I first read about this go-to strategy in the Folger Library’s Shakespeare Set Free resources. Over the years, I’ve developed and personalized my own take on this interactive way of getting students to jump into Shakespeare’s language.
The basic “Tossing Lines” activity is to give each student a different line from the play, have them stand in a circle, and toss a beanbag (or stuffed dog in my case) around to each other, saying their lines each time they are thrown the bean bag. This core Folger activity gives kids a manageable piece of text to experiment with and hints at themes, characters, and events of the play.
My personal version, “Tossing Lines with a Twist,” involves teaching a mini lesson beforehand on the ways to vary a line: tone, stress, inflection, volume, pacing, and pausing. (I really should come up with some sort of catchy acronym or mnemonic to remember these variations. Suggestions welcome!).
After discussing the different ways to vary lines, we circle up and I tell the students that they must toss the stuffed animal to each other and say their lines, but students are not allowed to say the line the same way twice. Each time they catch the object, they must speak a variation of their line.
Sometimes I like to throw in a very short line for an extra challenge. This past fall, for instance, I included the line “Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there?” from Macbeth in the mix. The kids in that class must have tossed the girl who ended up with this line the stuffed animal at least a dozen times to see how she would change the line, and she surprised us with something new every time, despite having very little text to work with.
Situations in which to use “Tossing Lines with a Twist”
- Introducing a play–Students hear and speak lines that hint at themes and events that they will be reading about, building anticipation for diving into the play.
- Before a field trip–This is a great crash course in a play that perhaps you will be attending but not studying in depth beforehand with your students. I have taken students to see Taming of the Shrew and Two Gentlemen of Verona, and both times the only introduction students had to the play was through tossing lines the day before (plus a fill-in-the-quotation activity, which is another blog post for another day).
- Auditions–Believe it or not, I have used this activity during casting auditions for the past three very much non-Shakespearean high school musicals that I have helped direct at my school. Seeing students experiment and try different ways of expressing snippets of dialogue gives me an idea of students who are comfortable with exploring the nuances of a text.
- Close reading of a scene or monologue–I usually do this activity with lines from an entire play and haven’t tried it a smaller piece of text, but I have a feeling that breaking up an individual scene or monologue would offer great insight to the journey a characters are taking in a small slice of the play.
If you’re ready to get students on their feet, excited to read a play, and most importantly, see students smiling and having fun with the language of Shakespeare, try “Tossing Lines with a Twist” and maybe even add some new twists of your own.