Drama Integration in the Classroom with Radio Theater

If you’ve heard of Reader’s Theater you’ll love today’s discussion about Radio Theater. Author Deb Baldwin is joining the podcast today to share wisdom from 38 years of teaching theater to help you add some new skills to your teacher toolbox.

The book, We’re Live! Radio Theater #101 describes her experiences in using radio theater in her own classroom and the successes she has had boosting student engagement. The book also contains a chapter on how to integrate drama integration (in this case, radio theater) into a teacher’s classroom with virtually any subject from grades fourth and up.

Topics Discussed

  • Meet Author Deb Baldwin
  • Reader’s Theater vs Radio Theater
  • How radio theater can help your classroom
  • Radio theater for the social studies/language arts classroom
  • Radio theater for the science/math classroom

Connect with today’s guest:

-> Grab the book: “We’re Live! Radio Theater #101” https://a.co/d/ghmUXcj

[This is an affiliate link for We’re LIve! Radio Theater #101 from Dramamommaspeaks]

-> Check out Deb’s blog: Dramamommaspeaks.com

-> Visit Dramamommaspeaks on Teachers Pay Teachers to browse over 400 drama education resources



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This episode may contain affiliate links.

Amazon links are affiliate links from Brittany Naujok and The Colorado Classroom, LLC®. I earn a small amount from your clicks on these links.

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Ellie’s resources can be found on her website or on TPT.


Ellie 0:20

Hey, Brittany, I was wondering, have you ever used something called reader's theater?

Brittany 0:26

I actually have a couple of times in both ELA and social studies class. The kids really seem to enjoy it.

Ellie 0:34

Well, we're going to talk about something similar today with our special guest, Deb Baldwin. She's a retired teacher and director and has a new book out about radio theater and the classroom.

Brittany 0:46

Oh, cool. I can't wait.

Ellie 0:49

Welcome to the teaching toolbox. I'm Ellie, and I'm here with my friend Brittany.

Brittany 0:53


Ellie 0:55

And we're joined today by another fellow former educator Deb Baldwin.

Deb 1:05

Hey, everyone.

Brittany 1:08

We are so glad you're here today. Deb, can you please give us some background on yourself?

Deb 1:15

Oh, I'd be happy to. I am a as you said a retired drama teacher I taught for 38 years, I directed about 350 plays and musicals with adults and children alike. I've created curriculum and drama from second grade - 12th. Primarily I focused on Middle School and lower high school. So like ninth and 10th grade. I am a professional actress as well. I have a bachelor's degree in performing arts, acting, from Stevens college a million years ago. And I have my master's in education and arts, creative arts learning from the Leslie College in Massachusetts. That gives you kind of an idea of where I'm coming from. I'm still teaching except through my products, which I just love. I think it's the coolest thing I've ever run onto. And those of us that do this go, oh, yeah, we get to do all the fun stuff.

Ellie 2:04

Now, where exactly did you teach? And then what types of schools were you?

Deb 2:08

I taught primarily in the Midwest. So I taught in Columbia, Missouri for 20 years off and on. I taught English for three years, and then stayed home with our daughters for 11. And then I went back in and I taught a pre elected drama class. And I saw 400 kids a year, about every 25 days, that's when this radio theater began. And I taught that and work there. Then my husband and I said we're sick and tired of being sick and tired. And we moved to Colorado, way up in the mountains in Estes Park, Colorado, and we just loved it. And my husband and I both worked down below. So we worked at Boulder and places like that. Tim is an instrumental music teacher. So he went into music, instead of theater, and I went into theater. And so in music, so we really balanced each other well. And primarily, so it's I taught and as to go back, I taught mostly in Columbia, Missouri, and mostly in Colorado.

Brittany 2:59

Go Colorado.

Deb 3:01

I know it.

Ellie 3:02

So why did you decide to leave the classroom?

Deb 3:05

Well, my husband, yeah, I'm married an older man. He's four years older than I am. And he'd retired already, then my last year nearly just really ruined my health. I was directing for full length musicals with kids in middle school in high school at the same time, and I was directing three Junior musicals with younger kids all the same time, because this isn't a homeschool, and a huge homeschool enrichment program, in Longmont, Colorado, and it just nearly did me in and I said, you know, I, I just can't do this anymore. And as much as I loved it, I was so burned out. And I knew I was you know, I knew this was time to do something different. And so then I retired. And then my husband said, well, now what are ya gonna do, because he knows me very well. And I said, Well, I don't know, I could try this or that. I tried a couple of things. And the doors were slammed, basically, in my face, like, yeah, that is not what you're going to do. You're not going to direct anymore, and you're not going to teach anymore. No. And so I thought, maybe I should look into this teacherspayteachers thing that I've had forever. And so we did, basically took the first year wasn't very serious. And then in 2018, it took off, and I'm an overachiever. So I thought, well, let's try to do 100 products in one year. Well, I made 107. And you know what, you guys, these are those products. These are those resources. I never got to teach, or I always thought we needed, and no one ever made them. So I said, Well, I'll just start making those. And so, to date, now I have 400 products. I probably sold. I don't know 1000s. And what more importantly, I've reached all kinds of teachers and students that may never have experienced theater because they either didn't have the training in it, or the money to do it in their school, or it just wasn't viable for their school situation. And that's what I love the most.

Deb 4:57

It is is very exciting.

Brittany 5:00

Yeah, that's awesome. So you have a new book out that describes your experiences using radio theater, in your classroom and the successes you've had with it in boosting student engagement. For how many years? Did you use radio theater again?

Deb 5:17

Well, when I was in Columbia, Missouri, and I taught in that middle school pre elective program, I was turning out seven, well, seven times. So I don't know 75 kids, three classes, three, seven times a year, a performance at the end of each one, because I feel really for a lot of students. That's what they think of theater theater is we do a play, we do a play, we do a play. Well, that is so wearing on a creative person. So I went, Well, how else can I do it? I tried some reader's theater. I tried a conglomeration of things, you know, these are the things we studied and finally went, you know what I wonder about radio theater, because I ran onto radio theater when I was about 16 years old. And I used to listen to radio theater, a radio shows out of Chicago, way late at night. And I'm not a night owl. So I'm like, really late for me, which was 11 going, because I wanted to hear it. Well, then, many years later, since I was a voiceover actress, I've started doing voices and using theatre there. Then I went to the classroom, and I went one wonder if this would work with these students. Because these are kids who a lot of them have never had any theater at all. And they're really afraid of it. They think, oh, well, we have to memorize. Well, not always do you have to memorize you know. And so I found the Museum of television and radio in California, and I begged them to give me some scripts, if they had any. And they sent me some and it was the start of it. Oh, my gosh, this works. So well. This really works on kids that are reluctant to do any kind of reading or performing. And they stand as you know, with a script in their hand, I stand on stage, and I direct them somewhat like a choir director. And I went, Oh my gosh, this really works. It works well, for my students with learning challenges, paras came in and helped the students say their one line or make the sound effects or run the music. And it was this amazing experience to watch kids that maybe would have said, well, you know, I didn't get to play the lead. Well, but this is, so when you get to do the sound of the train, or you get to do the sound of the horse galloping. And that's important to the story, suddenly, you're important. And you've never no one's ever noticed you before. And that's that's kind of how I became engaged with it. And then over time, I just kept refining it and refining it. And then about three years ago, I said, I think it's time to provide this out for other teachers. So that's when I started in on the book long story too. And how it got to became a book first, it was a course and la la la. But it's really best as a book, it is 182 pages worth of everything that's in my brain about radio theater.

Ellie 7:48

That's awesome.

Deb 7:49

The first nine chapters I think are about history of radio theater, the history of sound effects, amplification, that's a big one if people want to amplify, where to find the scripts, how to direct radio theater, because it is different. And that includes a link of demonstration. And me showing you the hand signals and how you use them. So the kids understand, Oh, now I say my line. Oh, now we needed to be quiet, includes links to videos. So you can see actually what radio theater looks like. And also hear they can listen to Superman. And I can watch adults and children perform it so they get an idea of how it looks. And then the last chapter is my actual unit. That's a unit I've had well, since I was in Columbia, Missouri a million years ago. And I've just developed and developed it. And it's three weeks long, a teacher can take it in the classroom. And they can just follow it day by day. And then at the end of that, then they will put on their own performance. And that's what I'm trying to do is help people see how you can use your classroom. But with that, you know, really what it is, is drama integration. We're just integrating drama in a different way. As I said, it's so effective. And it's unusual. There are a lot of people that don't know it and get it confused with reader's theater. And it's not the same though similar, right? But if you talk to your grandparents and great grandparents, or they remember radio shows, and even some students who have seen things on television or in movies and say, Oh yeah, that's fine. I know that from Annie, In Annie they have a radio show. Oh, yes.

Ellie 9:19

Yeah. Yeah.

Deb 9:20

You know, but I just I just packed it full of everything I know. Including games and warm ups and teacher scripts and reflections on each chapter and rationale, and oh my gosh, you guys, you know, everything you need I put in there.

Brittany 9:37

Well, I'm gonna have you back up just a moment. I've mentioned readers theater and you've mentioned it as well. How are they similar are different?

Deb 9:47

Readers theater is when you take a script, a story that's been developed into a script, and you hold the papers and normally the script and you normally sit on stools, maybe your chairs and you stand when your line comes up, if it's done correctly, you state to speak directly out above what would be an audience, you never look at the other actors at all. You're on your own. There's no sound effects. There's no music. Now, radio theater is all about the production value. So now it's as though we were on the radio. So you might have microphones if your school owns them. Or you can make your own mock up stage prop microphones if you wanted to, or just put three chairs out there and say those are microphones. The kids come up to the microphone, they speak on the microphone, and then they go back to their seat and sit down in between, there's going to be sound effects. There might be commercials, there's going to be an announcer or two, and there's going to be music throughout it. It's very easy to involve everybody in it. And that's why I'm such a proponent to it. So there's the differences. I hope that helped.




yes, good.


I think I was doing maybe a mix of the two.


You could be


I did have a script. And my kids were standing the whole time. They were acting it out. And so they were performing it for their classmates sort of,




We didn't really have an audience.




We didn't have sound effects. We didn't have a mic or anything like that.


Right. Right.


It wasn't just like them just saying their lines. They were acting it out and getting very into their roles.


Mm hmm. That's good. It This works especially well, I believe with about fourth grade and up. Middle school kids really love it. Because it's something generally they haven't heard about. So one of my products that sells really well is the monkey's paw. Do you remember the short story in the monkey's paw so scary? I have an advantage because my husband was an instrumental music teacher. So he can help me develop the music for these. So Tim has either written them, or he's created the sounds for me. And the monkey's paw script is just plain scary. I mean, the kids just love it. And then I had a script on my own that a friend of mine said, you really need to offer this to people. And it's called bow wow blues. And it's for middle school. And it's about these ridiculous robbers, and how they're racing back to Chicago. And you think they're racing back to Chicago to hide out but the truth is, the boss wants to get home to his pet Pomeranian Penny. And that's, that's why he's racing home not so much about the money because he's kind of a doofus. So see, it's really fun. But on the other hand, I have, things could always be worse, which is a Jewish folk tale. And I've adapted it as a play, and readers play theater. And as a radio script, which is fun for people to do for younger kids. The brave little tailor is another one, people probably in about fourth grade are performing. But you know, you could take this as young as you wanted to. So long as everybody understands what it is.




And what's kids? Do they really are engaged in getting to speak on a microphone, that is a big deal, you know, to go home and say I spoke on a microphone today. I've never even heard my voice before, you know, except video of themselves recorded on a camera.


You mentioned the fact that everybody seems to feel included, you know, no matter what, you know, if they're doing a sound effect, or that type of thing? Can you give us a few other benefits of using the radio theater in the classroom?


Well, to me, it's kind of obvious. It strengthens your reading, your speaking your listening skills, there might even be some writing involved, it's sort of depends on how the teacher uses it. Cooperative learning, creative problem solving, and everybody works everything out together. So let's say we don't have the sound we need for like a train. Well, that's an easy one. But something like the whirling wind, okay, what, how are we gonna get that sound? Well, we only have, you know, a stick here and drum. So what happens is, it becomes everybody's project. So everybody starts to look at it differently. Instead of just, this is my part, this is all I do. And because if you, if you do floor directing, which is what I did, and I do, I stand right up there on the stage and direct them, they feel so secure. So you're gonna see kids come out of the shell more than they ever had before, for two reasons. They have a script in front of them. They practiced it numerous times. And you're right there to cue them when to speak. And all those things work together to make a wonderful experience for them. But primarily, I would say, for someone who's never done this before reading, speaking, listening, cooperative learning right off the top.


That's awesome. Can you give an example of how you would use radio theater in social studies or language arts?


I will you know, there's a chapter in the book about drama integration and how to use it in social studies, science and language arts. Now when I did this, I wouldn't have been able to do this a year ago. I didn't know quite how to tell people to use it. Exactly. I mean, I know how I would do it. But I thought, how should I do this? Well, we have this thing called AI. By going to chat GPT. And I did this just to show people in the book how easy it's going to be for them, you will not believe it. You go in and you put in your prompt, I need a radio theater script about the beginning of the Civil War, I need 10 characters, I need to have five sound effects. I need a mute, I need music cues, and it needs to be about 10 minutes long. And I go through and I show you how to do it. Now this was the first example. Okay, then I gave it a different prompt. Now that's fleshed out more, I gave it a third prompt, and I fleshed it out more, and I show them this is an example of how you do it. In total, it probably took 10 minutes. Which means you could do that then with almost any subject, you know, maybe you're introducing a math concept they've never had. It's so clever. You can say to AI Yeah, no, I need I need this, I need you to flesh out these characters more, I need a couple of them to be grumpy, or I need some of them who's silly. And they will develop it for you. You know, and you can say it again. Nope, try it again. And it is remarkably helpful for this. I wouldn't recommend people do entire scripts this way. Because our creativity is super important to development of it. Like I know what works. And I know what doesn't work. And I can always tell when people are inexperienced, the scripts are wordy and pedantic and too much verbiage. And I mean, you have to think about trying to listen to this, they don't want to listen to you go on too long. They want to hear your banter between characters. So I have one in there for social studies on. Like, I think it's the beginning of a civil war, a particular a particular war in civil war, I have one for science. And I have one using a fairy tale to show you how you can develop those. And you guys know, you just tell it, I need it for grade level four, you know, I needed to look for reluctant readers in grade seven, and it will adjust it for you. It's tremendous. I was so surprised, because at first I was like, oh, AI who wants that? Here we go again, just another thing for the teachers and make it harder on us. But I'm thinking it'd be a really good friend for me. And I can take it in and do it very quickly. So let's say you wanted to do something for Monday, honestly, on Sunday night, you could put that in, just prompt it what you want, and watch it unfold, you will not believe it. And if you don't think it has enough cues, like sound and music, just tell it say I need more cues, you know, or people can honestly people come to me and say will you take this and develop it into a script. So you know the one about the kids climb up in a tree and then there's time travel. And do you know the book? I thought you would you'll think of it. There's time travel and then they come out of the tree. They're in a different place? Well, I developed that for a group of fifth graders in Columbia, Missouri, and they just loved it. They put all their kids together.


Is it a magic Treehouse?


Magic treehouse! Yeah, the magic treehouse in the Revolutionary War, maybe?




Oh, that was so fun. But to do this for people provided not too many asked me too fast. So that's how I that's how I would suggest people do it. You don't need to work so hard. Also, there is in this chapter one of the chapters, I gave you a PDF of how to take any story and develop it into a radio play. So you don't have to do the AI stuff. You could go straight to the story and look at what how I did it and go okay, so I need to line it up like this. And I need to do it. You just it's there.


So if I wanted to do something for math, for example, I could start with the AI maybe, but then also take it and look at your guide, or look at the different things in the book and and get something pretty finalized.


Oh, yes. And I know teachers are perfectionist. You know, the thing about theater is we experiment a lot, and we try things didn't quite work. Okay, well, so long as you don't tell the kids, they are not going to know what you're looking for them to because, you know, once I ran onto AI I was like, This is marvelous help in that respect.


So all of this information is in this wonderful book that is now published, and it's called, We're live radio theater 101. And you have told us all about the different chapters and how we can get started. Is there anything else you want to add about the book that we maybe didn't already mention?


Once you purchase it, and I would suggest people get the paperback or the hardback if they I'm kind of tough on books. So probably I would start on the other hand, some people want the hardback, I mean, yes, you can get the Kindle version. That's fine, but I don't think you can't write in your Kindle. I would buy the paperback version. And I would just start in and what you'll find is, this is a there's so much packed in there, that it's almost staggering. People say I just can't believe this. Well, it's 38 years of pulling all that information together.


You've got a lot.


Yeah, we have a lot up there. So we know we all know what works and what doesn't. And, and we're open minded trying new stuff like AI, I would just really take the time to reflect if you purchase it. There's, as I said, there's reflection sheet at the end of each chapter, it gives you a chance to kind of step back and look at it and go, Okay, I need to do this differently next time. Or, I would try this story next time instead. So you can like a diary or journal, you can just take notes as you go through it. But it is my hope that people will begin to use radio theater just like they have Reader's Theater. They just need somebody like me crazy enough to go, I think I can teach you how to do this. And you will not believe how much you all enjoy it you just won't believe will just say, Oh, this is so fun. You will hit it too. You know, you're not just standing back and agony. Watching them struggle through a script. You know, you're right in there with them.


Well, your your joy and excitement for it is contagious.




So can you share where people can find you?


The easiest place to find me I think is through my blog, which is dramamommaspeaks.com. Mama is spelled differently. Sorry about that. Momma. And I'm sure you'll have that information for people. You can find me there on my blog, which has all kinds of information. I'm on Instagram under the same name. The book is now listed under Deb Baldwin, author, I'm on Facebook twice. So Drama Momma Speaks. And then I also have a theater teacher, Facebook group, I have a website. And you know, I kind of you guys know, if I have if I need to have it. I'm everywhere, right? But the best place I think for people to finally is either through my store on teacherspayteachers at Drama Momma Speaks, or to find me through the blog. I think that's the best way personally.


Well, that's great. Yes, we will definitely link all those places in our show notes so that everybody can find you. Thank you, Deb. I'm sure our listeners will want to grab a copy of your book and see how to integrate radio theater into their lessons to help with engagement and storytelling help students gain confidence building differentiation, and more. It sounds absolutely fabulous.


Well, thank you.


Yes, it does.


I did want to mention because I forgot that it's available in Amazon. And it should be available by now in other bookstores like Barnes and Noble online and things like that. But for sure I know you can find Amazon and people are always welcome to email me and I will help you. I will help you find it.




It's been really great having you. We're live radio theater 101 is definitely a tool you'll want to add to your teaching toolbox, gleaning advice from a 38 year veteran teacher. Grab it today by going to the show notes and we'll catch you later.




Thanks so much.

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