Teaching Shakespeare can be a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s the bard! Whoo hoo! Perhaps the best writer in the history of humanity. On the other hand, the potential is definitely there for confused, disengaged, alienated students.
No one wants students to hate Shakespeare! That’s why I know you are ever on the lookout for creative strategies to help them connect with the great Will Shakespeare (Besides watching Shakespeare in Love, which I love, don’t you?).
Shakespeare’s use of insults are legendary. Share this TedEd video with them to introduce them to the concept, then give them a couple of minutes to check out the online Shakespeare Insults Generator with a partner. Have them write down the two they like the best to share with the class. Finally, have them go on a scavenger hunt through what you’ve read in search of great insults.
Acting Scenes with Character Costume Pieces
One of my favorite simple ways to read Shakespeare with my students is to bring in certain key character costume pieces and then do a lot of acting out during class. If I was reading The Tempest, for example, I might bring in a staff for Prospero, a wig for Miranda, a crown of flowers for Ariel, etc.
Then each day before we start, I do a few fun warm-up theater games with my students, then choose the cast for the day to stand up and act (wearing the costume pieces). The cast changes every day, and I change out characters with tons of lines even within the class period, but the simple character costume pieces help keep things clear.
Try out the popular strategy of having students represent the text visually on one page. Using a template will help them figure out what to put where. Divide up the paper and ask them to represent aspects of the text like symbolism, language, character development, etc. in different areas. Find out more and sign up for a free packet of four one-pager templates with complete instructions (a finished example is pictured above) here.
9 Unique Writing Activities
Hip Hop / Shakespeare Connections
I first read about this intriguing Ted Talk over on the Nouvelle ELA website. If your students are interested in hip hop, playing them this Ted Talk by a speaker from the Hip Hop Shakespeare company, and letting them consider the connections between hip hop and iambic pentameter, could be a really great point of connection.
The Game of Shakespeare’s Life and Shakespearean What-Ifs
If you’d like a fun and short activity to help engage students with Shakespeare as you introduce your play, check out Good Tickle Brain’s “The Game of Shakespeare’s Life.” You can print out the game board and bring in your own dice for a quick little jaunt through Shakespeare’s bio. This could also be a fun springboard for having students make themed game boards of their own later in your unit.
The same website also has a set of funny Shakespearean “What If” comics, exploring what might have happened in various Shakespeare plays if one small thing had gone differently. You could share them with students and then have them make comics of their own.
Audio Clips: Tales from Shakespeare
On this website, you’ll find audio clips meant to be used to introduce various Shakespearean plays. If they have the play you are teaching (and the list is pretty long), you could play this audio on the first day as a way of bringing students into the world of the play.
The Lightning Version
This is a fun and EASY way to build a little performance into a study of any play. Ask small groups of students to script, rehearse and perform a lightning version of the scene, act, or entire play that you’ve just finished. You can make this lightning version 60 seconds, three minutes, five minutes, or whatever works for you.
Stress that they should work hard to hit the most important moments of the text in their lightning version. If you give this significant time, consider filming the performances for a fun class youtube channel you can add to year after year, showing examples from previous students when you introduce the project (and probably inspiring other classes in other locations to try it out).
My class performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream. All semester we worked on our costumes, wandered campus in search of the best set for our act, learned lines and practiced cues. We watched tons of video versions, rehearsed late at night, and generally dove as deeply into it as was possible.
Since taking part in this progressive performance in college, I’ve now done it two different years with my students, and it was amazing every time (four different classes X two different plays).
To make it a bit simpler for a smaller project, simply select crucial scenes from the play you are reading instead of having students perform full acts. Give them several rehearsal days throughout your unit, guiding them in choosing locations that they are allowed to use (have them get permission as needed!). They can come up with their own props and costumes, though these do not have to be too over-the-top for a successful performance.
On the final day, I like to give students theater awards sheets they can fill out as they watch the different performances. Filling these out gives them something to do in between performances, as the next group is setting up.
I hope you found something you want to add to your next Shakespeare unit! Please let me know which one you’re going to try in the comments.
Want to try a fresh discussion strategy that engages your students in critical thinking while also improving their group dynamics and creating that focused buzz of conversation in your classroom that you love? Try using my free digital hexagonal thinking kit. It has everything you need to get started with this popular classroom tool. Click here to sign up for this free resource.