has shown that fluent oral reading learned through performance reading leads boosts engagement and strengthens comprehension. Learn how to integrate performance reading activities into your classroom.

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Performance reading, or fluent oral reading, can be practiced when young students join in a repeated reading of a book with memorable phrases or sound effects and added gestures, or when older students plan how to read passages of a book with expression for an audience.

Fluent oral reading has three aspects: accuracy, or reading the words in a text without error in pronunciation; automaticity, or reading the words in a text correctly and effortlessly; and prosody, or reading with appropriate expression and phrasing to reflect the meaning of a passage.

Research has shown that fluent oral reading learned through performance reading leads not only to engagement in and enjoyment of reading for students, but to reading comprehension (Rasinski & Hoffman, 2003), and it is one of the goals established in the research report of the National Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000).


Engage young readers by choosing a book with memorable repeated language or refrains that they can act out with gestures, sound effects, props, and voices. Have students listen to the read-aloud, and then model the use of gestures, sound effects, props, and voices. Students participate during the reading and repeated readings of the book and can act it out as they discuss it. Mini lessons on phonemic awareness, phonics, and word study can be embedded in performance reading.

After acting out, students can draw in response to the book and write. Kindergarten students could draw and have someone take dictation for them if they are not yet writing. Students in 1st and 2nd grade can label the drawing, write a caption, or do more — depending on their writing ability.

Older students can plan performance readings of texts that feature monologues, dialogues, speeches, songs, or any text that can be voiced by students. They can discuss the text and make decisions about how to use their voices, facial expressions, gestures, movements, props, and costume pieces. Students can do this independently or in pairs or groups. Performance reading can be shared with others in the class, school, or with parents.

Grade-level modifications

K–2nd Grade

Read aloud We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, retold by Michael Rosen (1989), a traditional rhyming tale that tells of a family who take a walk and encounter a bear. Model gestures (rubbing hand together), sound effects, and voices (chanting “swishy swashy”) when the family is going through the grass. Read dramatically, and slowly. Students can join in the reading with gestures, sounds effects, and voices as they were modeled, and they can act out the story narrative. To use a prop, provide a small blanket or square of cloth to represent the blanket at the end of the story. This prop could be rotated among students as the story is acted out.

After reading and engaging the students in acting out the story, lead a discussion with students using aesthetic reader response questions and prompts:

  • Show us your favorite part. Act it out!
  • Has anything like this ever happened to you?
  • Is there anything you would change in the story? Act it out!

Re-read the story and pause for students to add gestures, sounds effects, and voices. The phrases that students use to join in performing the story can be written on chart paper or sentence strips. Point to the phrases as the students perform them, linking the speaking and performing to the words. During further readings, gradually release responsibility for the phrases that students repeat to increase fluency and comprehension of the story.

Students can draw and write about the story and their own experience of acting it out. Kindergarten students can draw a picture. On their own or with help, they can add label or a caption to the picture. They can also use dictation. More proficient kindergarten writers and 1st– and 2nd–grade students can add a caption and more to their drawings.

Mini lessons on word study can be added to repeated reading of the book. For the book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt(Rosen, 1989), do a mini lesson on chart paper or whiteboard using an onset (sw–) and rime (–ash) from the story. (Every syllable in English has a rime, or the vowel and any consonant after it, and may have an onset, or the consonant before the vowel in the syllable.)

Collect a text set of other books good for performance reading to read and act out with the class, or for students to read and act out independently in small groups and share with the rest of the class.


3rd Grade–5th Grade

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village (Schlitz, 2007), the 2008 Newbery Award-winning book, is a collection of 19 monologues and two dialogues from characters living in an English village in 1255. The book can be read independently or aloud, but it is clearly intended as a text for performance reading by students. Introduce it with either a book talk, paging through it as a preview for students, or by passing it from student to student to read a monologue of one of the colorful characters (e.g., Otho, the miller’s son; Barbary, the mud slinger; Will, the plowboy; Alice, the singing shepherdess, etc.)

Lead a discussion after several monologues, using aesthetic reader response questions and prompts:

  • Which character was your favorite?
  • What did you wonder about that character?
  • How would you use your voice, face, and gestures to communicate the emotions, attitudes, and motives of that character?

The students can continue reading and discussing the characters.

To do a performance reading of the book, take volunteers for characters. Model a plan for each student to decide how to use voice, facial expressions, gestures, movements, props, and costume pieces for the lines their character speaks to bring the character to life. Students can work in pares to develop their plans.

Students can read to each other in pairs, putting their plan into action, and do a performance reading of the book a few characters at a time, leading up to a continuous performance reading of the whole book. This can be performed for other classes at school, or for parents and community members.

To continue performance readings, collect a text set of good books for performance reading that students can read independently and act out in pairs or small groups and present to the class. Students can also choose books on their own that they would like to use for performance reading.


Differentiated instruction

English language learners

Choose books that contain the content and vocabulary of the cultural and language group of the English language learners in the class. For example, for Spanish speaking ELLs, see these picture books, in which the text is primarily in English but is interspersed with words in Spanish, and where the story lends itself to acting out and performance reading:

Deedy, C. A. (2007). Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale (opens in a new window). Atlanta, GA: Peachtree Publishers. (There is also a Spanish version of this book with a CD of the story in Spanish, published in 2008.)

Mora, P. (2006). ¡Marimba! Animales from A to Z (opens in a new window). New York: Clarion.

The teacher can focus on using nonlinguistic strategies to make the story comprehensible (i.e., props and realia and gestures).

Students can be paired with a buddy — a student who is a more proficient English speaking ELL or an English speaker. The ELL uses props, gestures, and sound effects, while the buddy speaks the words and phrases. When using an English text that also has words in Spanish, such as the picture books listed above, the less English proficient student can say words in Spanish and gradually add words in English as they become more comfortable with speaking them, while the more proficient English speaker can say more words in English.

Struggling students

Scaffold performance reading by making, or helping the students make, cue cards with words and phrase in large print. The cue cards can be used initially for the student to repeat the words after the teacher models them, and then students can use them as they practice.

Students can be paired for performance reading of a picture book, poem, song, or book excerpt. The teacher can pair students by how well they work together, and a more able reader can be paired with one who struggles. Students can read and practice performing a text together and share it with other pairs or the class.


Cocreate a rubric for performance reading with students that can both guide and assess a student’s ability to use repeated phrases and language, characters’ voices, gestures, sound effects, or props, as appropriate for each story or poem used. Younger students can discuss their performance reading with others, first noting their strengths and then making suggestions for things on which they can improve. Older students can do a perr-assessment with another student, again first noting strengths and then areas needing improvement. Here is an example of a teacher created rubric for kindergarten through 2nd grade.

Rubric for Performance Reading, K-2
Aspect of Performance ReadingNA for this story321
Language: Repeated words or refrains Always correctly joins refrain; speaks/reads enthusiasticallyUsually joins refrain; some omissions or errorsOccasionally joins or does not join refrain; frequent errors or omissions
Story Characters’ Voices Correctly uses voices; changes expression and volume to reflect voices of different charactersUsually uses voices; some difference in expression and volumeLimited, inappropriate, or no use of voices of characters
Gestures, Sound Effects, Props Consistently and appropriately uses throughout the story; even adds appropriate variationsUsually uses appropriatelyDoes not use or use is limited and may be incorrect or inappropriate


Cox, C. (2009). Shakespeare kids: Speaking his words, performing bis plays. Denver, CO: Libraries Unlimited.

Rasinski, T. (2003). The fluent reader: Oral reading strategies for building word recognition, fluency, and comprehension. New York: Scholastic.


Cox, C. (2012). Literature Based Teaching in the Content Areas. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

For any reprint requests, please contact the author or publisher listed.