I can remember when I was in high school, I hated when the Shakespeare unit would roll around each year in English class, because I knew that I would be bored and confused for at least the next six weeks. And because I had such distaste for Shakespeare in high school, I avoided all Shakespearean courses in college (which I now sincerely regret). Since becoming a teacher, however, I have really fallen in love with his plays and poetry. How did that happen, you ask? I’ve learned that in order to appreciate Shakespeare, you have to become interactive with his work.
I bet that if Shakespeare
could see how some educators teach his work—students reading the play silently
to themselves, heads down, desperately trying (or not trying) to keep their
eyes open—he would be sincerely disappointed.
These are plays we are teaching,
for goodness sake. To not have students
get up and act out the work is doing his masterpiece a sincere disservice. When the Shakespeare unit rolls around in my
class, I pull out all the stops: I move furniture around so that there is more
room for a stage, I pull out props and some costumes, and I try to set the stage
as best I can. At the beginning of each
class, I have a list of character names written on the board and ask for
volunteers to read each character. In
order to make sure everyone participates, I set the guideline that each person
in the class must read at least three times before the play is over (maybe more
if it is a smaller class) and I keep track of it. That way each student knows that they are
going to have to read and they can choose the character they feel most
comfortable with. I have also found that
students tend to cheer the more shy students on, which is a huge confidence
boost for these kids.
Now, if you are looking
for more of a cognitive challenge for your students, you could have them read
more difficult scenes on their own and complete a formative assessment. I like to give short chunks for them to read
independently and then have them answer multiple choice questions written in
the Quality Core style, which assesses their ability to both comprehend and analyze
the passage, then the last question will ask for a written analysis of what
they have read. This is always challenging
for them and gives them the opportunity to problem-solve on their own. An example of this type of assessment can be
Another fun activity I
like to do with students when we start a new Shakespearean unit is for them to “insult”
one another with Shakespearean words. They
have a lot of fun doing this in partners, and then I will allow each student to
come up with an insult for me and then share.
This activity does not take long, but it will capture their attention
and intrigue them to hear more of what this “Shakespeare dude” has to
These are just a few of
the things I like to do to engage and challenge my students during a Shakespearean
unit. I’m sure that you all have some
great ideas out there, so share the wealth!
What are some of your favorite Shakespeare lessons?