How do you teach Shakespeare?

Discussion in 'High School' started by MizDubya, Jan 12, 2009.

  1. MizDubya

    MizDubya Rookie

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    Jan 12, 2009

    Happy New Year!

    I'm about to start Macbeth with my 11th graders in a few weeks, and I was wondering how you all approached teaching plays in general, and Shakespeare in particular.

    My thought is for us to read the play in class, but I would like to have them doing some outside activities so that they don't think they can just slack off.

    I just bought the Shakespeare Set Free book for Macbeth, but I'd really appreciate any advice veteran teachers might have for teaching Shakespeare (or any play, really) effectively.

    Thanks!
     
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  3. Mrs. K.

    Mrs. K. Enthusiast

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    Jan 12, 2009

    I teach Macbeth to my seniors, and I've used the techniques in Shakespeare Set Free for a few years - they're very effective, but don't think you have to do every single one. I think the key is to approach it as a performance piece, not just as literature. Scripts are odd hybrids - they're not written to be read, if you get what I mean - and Shakespeare provides little in the way of stage direction, so you have to dig that out of the play.

    How many kids in your class? Do you have room for them to get up and do some improvisation? I always start with the thematic improvs in the SSF book, the tossing lines activity, and then add a 32-second version of the play where each character falls down when they "die."

    I have to go get ready for school, but if you PM me, I'll send you some of my files and tell you more. :)
     
  4. dovian

    dovian Comrade

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    Jan 13, 2009

    I usually alternate between reading as a class and reading in small groups with study questions. When we read as a class we change parts every scene. They are expected to take notes (a skill I teach throughout the year). In between acts I have them do a small project - acting or primary sources from folger.edu. One activity they like is reassembling a soliloquy that has been cut into strips. I give prizes for the first group that finishes 100% correct. Even the 12th graders get into it.
     
  5. creativemonster

    creativemonster Comrade

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    Jan 13, 2009

    Dovian, I like this! do you break the soliloquy line by line or sentence by sentence?
     
  6. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

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    Jan 13, 2009

    If you have enough creative and brave kids, you can offer the chance to act out pre-selected scenes as an alternative to a written assignment. It could be done as a staged reading if students aren't comfortable going "off script". This was done with MUCH success in classes where I was a student and I recommend it (for the record, I crossed genders and played Horatio in Hamlet).
     
  7. dovian

    dovian Comrade

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    Jan 14, 2009

    Firstly I can't claim to have invented this; like so many other good ideas it comes from the Folger Shakespeare Library at www.folger.edu :) The version I have been using is not quite line-by-line - it breaks some lines in half, which I think makes it that much more challenging. I usually do this activity after they've read the scene but you could also do it as prereading and then have them write what they think it means/what will happen.
     
  8. TamiJ

    TamiJ Virtuoso

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    Jan 14, 2009

    I taught Romeo and Juliet to my freshman class this year. It was painful to get through. Of course, I am a new teacher so I guess it would be. I would break them into groups and they would do various activities, such as close reading, dramatic irony (each group was given a quote and had to identify the speaker, the the act, translate the quote, and explain why it was dramatic irony), articles about the time era. In most of these activities the groups would then jigsaw their information to the whole class. This was an effective way of covering a lot of information in a little time. It's really tough for these kids to understand the language, and you really have to spend a lot of time discussing, or having them discuss with one another, what the lines are saying. It's good to read act summaries when they finish, too, that way in case they just didn't get it, or only part of it, then they had something to help them out.
     
  9. randomdrama

    randomdrama New Member

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    Jan 16, 2009

    find your passion

    I think the only way that Shakespeare can be taught effectively is if the teacher knows the play inside out and feels confident enough to tell the students, in their own language, what is going on. Try to find something about the play that you can be passionate about, there is nothing worse than a teacher who doesn't appreciate, enjoy or understand Shakespeare trying to teach it. Immerse yourself in the play, look at where the story came from, why it was written and watch some different interpretations of it. If you are doing Macbeth I highly recommend Roman Polanski's version- and watch it on your own so you can allow yourself to be immersed before sharing it with students. If you are reading the play in class then have confident readers doing the reading, it is difficult enough without having to listen to hesitant readers. Act like you enjoy it and that will encourage students to enjoy it too. Good Luck! :thumb:
     
  10. givemeliberty

    givemeliberty New Member

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    Jan 19, 2009

    Othello is the best.

    Do not read Romeo & Juliet, it has bad subject matter.

    Criminal behavior (disobey government and parents) and committing suicide.

    That is the last thing you want to put in teens minds.
     
  11. MissFroggy

    MissFroggy Aficionado

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    Jan 19, 2009

    I did A Midsummer Night's Dream last year with 3rd and 4th graders... it's a fantastic play.

    Anyway, we "translated" the entire script into modern English in small groups or as a class on the overhead. It was very helpful. We also kept the CT Onions dictionary/companion handy and looked up a lot of words for interpretation.

    My students put on the play. They did a few other things. They read a couple of different biographies of Shakespeare and we studied the time period a bit to give them perspective. They did a "one pager" which is something done a simple white paper... some did maps of London at the time, letters from Shakespeare to his wife, or someone else, diary entries, portraits of Queen Elizabeth, Shakespeare, etc. They were fun to do and a simple HW assignment.

    We watched the 1934 version of the movie, as more recent ones are not appropriate for such young children (too sexual.) They loved, loved, loved it!

    Before we began, it really helped for me to summarize the story using modern language, "there was this girl and she was madly in love with this guy, but her father didn't like him. Her father wanted her to be with this other guy... it gets even more confusing when..." and so forth. I told them the story a couple of times that way.

    Also, HS kids are probably too old for this, but Bruce Colville did a great set of picture books that are based on the stories of Shakespeare. I think there are about 8-10 of them. I read them the Midsummer play.

    We also studied Hamlet last year b/c we went to see the play (put on by the children's theater.) It was great to see the contrast between tragedy and comedy for the children. I taught it the same way, but we didn't perform it or read it in the original text. Just the adapted version by Colville and a lot of discussions.
     
  12. MizDubya

    MizDubya Rookie

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    Jan 20, 2009

    Thank you all for such great ideas!

    My school is very big on focusing on the language of Shakespeare (lots of close reading), literary devices, and themes, so unfortunately I can't do too much "translating" for them--we'll have to muddle through it together.

    It's unfortunate, though, that the one play I have to teach this year is the one play I probably dislike the most, only because *my* 11th grade high school teacher ruined it for me (we spent a few weeks listening to scratchy records while we followed along in the book--no reading outloud allowed!).

    If I can tread on all of your expertise just a bit more...do you have students read the play at home at all? One of my colleagues is having his students read the *entire* play at home, and then they will discuss scenes and passages in class. My feeling is that plays are meant to be read aloud, and even acted some, but I also don't want my students, who are incredible slackers, to feel like they get a free "hey, no homework for 4 weeks!) pass.

    If you don't have students read at home, what sort of things do you have them doing outside of class, while you're reading in-class?

    Thanks again!
     
  13. Mrs. K.

    Mrs. K. Enthusiast

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    Jan 20, 2009

    I read the entire play in class - that way we muddle through the language together. A lot of the time I go down the rows, changing readers with each speech - that way the entire class gets a chance to participate. I tie vocabulary in with my literature, so for homework they're writing paragraphs about the play using the vocabulary. This year I gave a "Macbeth Menu" as their final assessment from which they could pick different assignments totaling 100 points, so they were working on that. I also give an allusions assignment that they have a month to complete (of course, some wait until the last minute) - they have to find an allusion to Shakespeare in popular culture. It can be from any play or poem, and it can be in a song, a title of a book or film, part of a TV show, a comic strip - any allusion. The catch is that only the first person who brings in a given allusion gets credit for it - if someone's beaten you to it, you have to go find another one. I made a form that I print out 4 to a page that they either write the allusion on or glue to it, then I post those on my wall. By the time we get done there are over 150 unique allusions! I can't take credit for that assignment; I read it somewhere.
     
  14. MizDubya

    MizDubya Rookie

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    Jan 21, 2009

    Thanks for the suggestions, Mrs. K!

    Your allusion project actually reminds me of one of the assignments my Shakespeare teacher in h.s. had us do, except we had an entire semester to come up with at least 50 Shakespeare allusions and create a pamphlet with all of the pictures, quotes, etc. My whole family got into the project.

    Even today (many, many years later) I still find myself excited when I find a Shakespeare allusion...funny the things that stick with you.

    That teacher, by the way, is still the best teacher I've ever had!

    :)
     
  15. silverspoon65

    silverspoon65 Enthusiast

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    Jan 21, 2009

    When I teach The Crucible in few weeks, I am going to have the students read and act out on the spot. This will be a little tough - they will have to improv a little. THEN I am going to say "stop" and they will have to close their books and continue the scene based on what they "THINK" will happen. This requires a lot of improv so I will probably do some basic improv exercises with them to warm up.

    When I taught Much Ado, I only copied certain scenes for them to read. They would read, and then we would watch the movie (which is pretty accurate) up to the next scene, and they would read again. I didn't have a problem doing this for a play because it is meant to be seen not read anyway.
     
  16. sumnerfan

    sumnerfan Comrade

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    Jan 25, 2009

    I've always read the play all aloud but this year my sophomores just don't want to read, they are terrible so I'm struggling but I just decided I would pick out what I wanted them to know and they are going to have to answer my questions. I may give them the line numbers but they are going to figure out the answers. It's not ideal but with this group, they brag about how many teachers they have made leave, I feel it's the best I can do.
     
  17. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

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    Jan 25, 2009

    There is a wonderful television production of Macbeth from 1979. It stars Ian McKellan and Judi Dench. It may help them get into the story if it stars Gandalf from LOTR and M from the Bond films. The sleepwalking scene is available for preview at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOkyZWQ2bmQ
     
  18. Mrs. K.

    Mrs. K. Enthusiast

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    Jan 25, 2009

    I agree that the Ian McKellan version is terrific, and I own it, but my seniors are much less appreciative of the wonderful acting! :rolleyes:

    There's another old VHS version with Nicol Williamson, I think - you may be able to find it at a library. There's also Roman Polanski's version, but it's R-rated. Both are full costume productions.
     
  19. dtrim

    dtrim Rookie

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    Jan 26, 2009

    I hereby give you my blessing to cut. Do not feel like you need to read every word or every scene. Directors cut; you can, too.

    Watch some scenes in video and skip them in the script. It's a drama, after all, and meant to be enjoyed by an audience.

    I also agree with those who have cited the Shakespeare Set Free series. I love them, but I used them like a buffet where I chose activities that I liked.

    Best wishes for success!

    Diane
     

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