Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Inside the Classroom: Students Share How They Really Feel about Starting a Shakespeare Unit

In this special series we’re calling “Inside the Classroom,” we’ll follow middle school teacher Gina Voskov and her students as they embark on a Twelfth Night unit. Today, it’s all about pre-reading—check back for notes from the group throughout the learning process.

By: Gina Voskov

Photo: Gina Voskov
Photo: Gina Voskov

I am so pleased to introduce Won Jae, Lois, and Alexandra, three of my 7th grade English students.

As you’ll see, these students have a wide range of experiences when it comes to engagement in English, comfort with public speaking/performance, familiarity with Shakespeare, and with the English language. My challenge is to make the story and language accessible (and hopefully enjoyable and meaningful) to everyone.

Shakespeare’s works were formally added to our 7th grade English curriculum three years ago and the Shakespeare unit has quickly become a favorite for both teachers and students because we use the Folger approach. In two weeks, we will begin our study of Twelfth Night, a play I really love but have never taught before. My colleague and I will be using the Shakespeare Set Free materials for the play as well as other performance techniques I learned at the 2012 Teaching Shakespeare Institute.

This first post is an introduction the students have written about themselves and a brief overview of their thoughts about learning Shakespeare and studying Twelfth Night. I suspect the concerns they share with you will mirror the concerns many of your students have about learning the language. A second post will follow, mid-unit, where the three will be able to share specific activities that challenged them the most to learn. The final post will be a reflective piece after their performance project has ended.

It is my hope that my students will be able to see growth in confidence, skills, and excitement as we use the Folger approach to studying this play. It is truly a joy to be able to share these students’ words with you, and I hope you’ll check back in on their journey through our unit.


Meet Won Jae:

Honestly, I was never a big fan of Shakespeare.

Even though I’m from South Korea, I grew up all around the world, including countries like Costa Rica and Saudi Arabia, because my dad is a diplomat. He was brought to the UN to work as the Secretary General’s special assistant, which got my family a ticket to live in New York City.

Before seventh grade, I was never really fond of English; however, this year, I started to favor it, because of my wonderful teacher, Ms. Voskov, and the interesting curriculum of this grade. However, the idea that we’re going to study Shakespeare caught me by surprise. Not that I didn’t want to know about the plays and tales: I’ve always thought of them as fun, and majestic.

The thing that concerned me was the excessively difficult vocabulary. I started to read the play Twelfth Night and it was very exciting, but also very hard to understand. All these new vocabulary words started to swirl around my head like a tempest. Another thing that worries me is if I will be behind the whole class, because of my lack of knowledge on Shakespeare. I hope that we will learn how to read and learn about Shakespeare in a slow but steady pace.

Though I have many concerns, I am also excited about how we’ll be learning in a “performance-based” way. I’m very excited to experience the play itself, by acting it out, and I’m looking forward to reading and studying the play, Twelfth Night.


Meet Lois:

My name is Lois and I am a seventh grade student. In my English class, Shakespeare is our new unit of study. Twelfth Night is a comedic play that Shakespeare wrote and I, unfortunately, know nothing about it. It makes me very nervous to learn more because the style he uses to write is Elizabethan English, which is not used in present day English and quite hard to understand. But I am very excited to learn more about the stories and poems that made Shakespeare so very famous.


Meet Alexandra:

I was first introduced to Shakespeare in second grade, when I chose him as the subject of my “Person who Made a Difference” project.

That summer, I begged my parents to enroll me in a local children’s Shakespeare workshop, “Child’s Play NY.”  Our first play was an abridged version of Macbeth, and I was thrilled to play Lady Macbeth. Since then, I have gone on to participate in 9 Shakespeare plays with the same program. I feel that participating in these productions has opened my eyes to how timeless and universal the works of Shakespeare are. They incorporate a wide range of human emotions: love, jealousy, rage, revenge,… all still aspects of our modern day-to-day lives.

Twelfth Night is one of my favorite plays, and I am thrilled that we are going to be studying it in class. When I performed, a few years ago, I played Olivia, the countess. One of my favorite parts about portraying her, was that she was so easily wound up in all the comical aspects of the play by having strong relationships with characters like Orsino, Viola, Sebastian and Malvolio, and was able to contribute to the well-crafted plot. I am also excited to read Twelfth Night in class because there are so many intricate twists in the plot that will be amusing to experience with the rest of the class.


Gina Voskov is a 7th grade English teacher at the United Nations International School in New York City. She has taught English and Humanities for eleven years in public and private schools, in Connecticut, Brazil, and New York City. She is a Folger National Teacher Corps member and attended the Teaching Shakespeare Institute in 2012.