Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Where to begin?

Drawing by Catalina Dipple.

Last week I asked How Young is Too Young to start teaching Shakespeare? The few responses seemed to agree that it’s good to get younger students speaking the words early on, but not necessarily studying the plays.

But where do you begin?

Mike has stated earlier that the language is the best place to begin teaching Shakespeare – not a backstory of the Globe, or Shakespeare’s life, or even the plot of a whole play.

Activities like  “You are Quoting Shakespeare” with “Try Your Hand at Shakespeare” show students that the language may be more familiar than they think.

Where would you begin? Do you start with a history of Shakespeare for context? With the plot of a kid-friendly play? Do you show a film to set the scene?


  • Hi Caitlin,

    You hang out on my blog, you know my story. I’ve been exposing my kids to Shakespeare since my youngest was in a stroller (that’s when they saw their first production, The Tempest). Part of their learning is a quoting game. I love love love that my youngest, now 5, will randomly shout “To be or not to be, that is the question!” in random crowds. Heads whip around, every time. The words are meaningless to him. But they will never be *new* to him. When he does get older and does study those words, in context, he will not stumble over trying to remember them, or their cadence. (I fully expect, over the next few years, for all my kids to memorize large portions of the more well known speeches).

    I also do a lot with character and story. I have told my kids, all three of them, as many of the stories as I could get away with – Tempest, Midsummer, Twelfth Night, Much Ado…even Hamlet and King Lear, though with some heavy edits. Kids at any age can understand character and story. My 5yr old will tell you about “the bad king” (Claudius) who Hamlet must fight. And he is fascinated at the idea that there is a *girl* named “Hero” in one of the stories. That boggles his mind. When my girls were young they would name their dolls Cordelia, Regan, Goneril, Sycorax, Caliban, Ariel, Miranda…

    My oldest, almost 9 now, regularly goes for my “Shakespeare made easy” books (you know, the modern translation stuff) and helps herself to whatever story sounds interesting. She’ll eventually work her way over to the original text. I’m patient.

    Right now, stuck to my cube wall at work, is a paper that my son brought home from pre-school. It says (obviously transcribed by a teacher, but he said it), “Shakespeare was talking to Puck so he would know when Hamlet was born.” On the one hand that’s gibberish on a number of levels. On the other, it’s practically the plot of a Neil Gaiman Sandman comic. Wouldn’t it be great to have the 5yr old’s perspective on Shakespeare and inhabit a world where all three of those characters exist simultaneously?

    Duane, aka Shakespeare Geek

  • My daughter’s has been exposed to Shakespeare since she was 4. Not that she’s had much of a choice. But I guess it began in earnest with the Folger’s Shakespeare’s Birthday celebration, then serendipitously performing in a 10 minute version of Midsumer at theatre camp that summer. Since then, I’ve been feeding the beast with storybook versions of the plays, and other books based on life and times.

    So for her, it was bringing her into the realm of the fairytale land that Shakespeare seems to live in, in her mind. Then engaging in the world of the play through performance. It will be interesting to see what comes out of adding the layers of real life relevance as time goes on.

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