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Archive for May, 2011

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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~by Barbara Cobb

students from Brookland Elementary in Washington, DC learn Shakespearean Insults with Lady Mallory

When I was starting my work on Shakespeare in the schools, I asked a cognitive psychologist with whom I collaborate, “at what age do children have the greatest facility with different dialects, like Shakespeare’s early modern English?” Her response surprised me just a little: “around the age of 9,” she said, “and this facility declines fairly rapidly as they turn into adolescents and young adults.”

We are doing our students a disservice when we withhold Shakespeare and early modern English from them until our  students are in high school. Out here in western Kentucky, teachers, teacher education students, and university professors are working together to bring Shakespeare to kids in grades 3-12 – to keep Shakespeare in our students’ mouths and brains all through their formative years.

We have a group of students who have done two-week Shakespeare units in 3rd, 4th, and 6th grades, and we are planning units for their 7th and 8th grade years as well. Our theory is that, when these students encounter Shakespeare as part of their high school core curriculum, they will be Shakespeare Beasts — and their teachers will be thrilled!

Barbara is an Associate Professor of English at Murray State University and Associate Chair and Education Coordinator for the Murray Shakespeare Festival. The Festival’s Shakespeare in the Schools outreach initiatives, combined with its week-long event each February, bring Shakespeare to over 1500 students grades 3-12 each year. Barbara earned a Ph.D. from Rutgers University, and is the author of “Playing With Poetry’s Rhythm: Taking the Intimidation out of Scansion,” English Journal 96.1 (2006), among other publications. 

Barbara is also one of the Folger’s presenters for the 2011 Elementary Education Conference – open to any teacher of elementary students. More information and registration is available in the link above.

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“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” writes the Bard.  With summer approaching, we’re probably all thinking about spending some lazy days on the beach or in the backyard, enjoying being outside of the classroom and away from all of the administrative tasks that come with teaching.  While summer is a time for resting and recharging ourselves after a long academic year, it is also a time for giving thought to what we will be doing in our classrooms come September.  Summer is also a great time to read a play, attend a conference, rework a lesson plan. What are your plans for including Shakespeare in your summer reading, lesson plan preparation, and/or theatre schedule?

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My apologies for the brief hiatus – last week was our 32nd Children’s Festival! 30 classes from DC, MD, VA (and even NY) came to perform on the Folger stage (on the set of Cyrano no less!), and brought incredible energy and life to Shakespeare’s plays.

students from Brookland Educational Campus in Washington DC perform 'The Tempest'

Kids love Shakespeare. There’s magic and poetry, violence and romance, and exciting characters to portray. We saw Helenas with more sass, Ariels with more pep, and Macduffs with more wrath than you would expect from 3rd-6th grade students!

If you are an elementary teacher, tell us about what your students respond to most when you teach them about Shakespeare! Please also consider registering for our Elementary Educators Conference taking place here next month. We love hearing stories from the front lines of education – and we want to know what your students want from Shakespeare!

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Just as William Shakespeare’s life and work attract myths and speculation, the King James Bible has been privy to a number of legends and half-truths in its 400-year history. And like the works of Shakespeare, the King James Bible has had a profound influence on English-speaking peoples across the globe. The creation and influence of this remarkable book is the topic of a new exhibition and website, Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible, recently launched by the Folger Shakespeare Library, Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford, and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas.

The Manifold Greatness website offers rich resources for educators, including content designed specifically for elementary and middle school audiences. Students can explore key questions surrounding the King James Bible, including what Bibles were used previously, how translators worked together to create the King James Bible, and how this remarkable text continues to be a part of our daily culture.



Explore interactive content to get activity ideas for your classroom. The “how to” videos, including the one above, show you and your students how to make ink, quill pens, quartos, and other materials that relate to life during the period the King James Bible was being produced. For older students, you might visit the “Literary Influences” timeline to see how language from the King James Bible has impacted subsequent works, including the poetry of Emily Dickinson and the novels Jane Eyre, The Grapes of Wrath, and Song of Solomon.

Curious about a few myths associated with the King James Bible?

We won’t spill all of the beans right now, but it’s true that:
1. The King James Bible was not the first translation of the Bible into English.
2. King James did not personally translate any part of the text.
3. Shakespeare did not help to translate the King James Bible. As exhibition curator Hannibal Hamlin says in his blog post on this topic, “No way, no how.”

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As a follow-up to last week’s post about the Facebook Much Ado, below are my three favorite entries. As you can see, there WAS some original language used!


 And even when there wasn’t language by Shakespeare, it stayed fairly true to the intent. For example, almost all of Doug Berry and Verges Headborough’s exchanges had me giggling on the metro, and John Zaragoza’s moody posts were as anti-verbose as the original character was.

I was a little disappointed that there was no fake death for Hero. If we’re talking internet rumours, that would have been a doozy! All we got was that she had locked herself in her room and wasn’t talking to anyone. Hardly the dramatic climax we were looking for!

Did anyone follow along, or heard anything from their students? A full account of the newsfeed begins HERE.

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