Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Three Ways to Have Fun with Shakespeare

Listening to students speaking Shakespeare is certainly my favorite part of teaching Shakespeare, but I also love watching them play games. We’ve often ended a semester with Shakespeare-based games. (Perfect for this sunny time of year!) Student favorites have been “Who am I?” and “Group Charades,” though “Who said that when?” can be good learning fun, too.

A quick warm-up is “Who am I?”— I type up a sheet or two of labels with the names of characters from the plays we have read during the last semester.  So, after reading Romeo and Juliet, the labels might include characters like the Nurse, Capulet, Lady Capulet, Montague, Lady Montague, the Prince, Benvolio, Mercutio, Paris, and of course, Romeo and Juliet.

The students wear the labels on their backs and have to ask each other yes and no questions, trying to determine who they are. It’s especially engaging when these questions involve direct quotations from the play (for deeper close reading, you can build this element into your instructions). I’ve had classes where the students would race to figure out their characters so that they could get another name.

Needless to say, “Who am I?” can be engaging for students, but I think “Group Charades” is even more so. Plus it’s focused on the language itself. I generally give each group of four to six students a slip of paper with part of a scene from a play they’ve just read. Each group goes off to a different corner of the room to figure out how best to represent their assignment. (It might be the sword fighting scene from Hamlet, the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, or even the balcony scene from Much Ado about Nothing.)

My number one rule for the charades is that everyone in the group has to participate, even if it’s just as a chair or a tree! Once the groups are ready, they take turns performing so that their classmates can guess what they are doing. If a scene is guessed too quickly, I do let the performing group finish their performance, as long as it doesn’t take too long. (In a class full of especially imaginative, dramatic kids, performances take on a life of their own! During those situations, a time limit can help.)

Depending on the size of the class and what else we’re doing that day, I generally have enough scenes selected for the groups to perform at least two or three times. But oftentimes, with a really enthusiastic group, they ask to make their own choices after they’ve done their first one. I love it when kids select, edit, and perform their own scenes!

The third bit of fun is great for review at the end of the play—or even as part of a final assessment itself. The challenge is called, “Who said that and when?” Students can work solo or in groups to (a) deliver the lines and (b) guess the lines. I generally have a list already made up from the previous play(s). In this case, it’s a list of lines or short scenes from the plays we’ve read—short excerpts that students have already read and studied closely. Points can be given for knowing who said the words, knowing who heard the words, summarizing or paraphrasing the words, explaining the dramatic context for the words, or doing something creative with the words, like imagining tone or props or even drawing an illustration. The points for one excerpt don’t have to all be awarded to the same student or group—in fact, since the point of this is fun, not competition, it’s best when everyone gets to win in some way. The whole point system might sound silly, but it’s a great way to engage young people—ALL of the young people in your room—in speaking and listening to Shakespeare’s words.

If you are looking for short, lively additions to your performance-based, language-focused Shakespeare unit, have fun trying out these games.

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