Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

"For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring."

The temperature is going up and up and up these days, proof that summer is here even though school is still in session. Students are restless to be outside (or at least not at their desks), and I have a feeling the teachers are, too! If you’re looking for some Shakespeare class activities to fit in between final exams and the last day of school, try some these three activities guaranteed to get students actively involved in Shakespeare’s language! Please also let us know if you have any ideas to share in the comments.

Students from Maury Elementary in Washington DC physicalize "Two households, both alike in dignity," during an SSO class

1. Physical Text:
Sometimes reading just isn’t enough, and students aren’t all ready to leap to their feet to “perform” text. This choral reading activity has everyone work together to create what could wind up being a great interpretive dance piece to a Shakespearean soliloquy

-Bring the text on a large posterboard to wherever this lesson takes place.
-As a group, agree on a way to give the punctuation in the text a physical motion.
-Go through the text word for word. As you point to a word or punctuation mark, ask all the students to speak the word aloud and come up with a physical motion for each of the words in the text. Encourage students to use their whole bodies. They are to repeat the same action when the words are repeated.

This activity can be done with the following soliloquies (or, really, any of your choosing!):

A Midsummer Night’s Dream  Act 5, Scene 1  Bottom, as Pyramus:
“O grim-look’d night! O night with hue so black!…”

The Tempest Act 5, Scene 1  Prospero:
Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves,”

Twelfth Night Act 2, Scene 2  Viola:
“I left no ring with her: what means this lady?”

Students die obscenely and courageously at the 2011 Secondary Schools Festival (photo by Duy Tran)

2. Death Lines
If there’s one thing students love – it’s pretending to die. At least that’s our experience!

– After briefly going over safe falling, give students Bottom’s line: “Thus die I, thus, thus, thus!”
-Have students individually pull an occupation, mood, or pop culture reference out of a hat/bowl/jar.
-Students must die emphatically saying Bottom’s line while impersonating their choice.

There may not be a real “lesson” in this, but it’s fun and it’s Shakespeare! You can also use death lines from other plays, such as:

Romeo and Juliet: “Thus with a kiss, I die”
Hamlet: “O, yet defend me, friends; I am but hurt.”
Antony and Cleopatra: “Now my spirit is going; I can no more,”

For more ideas for Famous Death Lines, check out this lesson plan by Leslie Kelly!

Students from Capitol City PCS in Washington DC get into Shakespeare!

3.  Shakespeare’s O
O’s give us the emOtions behind a line, and are also fun to play with!

-Give examples of different kinds of emotional “O’s” – “O, a puppy!” “O, I’m sick.” “O, you surprised me!” “O, I knew that.”
-Give each student a line from Shakespeare that begins with “O,” such as “O, devil, devil!” (Othello).
– Have the students give an emotion to the O of the line, make the emotion really big and carry the sound out.
-Once the emotions are high, have them carry it through the line with all of the emotion.
-If a student wants to move around, let them!

Some great “O” lines can be found by searching “O” on http://shakespeare.yippy.com, but be warned you will get more than 2000 results if you don’t narrow it down by play!

Henry V: “O, for a muse of fire”
The Taming of the Shrew: “O, this learning what a thing it is!”
As You Like It: “O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful, and yet again, and after that out of all whooping!”

And don’t forget, you have something to look forward this summer, too! Consider registering for our Elementary Educators’ Conference in Washington, DC; or for one of these National Mini-Institutes hosted by the English Speaking Union of the United States!

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