Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog


By Jennie K. Brown


Jennie K Brown's class reads Shakespeare. (Image: Jennie K. Brown)
Jennie K Brown’s class reads Shakespeare. (Image: Jennie K. Brown)

After my summer experience at the Folger Shakespeare Library, I decided that I was going to get my students up and moving around my classroom in some sort of Shakespeare activity within the first three days of school. And guess what? I did just that!

On day two of the new school year, I ditched the rules and procedures protocol, and instead, each of my classes participated in a Shakespeare compliment activity (an activity that I first experienced first-hand this summer). I do something similar to this in March when we begin Romeo and Juliet; however, instead of Shakespeare compliments, they spew Shakespeare insults at one another. I never thought this was something my 9th students could handle on day 2, but I was totally wrong!

I passed out the Shakespeare compliments sheet. There were three columns of terms – the first two adjectives and the third nouns. First I had the students read over the words silently to themselves. After this, they practiced reading some of the words aloud. The final step was putting the words together in an out-of-seat activity. They began their compliments with the word “thou”, strung three words together (one from each column), and then they complimented at least six other classmates. I challenged them to speak to peers they aren’t friends with. The results – AWESOME! The students were engaged, not one complained, and they got a kick out of many of the terms. In fact, I had a number of students say, “I can’t wait to do the Shakespeare insults!”

Sample compliments:

Thou airy, eye-beaming wafer-cake

Thou Taffeta, tender-smelling velvet-guard

Thou marbled, May-morn ringlet

Thou alms-deed, face-royal homanger

AND my favorite

Thou mannerly, ear-kissing pittikins


Students close reading. (Image: Jennie K. Brown)
Students close reading. (Image: Jennie K. Brown)

There were so many TEACHABLE moments in this lesson that I never expected! Below are some benefits to this activity (or something similar!)

  1. Fun, engaging icebreaker activity.
  2. They were moving – something that doesn’t occur in many classes the first week of school.
  3. A student told me she couldn’t pronounce a word. I told her that whatever she says is correct (another thing I brought back from the Folger). This led into a quick chat with the class about pronunciation and how it’s rude to constantly be correcting someone. I want all students to feel comfortable and confident when speaking up in class!
  4. This activity helped set expectations. At the sound of my voice, the students said one final compliment and then headed back to their seats.
  5. Some of the rules and procedures of my classroom were explained when I introduced this activity – win/win!
  6. I could gauge the dynamic of the group by seeing the way they interact with others.
  7. THEY READ SHAKESPEARE, and they enjoyed it! In my school district, my class is the first time they are introduced to Shakespeare. This definitely piqued their interest a bit.
  8. I now know who my “actors” are. But by the end of the year, ALL will be actors! 🙂

So go ahead and ditch that second day syllabus and get those students up and complimenting one another using Shakespeare’s words!


*This article is was originally published on Jennie K. Brown’s personal blog.


Jennie K. Brown is an award-winning high school English teacher, freelance magazine writer, and author of children’s books. She currently serves as president of the Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts (PCTELA) and is an active member of SCBWI, NCTE, and ALAN. She is a regular contributor to the SCBWI Eastern PA and PCTELA blogs. She is an alum of Folger Education’s Summer Academy 2015. You can read more by Jennie on her personal blog.