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Study Shows Acting Can Help with Reading Comprehension

Aug 29, 2011

The old school of thought is: find a quiet corner to go off to when reading. But new studies seem to suggest that a stage might be a more appropriate place! Why? Because physically acting out what's being read can have a much larger impact on comprehension and, ultimately, learning. The Education Insider explores how this new approach to reading could lead to marked gains for elementary school students.

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By Harrison Howe

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Embodiment and Manipulation Work to Improve Reading Comprehension

Randi Albertsen, owner of Innovations in Education, LLC and a consultant in early childhood education, notes the importance of acting out stories so children can make connections between words and physical actions. The Institute of Reading Development, an organization that helps provide summer reading programs to schools and communities, also acknowledges the benefits of dramatization, or acting out, for comprehension improvement in young readers.

Embodied cognition theories believe that reading certain words can spark motor reactions; for instance, reading the word 'kick' could result in the reader moving his or her foot. The thought is that readers are mentally applying the written words to past experiences. New studies take this a bit further by having subjects manipulate physical or virtual items as a way of 'acting out' a story.

A simple test conducted on first- and second-graders in one Wisconsin school district illustrates the argument for acting out versus reading silently when it comes to comprehension. The students were split into a control group and an experimental group. Students in the control group read short farm stories aloud, repeating key sentences. The experimental group acted out the same stories with toys or by moving images on a computer. One week later, control students reread the stories silently, while those in the experimental group imagined moving the toys or images as they had done the previous week while reading new stories, one about the farm and one about something else.

The result? Students in the experimental group had better comprehension compared to the control group. And the same results were reached when third- and fourth-graders were directed to act out math story problems. In the math study, it was found that students who acted out the narrative were better able to glean only the pertinent information and solve the problems than those who only read the text.

It is thought that further and larger studies will need to be conducted to verify these results.

Find out how author Kerri Smith Majors engages and entices young adult readers through her online literary journal, YARN.

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