Creative Learning Connection

Educational Resources from a Veteran Homeschool Mom

Tag: Enjoying Shakespeare

Helping Students Enjoy Shakespeare

Where to Begin?

The neat thing about sharing Shakespeare with students is that there are so many ways to do it.  My favorite method is still to read an entire play aloud as a group, and as often as possible to combine that with watching a live performance of the play. Which is why I’ve finally decided to start this school year with The Taming of the Shrew: American Shakespeare Center’s traveling troupe will be performing it in our area in early February, so reading it this fall will make for a fuller experience for all of us. (By the way, the feature image for this post, as well as all of the other images except the last, are different scenes from The Taming of the Shrew.)

More Exciting Ideas

But after attending two different teacher/adult events in Staunton, Virginia (home of the American Shakespeare Center) I’m working on how to add a little variety to our readings.  Here are some of the ideas from their recent teachers seminar that I am considering adding to this fall’s lesson plans:

Walk Throughs

Read-Around

  • I’ve traditionally passed out specific parts to students, so that they can “own” a character throughout the play, but this year I’ll probably be trying the “read-around” method for at least some portions of the play. With that, one student just starts reading the first line in a scene and reads until they get to a stopping point – a period, semi-colon, colon, or question mark. Then the next student reads a line, and so forth. We tried it at the teachers seminar I was just at and I could see advantages to reading that way for some portions of a play – for example, when a character has a particularly long set of lines to read. I still plan to have characters assigned for much of our reading, but we can vary it this fall and see how it goes.

Embedded Stage Directions/Props

  • Embedded stage directions/props are interesting to pay attention to: Shakespeare gave very few actual stage directions in his plays. (“They fight” being one of his most popular.) But oftentimes directions are embedded into the lines of other characters – for instance, when one character tells another character to stand up. Or a prop might be mentioned when one character discusses the letter they are holding. Shakespeare didn’t need to write separate directions for those, he just included them within the lines of his characters. And often a single word tells us much: we can deduce that “this fellow” is closer to the speaker than “that fellow.”
  • At other times actors have decisions to make: When, in the first scene of Taming of the Shrew, does the Hostess leave, when her line is “I must go fetch the head-borough.”? Does she leave as she’s saying the line, or directly after saying it? And right after that, when the directions say that the Beggar “Falls asleep” – did he sit or lay down at some point before the next line is spoken? Again, interesting questions for students to consider.

Different Ways to Read a Line

  • It could also be helpful to have students slow down while reading certain portions and try various ways to say the same line. For instance, what different ways could Katherine say “Then God be blessed, it is the blessed sun.” in Act 4, Scene 6 of The Taming of the Shrew?

Who Are Lines Directed at?

  • And in other places students can consider who the actor would be addressing with his lines. Lines weren’t always directed at another actor; sometimes they were directed at various audience members. That is something that American Shakespeare Center actors do particularly well. If you have the privilege of seeing them with students, it could be fun to have the students watch for that. (As I mentioned, I look forward to watching them perform in Huntsville, Alabama in early February 2018, as they do each year.)

Prose versus Verse

  • Another exercise would be to have students determine whether a particular portion of a play is written in prose or verse. When each line starts with a capital letter, it is generally verse. Prose is written like you would expect to see regular sentences. With prose it can be helpful for students to see whether a character speaks in short sentences or run on sentences, and whether there are unfinished thoughts or questions are being asked. (If so, did anyone else complete the thought or answer the question?).
  • There was another exciting lesson on iambic pentameter at the seminar – but I’m going to have to see if I can explain it well enough to my students before I try explaining it here! Suffice it to say for now, that Shakespeare wrote his lines in a variety of different ways. 

What Would You Cut?

  • I also saw an interesting concept in the study guide about having students determine how they would make choices about cutting out some of Shakespeare’s lines in order to make the play fit into a set amount of time. (Something directors have to do regularly.) For instance, if they were all tasked with removing 10% of the lines from a scene, which ones would they individually want to remove, and what might they agree on as a group?

Choose Somewhere to Start

And those are just some of the exciting ways we learned to make experiencing Shakespeare with students even more exciting than I’ve already found it to be. The wonderful thing about these ideas and the ones I’ve shared in previous posts is that sharing Shakespeare doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

And while I still have a personal preference of having students experience plays all the way through from beginning to end, I know that doesn’t work into everyone’s schedules. My plan for the fall is to work many of these different ideas in as we read through our next play, but I can also see how some of them would be useful even if you just had the time to do a scene or two with students.  With Shakespeare, I may believe that more is generally better, but sometimes you just need a good place to start.

The Play’s the Thing

For more details on these and many other great activities, I can highly recommend the American Shakespeare Center’s Study Guides.

I plan to report back later this fall after we’ve tried out some of these activities in class. Regardless of what we think of each one, I’m confident we’ll still agree with Hamlet that “The play’s the thing.” (Even if he was talking about catching the conscience of a king with it and we’re “merely” trying to immerse students in the wonderful world of Shakespeare!)

Hamlet

Happy learning!

Cathy

More Fun with Shakespeare

Learning to Love Shakespeare

How many characters do you recognize from Sir John Gilbert’s painting, “The Plays of Shakespeare”?

As I mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago, I have grown to love Shakespeare over the last two decades. Teaching it, reading it, watching it, or even just listening to it, can all make me extremely happy. And as a teacher who started teaching Shakespeare with a very sad amount of prior experience, I have spent much time researching the subject as well.  I’ve listened to lectures from the Great Courses on Shakespeare and collected and read a fair amount of books as well.

Shakespeare Experience for Adults

But until last week there was something I had never done connected to Shakespeare – I had never been to any type of teachers’ workshop or other such event with a Shakespeare theme.  It’s kind of sad to think that for more than a decade I’ve been attending teachers’ workshops on other topics of interest to me (the U.S. Constitution, Civil Rights, and Economics to name just a few), but had never managed to attend one on Shakespeare.

Okay, so even adults can have fun!

And now that I’ve attended my first, I hope there will be many more to come! My first in-person event  wasn’t technically a teachers’ workshop, and didn’t include only teachers – it was a camp for adults – the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp put on by the American Shakespeare Center, to be exact. But much of what we did there will be very useful for those of us who do teach Shakespeare.

Fun with Shakespeare

Earlier in the week I mentioned some of the fun things we did at camp in a post entitled Creativity Comes in Many Forms (on www.CatherineJaime.com). But in that post I didn’t go into most of the actual Shakespeare-related activities we did – several of which I’m hoping to incorporate into this year’s Shakespeare classes. (Yes, I know, I’ve officially retired from homeschooling after 35 years and from running a homeschool center after almost 14 years. But that doesn’t mean I’m quite ready to give up teaching Shakespeare. We’re returning to where we started – classes in my living room.)

Boydell Shakespeare Prints

Our first activity of the week involved pictures – black and white engravings of paintings from different Shakespeare plays. Several years ago I had put together one of my art appreciation books on Shakespeare – and had actually used a few of these prints, but I hadn’t realized how many of them there were in this magnificent collection, painted for the Boydell Shakespare Gallery in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Pictures/Scenes from Shakespeare

A Boydell print – do you recognize this play? Answers at the bottom of the post.

It was a fun activity, if a bit overwhelming at first. We had 27 prints on the walls and tables of the room, numbered, 1 -27 (of course). And then we had 27 short passages from different plays printed on several sheets. They were lettered A to Z, plus an AA. We were tasked with identifying which scenes went with which pictures. Extra points if we could identify which plays they were from. Some members of our group even managed Act and Scene numbers – way beyond my Shakespeare knowledge there! But I did go in on the scene sheets and identify almost every play the scenes were from. (I think I was missing 3 names out of the 27.) And I could probably have told you on most of them whether they were from the first half of the play or the second half – but beyond that, not a chance.

My first mistake was not transferring the names of the plays right to our answer sheet. Instead I started trying to identify the pictures, and only wrote the names down as I was putting the letters with the right numbers. Consequently, I only got 32 of the total 54 points possible. (Putting me about 4th in a group of almost 20. Not too shabby for someone with no formal training in the subject.) Had I written in all the play names I knew (and not mixed up As You Like It with All’s Well that Ends Well – something I’m forever doing for some odd reason – though probably not after this!) I would have ended up with more like 40 or more points. Oh well, it was still fun to do.

I think many of my students would recognize the play this picture represents.

Our Variation of the Activity

In fact, the activity was so much fun, I think I’ll start this fall’s Shakespeare classes with a variation of it. I think trying to match scenes, names, and paintings all at the same time would be too much for most of my students, and I find, at least with the students I’ve had in recent years, that they do better with group activities than individual ones.

Identifying Scenes

For my students I plan to divide them into groups (probably of 4 or 5 students in each group, depending on this year’s class size). I will try to make sure my groups contain a mixture of Shakespeare newbies and Shakespeare veterans.

I like to give each group a small white board and a dry erase marker to put their answers on. I’ll have the small scenes typed up and distributed in a package to each group. I’m going to have them take turns reading the scenes aloud. After a scene has been read, they can decide as a group if they know which play it’s from.

After each group has had sufficient time to consider and write their answer down, I’ll have each group read the answers out loud. I’ll keep score of team points on a separate white board. (I’ve used this format often in my classes, and find it works well. We’ve made it into a game of sorts, with just a slight edge of competitiveness. And this way, no one feels singled out if they don’t know many of the answers.) As each scene is identified, the groups will have a place to record the play name, to assist them with the next step.

Identifying Pictures

I considered using this print – most of my students would  definitely recognize the thumb biting insult.

After we go through all the scenes I’ll pull out the different paintings/engravings for them to look at. Each picture will match up with a different scene; basically like we did in our activity here in Staunton – the big difference being that the scenes will already have been identified.

I had planned to print copies of each of the pictures, but I’ve been putting them into PowerPoint, and I think it will be easier to just show the slides one at a time from the laptop. So we’ll probably do this like the first portion – with their small white boards for writing answers on.

My class periods are an hour and a half, and I can see this activity and related discussions spreading into most of that first period. But I think it will be a great way to start the semester – reviewing plays that many of them will already be familiar with, and introducing many others.

And if that sounds fun, but too much work to put together, have no fear – I’ve done all the pre-work for you. You can see the set, Shakespeare Activity: Matching Scenes and Pictures,  here on CurrClick.

More Activities to Come

I had planned to share about some of the other fun activities that we did last week at camp, but I can see that I will need to spread this over more than one blog post.

Happy learning! And remember, as Hamlet said, “The play’s the thing.”

Cathy

*Prints here are from the Tempest,  Othello, and Romeo and Juliet. (Too many characters to identify in the color painting at the top, sorry. )

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