Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Shakespeare's Xtreme Swag

Illustration by James Steinberg for Boston Globe Magazine.

The situation may seem familiar: A sixth grade classroom, the text of Macbeth, and 30 blank slates ready to be writ upon. Jessica Lander used a free six-week life-applications session to teach students Shakespeare. The students had to have picked her class in order to take part, and while the class was required, they wouldn’t have a grade to show for just this unit. So at the end of six weeks when her students came out quoting Shakespeare, getting high fives from other kids, and referencing Macbeth in other classes, Jessica had a full-blown success story on her hands.

So how did she do it?

Jessica was in DC this week for other business, so I took the opportunity to chat with her in person about this success in the classroom, and her experiences elsewhere. Having also taught Macbeth in a Thai university, and having a great time with Actors Shakespeare Project in Boston, Jessica has seen first-hand that students get Shakespeare, and they will continue to surprise her with their understanding.

In her piece published in Boston Globe Magazine on August 26, Jessica outlined what approaches her class took. Edited for length, the article wasn’t able to include two of her very successful activities to introduce her students to the play and the language. Beginning with individual words from the play repeated in a fast-paced game, the students pieced together what Macbeth was about; and to combat the idea that Shakespeare wrote in “Old English,” she provided her class with text from the original Beowulf  poem and The Canterbury Tales. Once they saw the difference, Shakespeare looked easy!

Shakespeare resonates emotionally with students – you ask a student playing Macbeth to look at the ghost of his best friend whom he had killed, and ask them how they’re feeling – it hits them. These are people speaking beautiful words about very human situations and experiences, and it’s open to every student.

More of Jessica’s experiences can be found on her blog: Chalk Dust, and we’re looking forward to connecting with her more in the future as new students from all over the world learn Shakespeare from her!

Do you have a success-story from your own classroom of students connecting to Shakespeare? Tell us in the comments!


  • The idea of asking students to put themselves in the characters’ shoes should be implemented in classrooms everywhere. I believe that when students begin to understand the characters, rather than just the plot, the story will resonate with them.

  • Great point, Tori! Relating the characters’ experience to their own lives can make a play even more enjoyable for students to study!

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