Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Teacher Tuesday: Techniques for Starting Shakespeare

Teacher to Teacher Title Screen - Getting Started

For the next few weeks, we’ll be running a feature on one of our favorite online resources: our Teacher to Teacher videos! In these short clips, teachers share their favorite Shakespeare plays, ideas for teaching, and resources for the modern classroom. This week, let’s start generally with ideas for introducing your students to Shakespeare.


First things first: we know that the language can be a big hurdle for many students on Day 1. In this video, Joe Scotese describes how getting students on their feet to find the action in the words builds their confidence for the days to come. You can teach Joe’s own Tempest in the Lunchroom to try it out!


But where to begin? Leslie Kelly tells us that we don’t have to start with the opening lines of the play – instead, why not start with the characters’ deaths? Having fun with an overly-dramatic death scene will give them more ownership over performing the language, and give them a sense of play. Teach Leslie’s ESL/ELL-friendly Famous Death Lines.


Finally, are you stuck teaching only one play? Scott O’Neil gives his arguments for incorporating speeches from all over the canon into any unit. Not only will learning the speeches familiarize students with the language, they might never be exposed to certain plays, otherwise! Scott’s already compiled his favorite speeches from King Lear for his class. What speeches would you use?


What’s your favorite way to introduce Shakespeare? Tell us about your Day 1 experiences in the classroom in the comments below!


  • I play the Backstreet Boys before reading Titus Andronicus. We talk about how this was one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays in his lifetime but now most people have never heard of it. It was also one of his earliest plays. It’s full of sex and violence and revenge – was Shakespeare just a sell-out? Did he write Titus to appeal to the masses? Is he no better than the Backstreet Boys? Or is appealing to the masses good literature? Or does Titus have literary value beyond the gore? It makes for great discussion, and by the end everyone is singing Backstreet Boys whether they think it is good music or not, just like you can’t help liking Titus.

    • That’s a great comparison, Beth – one that we’ve certainly never thought of. Now I can’t get “Backstreet’s back… alright!” out of my head, and am imagining Titus’s dead sons singing it. Macabre, and really fun!

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