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A Step-by-Step Guide for How to Conduct Reader’s Theater with 12 Angry Men

Reader’s theater is an engaging read-aloud strategy that can engage every member of the classroom! Use this step-by-step guide to use 12 Angry Men as an anchor text with your high school students. Each activity will draw your students into the critical conversations this engaging script.

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What is Reader’s Theater?

Reader’s theater is a literacy practice that can be used with any age group. It is an interactive way to engage with literature and allows students to experience the genre the way it was intended – to be performed!

Reader’s theater uses a script with a cast of characters. Depending on the number of characters, the teacher may wish to split the class into smaller groups for maximum involvement. This strategy naturally allows for many differentiation opportunities as students interact with the text through activities including listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

Not only does this method promote fluency and oral reading expression, but it also provides a kinesthetic approach to engaging in literature. 

A reader’s theater can be paired with additional pre-reading and analysis activities which allow students to think more in depth about characters and themes. We’ve got all those goodies in The English Teacher Vault. 

After the initial read-aloud of 12 Angry Men, your high school students will exercise higher-level thinking skills as they close-read for evidence. They will gain even deeper comprehension of the play through the rich discussion opportunities among their peers.

A pull out quote that explains the benefits of Reader's Theater. It gives a chance for students to engage with the play and experience it as a performance.

Benefits of Teaching 12 Angry Men with Reader’s Theater

12 Angry Men is a staple text in many secondary English classrooms. It is packed full of beneficial lessons and skill opportunities for high school students!

The play, staged in the 1950s, was written by Reginald Rose first as a television screenplay. It was then published as a script adaptation for stage performance and later produced into several different movie variations. 

When teaching the 12 Angry Men unit with reader’s theater, students have the opportunity to interact with the play in hands-on ways through:

  • intonation and vocal expression
  • movement and physical arrangement to incorporate the stage directions.

With accessible language and a length of 3 acts, 12 Angry Men is an engaging play for even young high school students, but its themes are still relevant today, so it has enough depth to be fitting for a class of seniors. 

On a thematic level, students will benefit from the opportunity to engage in rich discussion through the pre-reading and response activities centered around the essential question:

“Is the jury system the most effective way to determine justice?”

Through these activities, students will gain an understanding of the jury system and recognize the impact of underlying prejudice revealed in specific characters. Perhaps most importantly, students will be challenged by the contrast of Juror 8’s convictions and how his courage counteracts groupthink in a matter of life and death.

How to Conduct Reader’s Theater with High School Students

In the Vault, a pacing guide details each lesson in the 15-day unit. You can shorten or extend these as you see fit! The actual reader’s theater performances will occur over 3 days – one for each act of the play. 

All of the steps outlined here will guide you through how to conduct reader’s theater with the 12 Angry Men script, but the process can be easily adapted for any additional scripts you choose!

Step 1: Props to Prepping Ahead!

A smooth reader’s theater experience in the high school classroom will require a little prep ahead on the teacher’s part. Plan to:

  • Gather class or individual copies of the play, and sticky notes, highlighters, book markers, or any other annotation tools that will make the overall process smoother.
  • Designate a process or place for students to collect all handouts and materials for the 3 days of script-reading and the rest of the unit. A single-pocket folder can work just fine!
  • Assign student groups and roles for station groups, read-aloud days, and partner activities ahead to maximize in-class time. Use the pacing guide to find the days these pairings will be needed!
  • Download all handouts, station cards, and slideshows at once and have your unit materials ready in 1 or 2 prep periods! ETV members will find all materials ready to print, show, and go. (Take a moment and imagine how amazing that will feel!)

Step 2: Set the Stage.

Now it’s time to set the stage with pre-reading activities. You’ll want to spend a few class periods building background with essential information about the setting, historical period, playwright, or key vocabulary. Often, there is also essential information regarding the stage layout.

With 12 Angry Men, you’ll spend a few class periods with some hands-on, highly engaging station activities that provide key information about the jury system, introduce legal terms, and get students thinking about the essential question. You won’t want to skip these pivotal pieces!

Step 3: Get into Character.

Here’s where a little more behind-the-scenes work takes place. Most individual script copies include pages or charts at the beginning with notes on characters, essential props, and necessary costume pieces. High school students will benefit from a graphic organizer or handout to make notes – enter the character tracker!

This key handout (included in the Vault) will help students chart each juror’s characteristics throughout the play so they can recognize patterns and detail evidence to use later. You can begin to pre-assign reading roles (prepped in step 1) as you introduce the characters in this step.

Step 4: Take the Stage!

If you follow the pacing guide, there are 3 days allotted for the in-class reading – 1 day for each act of the play. 

Begin day 1 by discussing expectations for readers and listeners with the accompanying slides. Review these expectations each day to ensure the reading goes smoothly. On these days, be sure to build in extra margin to allow students to annotate details on their character trackers during and after reading. 

Students will also complete a warm-up and exit ticket each day to help them process the topics and significant details of the text.

Step 5: Analyze the Play-by-Play.

In this case, you won’t necessarily spend time critiquing theatrical performances, but you WILL allow students plenty of time to engage in critical analysis activities that:

  • enhance understanding of the plot, 
  • track evidence presented by individual jurors, and
  • reveal the implications of a hung jury. 

The English Teacher Vault includes each of these resources to guide instruction and repeated close readings of the text. Finally, students will close the unit with a persuasive letter activity that ties in personal reflections on the text and the application of knowledge gained about the jury system.

More Resources for 12 Angry Men Unit

The reader’s theater portion of this unit covers 3 days, but in the English Teacher Vault, you will find everything (yes, everything!) needed for a 15-day unit with step-by-step lesson plans. 

In the unit, opportunities are also outlined to tie in additional skill-building lessons, such as persuasive writing review. If you need extra help planning these activities, look no further! Pick and choose from a complete set of lessons based on the needs of your students.

If your high school students love reading 12 Angry Men, check out the Just Mercy Unit for a fabulous nonfiction connection to criminal justice and the jury system.

Try any of these resources today when you sign up for a trial membership. For just $1, you can receive access to the entire membership for 7 days!

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