Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Workshop 1 Workshop 2 Workshop 3 Workshop 4 Workshop 5 Workshop 6 Workshop 7 Workshop 8
Workshop 5: Historical and Cultural Context
Authors and Literary Works
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Frozen Tableau
Radio Play
Literature Circles
Student Work
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.

Teaching Strategies
Radio Play


Radio play is a strategy in which students use their voices and sound effects to enact a script. This script may be original, such as those of the students in Laina Jones's class, or it may be published.

Radio Play in Laina Jones's Classroom

Laina Jones's students write and perform a radio play about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Jones has several goals for her students: to immerse themselves in the historical context of a novel; to understand how leaders of the civil rights movement organized large-scale nonviolent demonstrations and support; to understand how ordinary people became active in the movement; and to recognize the power of those people to effect change.

Jones first provides her students with a variety of nonfiction literature, including the video Eyes on the Prize and key organizers' accounts of the boycott. As a class, the students choose scenes to depict: Claudette Colvin's initial attempt to integrate a city bus, the recruitment of Rosa Parks, and a rousing speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In small groups, the students draft the scenes.

Following teacher and peer reviews, the groups revise their scripts and rehearse. Then Jones leads a discussion about what various characters might have felt, and how the students can convey that orally. Finally, the students record their radio play. As an extension, the students write letters to persuade local radio stations to air the play; Jones sends the letters out along with copies of the tape.

Introduction to the Radio Play
When students write material for a historic radio play, they can research a significant event and its participants, then decide how to convey this sonically. They must consider the purpose (or message) of their radio play, the intended audience, the length of the broadcast, and its structure. The teacher may also want to lead a discussion about how film actors convey emotions and how the students might adapt those strategies. The students may also generate ideas for creating sound effects. They can track all their ideas in a chart or graphic organizer.

Creating the Radio Play
The students must research a subject before writing about it. Laina Jones's students, for instance, write their radio plays only after they have read several nonfiction pieces about the era and watched the documentary film Eyes on the Prize.

The teacher might next ask the class to brainstorm a writing task list. This may include choosing the characters, describing the setting, deciding which aspects of the scene should be described by a narrator and which should be conveyed through dialogue, and choosing quotations to incorporate. The teacher also may model the process by choosing a well-known historical event and, together with the class, writing the first page of its script.

To ensure that all her students contribute, Laina Jones assigns each small group one scene to write. The groups meet to outline and write rough drafts. The teacher might circulate throughout the room to listen, ensure that the groups read their scenes at least twice, offer feedback about the writing, and ask the students, as Laina Jones does, "How would this character feel? How could we hear that in your voice?" Group members should edit their writing and modify their vocal performance based on this feedback. When the drafts have been revised, the teacher should record each group performing its scene aloud, then play the scenes for the students and discuss what worked and what could be improved. As the groups continue to revise and rehearse, they can consider the following questions:

  • What do we want our audience to learn and feel about this event?

  • Who are the characters in this event? How would their voices sound?

  • How can we use our voices to convey each character's ideas and emotions about this event most effectively?

  • If sound effects are used, how do they contribute to the play's message?

  • How can we best communicate the historic significance of this event?

Performing and Assessing the Radio Play
If the students perform the radio play for their classmates, the teacher should remind them that radio plays are usually heard, not seen. If the play is taped, the teacher should ask the audience to imagine they are listening to this play on their home or car radio. After listening, they can discuss how it portrayed the event and how it relates to the literature they have read. The students might list what they consider the most effective moments in the plays they heard so that they can understand how the characterization, writing, sound effects, and acting worked. In Laina Jones's class, the students also sent audiocassettes of their play to local university radio stations, along with persuasive letters explaining why the stations should broadcast the play.

Tips and Variations for the Radio Play

  • In a class like Laina Jones's, in which students are reading, viewing, and listening to many different texts that support the study of a central novel, the radio play can be especially powerful. Because the students have a great deal of background knowledge to draw upon (including, in this case, the novel The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963, the PBS documentary Eyes on the Prize, children's books on civil rights events, and photographs from the era), they have a plethora of details with which to create scripts. But radio plays can focus on works of fiction alone. The students might create a "missing scene" that does not appear in the book, but could -- for instance, a scene that takes place "off stage" that explains a character's motivation or gives readers greater insight into a relationship or event.

  • Students could also create radio plays that depict "prologues" or "epilogues" -- that is, scenes that might happen before or after the book's events. To do this, they will have to imagine conversations, events, or relationships suggested by the text. The teacher will want to give the students feedback during the creative process to help them ground their radio plays in the text, and to help them find good nonfiction sources to extend their understanding of the text's cultural context. When the students present their work, the class can discuss which scenes are most plausible and why.

Benefits of the Radio Play

  • The radio play enables students to explore the cultural context of literature. As students research and retell a historic event, they write and speak in the voices of the event's participants, and, in effect, "walk in their shoes."

  • Students discover how their voices communicate both ideas and emotions about history. By communicating those ideas and emotions, they gain a more "hands-on" understanding of an event.

  • By revising their writing and rehearsing their radio play, and by listening to classmates' radio plays, students learn how historical fiction is written, and thereby hone their writing, speaking, and listening skills.

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