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Archive for the ‘Activity Idea’ Category

Guest post by Deborah Gascon - Dutch Fork High School, Irmo, SC

Performance in AP?  Didn’t think you had time with all the other pressures? Make time. Using Folger strategies in my AP classes has transformed student comprehension of difficult texts and improved their abilities to read closely–and has actually SAVED me time.

This week my AP Lit and Comp students completed poetry presentations.  There were several requirements but one of them was to make the presentation engaging–there is nothing worse than sitting through 57 poetry presentations, is there?

I was impressed and amazed at how many of my students incorporated some sort of performance in their presentations.  Josh taught Frost’s poem “Home Burial” and had 3 volunteers perform the different parts to show the contrast in mood.  Tyler assigned each of his classmates a line of a Plath poem and asked them to create a physical movement to express the tone in the line.

My students quickly realized that performance is key to understanding and chose to incorporate in all facets of our classroom.  I know that with performance my students are engaged, class is interactive, students aren’t insecure about delivering presentations and the senior slump hasn’t happened.

Here are the top 5 things I did (and suggest!) to incorporate Folger strategies in the AP classroom:

1. Start early.  On the very first day of class we studied Shakespeare’s  “Seven Ages of Man” — then we performed it. I asked students which helped them understand the poem more — sitting in desks and reading it or standing and moving?  You can guess which they chose (moving!).  They were hooked from day one.

2.  Take it to a new level.  Ask students not just to show plot with their performances but also tone and mood (and all the other AP Lit buzz words).  Tone and mood are tricky to teach and getting students to label facial expressions and motions with tone words has been helpful in eventually writing about and analyzing tone and mood.

3.  Tableaux the theme.  Theme is another one of those AP Lit buzz words and tableauxs can take as little as 5 minutes to pull together. I put students in groups, tell them to discuss the theme and find a physicalization of that theme then we FREEZE.  This is an effective way to get students to visualize the author’s purpose.

4.  Compare and contrast performances.  The AP exam could potentially have two poems on the poetry essay question (could this be the year it appears??) so we have spent a good chunk of time this year comparing performances which leads to comparing tone, theme and text analysis.

I’ve done this in a variety of ways:  compared actors’ performances (for example several versions of Hamlet), compared student performances of a scene (give the same scene to two groups of students and see how they interpret it) or compared how we interpret something to how a director interpreted it — and WHY.  While comparing we discuss the “why” a lot.  Why did you do that movement?  What in the scene made you think that?  What line from the text (evidence!) made you think that was the way to interpret that?

5.  Encourage performance.  I’ve found performing and earning the endless applause of classmates increases self esteem and confidence in close reading and analysis of text.  My students have the confidence and believe they WILL pass the exam–I truly believe that is half the battle.  They have been armed with strategies to make the poem come alive or the prose jump off the page.

Don’t be surprised if during the exam my students start acting out the lines! What will your students do on test day to guarantee a passing score?  What tricks have you taught them to be successful?

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Owiso Odera (Othello) and Ian Merrill Peakes (Iago), Othello, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2011.

Owiso Odera (Othello) and Ian Merrill Peakes (Iago), Othello, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2011.

Today we’re featuring a lesson plan from among the highest rated teaching modules on our website. It’s written by Kevin J. Costa, a 2010 Teaching Shakespeare Institute alum and an English teacher at McDonogh School in Owings Mills, MD, where he also serves as Director of Fine & Performing Arts.

Read Costa’s introduction to this lesson plan, “The Bullies and the Bullied,” which is tailored for Othello but can be adapted for other Shakepeare plays:

“In this lesson, students will approach Shakespeare’s Othello through the lens of bullying — a modern-day adolescent problem of which students may have first-hand experience. By drawing on their own understanding of bullying and on definitions and descriptions of bullying widely available, students will have a powerful entry point into one of Shakespeare’s most psychologically complex plays.

This lesson will likely provide ample opportunities to engage students in timely discussions of pressures they might be facing in their own experiences, and the hope is that beginning with a focus on a highly charged issue like bullying, this will allow students a way to start “doing” things with Shakespeare’s language instead of getting caught in the idea that they can’t understand it. An engaging issue can help students to bypass this block.

Students will participate in a pre-reading discussion of bullying in order to establish definitions from which they will draw in discussions of the play as it is studied.

At the conclusion of their reading, students will stage select scenes from the play in order to understand and assess whether characters in Othello are perpetrators and/or victims of bullying as our culture understands the term today. Final staging of scenes will follow the festival model proposed by Folger Education as a way of creating a capstone project for your study of the play.

This lesson is designed to frame an entire approach to Othello and will take approximately two to three 50-minute classes prior to reading the play and approximately one to two weeks following the conclusion of reading. The staging of scenes may be tailored to the class’s interests, time, and student size; however, teachers should adapt any part of this as they see fit.”

Interested? Read step-by-step instructions for this lesson plan on our website, where we also have links to related worksheets and a video.

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Emily Jordan Folger Children's Festival, 2013. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Emily Jordan Folger Children’s Festival, 2013.
Folger Shakespeare Library.

Last week we wrapped up our annual Secondary School Shakespeare Festival.

Students from close to 50 local schools performed 25-minute scenes from Shakespeare plays onstage at the Folger in front of their peers.

(You can see some photos and tweets at #FolgerFest. A lot of fun had by all!)

Now we’re getting ready for our Children’s Festival in May, for local students in grades 3-6!

We’ve got a great thing going on here in the DC area, but student Shakespeare festivals have cropped up in other parts of the U.S. too.

There’s the Shakesperience: NJ festival in May, hosted by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in partnership with the Folger Shakespeare Library and Rider University.

Then there’s the Shakespeare Scene Festival for middle school and high school students, held at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock–a festival that was inspired by a workshop at the Folger!

We could go on naming them, but we want to ask you these questions: Is there a student Shakespeare festival in your area? If not, what’s standing in the way of you starting one?

The Folger has some great material to help you organize and prepare for a festival. Find what you need on our website:

And if you’re participating in or preparing for a student Shakespeare festival right now, how’s it going? We’d love to hear from you and your students.

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Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet

Drawing by John Austen for an edition of Hamlet (ART Box A933 no.2), 1890 painting by Ludovic Marchetti of Romeo and Juliet (ART Vol. f220). Folger Shakespeare Library.

Last week, we took a reader poll to ask which Shakespeare plays were being taught this semester. Top of the list (as of this writing): Romeo and Juliet, with more than 25 percent of the vote.

Macbeth took second place with 22 percent, and Hamlet third with 10 percent. Our write-in option was also quite popular, with Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing making multiple appearances.

Good news! We have a wealth of resources for teaching each of these plays. Here are a few highlights:

  • Romeo and Juliet – In December, Folger Education recorded an hour-long master class for teaching Romeo and Juliet. You can watch the archived version online, broken down into video segments on scholarship, performance, and the classroom.
  • Macbeth – Folger educators talk about surefire ways for successfully introducing students to the Scottish play in this podcast, Macbeth: The Teacher’s Edition.
  • Hamlet – Watch the Insider’s Guide to Hamlet. These videos highlight the play’s themes, characters, and plot—perfect for students encountering Hamlet for the first time.

Find more resources by downloading a curriculum guide for each of these popular plays. The guides include a brief synopsis, two lesson plans, famous quotes from the play, prompts for teachers, links to podcasts and videos, and a list of suggested additional resources.

Want even more? Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Hamlet are all included in our Shakespeare Set Free books, a series written by Folger Education’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute faculty and participants. (Today’s your last chance to apply for this year’s TSI, by the way!) Each book is packed with practical, specific ideas to use in the classroom.

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Last Thursday the Folger Education department took to Twitter for our second “office hours” session to talk with teachers about how they’re teaching Shakespeare.

We love having an informal time to interact with you, answer your questions, and find out what your students are working on.

Here’s a great question we received from James Evans:

The Winter’s Tale is a comedy with a happy ending, but there’s plenty of compelling drama along the way: murderous passions, man-eating bears, princes and princesses in disguise, and more.

Although this play may not be taught as frequently as Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, don’t let that discourage you from taking it on. The Folger has a curriculum guide put together by experts who believe, as the Folger does, that the best way to engage students in Shakespeare is to get them speaking the words and working with the language.

You can find more classroom ideas on the Folger website, where we have an entire page dedicated to The Winter’s Tale. Take a listen to our Insider’s Guide for the play, or explore a lesson plan that asks students to examine possible causes for Leontes’s jealousy by interpreting language and acting out scenes between characters.

Or have your students watch a behind-the-scenes interview with these two actors from the Folger Theatre’s 2009 production, as they discuss the play’s themes of love, forgiveness, and second chances:

Do you have more ideas for effective classroom activities related to The Winter’s Tale? Share them in the comments below.

And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for information on the next #FolgerOfficeHours.

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Winners and runners-up from the 2013 Shakespeare's Birthday Sonnet Contest

Winners and runners-up from the 2013 Shakespeare’s Birthday Sonnet Contest, with poetry coordinator Teri Cross Davis (center), at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Each year, Folger Shakespeare Library invites students in grades 3 through 12 in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia to submit original sonnets for the annual Shakespeare’s Birthday Sonnet Contest.

We are now taking submissions for this year’s contest, marking Shakespeare’s 450th birthday!

All entries must follow Shakespearean sonnet form:

  • 14 lines of iambic pentameter
  • an ABAB-CDCD-EFEF-GG rhyme scheme

A judge will select the top sonnet in three categories: grades 3-6, grades 7-9, and grades 10-12.

Winners in each category receive a full set Shakespeare’s plays, and runners-up receive a copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Winners and runners-up are also invited to read their entries at Shakespeare’s Birthday Open House at the Folger Shakespeare Library on April 6.

Be sure to have your students send in their submissions by Friday, March 21. Please email submissions to Teri Cross Davis, at tdavis@folger.edu, or mail them to the address below.

Attn: Sonnet Contest/Poetry Coordinator
Folger Shakespeare Library 
201 East Capitol Street, SE,
Washington DC 20003.

Here’s an example of a winning entry from the grades 7-9 category, by Jennifer Owens, National Cathedral School:

A lonely figure stands beside the docks,
Not noticing the spray against her feet.
Her focus is on capturing the rocks
Where surf and salt and spray and stone all meet.

Her skillful brushstrokes toss and hurl the waves
Against the jagged outline of the sky.
Each speck of foam and breath of air she saves
No detail undetected by her eye.

The hours pass, she doesn’t seem to care,
Content to stand and paint beside the sea.
She brushes back a strand of fiery hair
That like the ocean tumbles loose and free.

And when at last the artist’s work is done,
Her two great loves have been turned into one.

Encourage your students to write sonnets of their own. We can’t wait to see what they come up with!

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During our first office hours on Twitter last week, we received this question:

@FolgerED How does one get buy in through the language, when it’s a language irrelevant to modern pop culture?#folgerofficehours

We needed to know more, of course . . . so the middle school teacher who had asked it clarified in a second tweet that it’s her students who feel that the language is irrelevant. “… many students may not see the connection to their lives today & I wondered how that is being addressed.”

The language buy-in is way easier than you anticipate if you remember a few things:

  • Not all language written by Shakespeare is complicated.  He used more monosyllabic words than any other writer in English.  And he wrote tons and tons of language that is, in fact, very easy to understand.  Lines like these:

My love!  My life!  My soul!

Then came each actor on his ass.

Thou shalt be my queen.

These clothes are good enough to drink in.

Thou art the best of the cut-throats.

Get thee gone and follow me no more.

Come, come, away!

Get thee gone and follow me no more.

Wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?

And there are loads, loads more.

  • Start with this very accessible language.  For a moment, don’t worry about the play you’re studying and don’t even think about meaning, because your students can figure the meaning all by themselves.  And they will be surprised and delighted that they can speak Shakespeare and understand it all on their own.  Begin with giving students a chance to put together their own Shakespearean insults (http://www.folger.edu/documents/KidInsults.pdf) and shout them at one another.  For slower readers, pair students into teams and they can verbally hurl insults at other teams.  It’s fun to say that stuff, it’s middle school, and it’s starting to seem not so archaic.
  • Use lines like the ones above, written one per index card, and have students pair up and work on two-line plays.  They each figure out a physical action to go with their line, and say their lines to one another.  A two-line play!
  • Once you have all dispensed with the belief that the language is impenetrable and complicated, you can have some fun talking plots:

–Boy and girl madly in love even though their families despise each other, run off and get married, try to figure out a plan so that they can be together in spite of all the death and violence that surrounds them

–Brave warrior wants to be king. His wife really wants him to be king.  Why?  Because a bunch of witches have told him that this is his future.  To make this happen, warrior and wife work together to plot and murder, but they end up being the victims . . . both dead.

–A prince has no interest in becoming king.  He’d rather keep on doing what he loves best–hanging out in bars, drinking and planning robberies with his criminal friends.  His father the king is not happy with his son.  How does this all work out?  Or does it?

Let the language roll in your classroom and have fun!

Peggy O’Brien is the Director of Education at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Follow her on Twitter at @obrienfolger or send her an email at pobrien@folger.edu.

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Giving life to one of Shakespeare’s plays is as easy as speaking his words aloud. Actors, however, become their parts – making a human character breathe out of words on a page. You don’t have to be Derek Jacobi or Helen Mirren, though. To be a thoughtful actor, you just need to have an idea of what the character wants. Who are they?

Students in Macbeth have varying character reactions to Duncan's arrival.

Students in Macbeth have varying character reactions to Duncan’s arrival.

Today’s teaching modules all give students the opportunity to explore the life behind their character’s lines (even if they don’t have any lines!). By putting their minds to who the character is while they’re playing them, they’ll discover new depths of relationships in the plays, and speak or react on their feet as though they are that character.

In Imagining Back Story, students select a character from Measure for Measure (though this could be done for any play) then closely read the play to glean clues about their character’s life before the story. They then write a journal entry for their character which gives more detail to their life leading up to the events of the play.

Similarly, A Boxful of Character has students closely reading the text to discover their characters’ hints at who they are in order to curate a handful of everyday items that their character would have. What goes into Hermia’s purse? What five things would Iago want on a desert island? Have fun with it and discover what your students interpreted about their characters!

Finally, in The Secret Life of Minor Characters, the play’s leads are put aside in favor of the individuals in the crowd. Using the assassination in Julius Caesar as an example, this module outlines how students can apply their creativity to the people in crowd scenes who may not explicitly state their motive, but should have one nonetheless.

These sorts of approaches are done every day by actors taking on Shakespeare’s plays. There’s no definition for who these characters are – they’re different for everyone playing them! Discover new ways to illuminate these plays in performance with your students, and let us know how it goes!

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At the end of last week’s Teacher Tuesday, I shared a link to a video, Interpreting Shakespeare, with our Master Teacher Sue Biondo-Hench. In one section of the video, around 3:10, Sue breaks her students into groups to interpret and perform a single passage from Henry IV, part 1. They each interpret how performing one character’s speech as a group lends them insight into the text. They don’t have to make natural performance choices as if it is their single moment onstage delivering a soliloquy – rather, they’re approaching the text chorally to show different ways of interpreting complex text with their voices, movements, and group dynamics. This doesn’t necessarily mean they read it all together in unison – they can assign individuals lines or words to make them stand out, whisper or shout, create tableaux (stage pictures) to set the scene or its tone, or anything else they deem necessary to their point.

Choral Reading

Students perform at the 2013 Secondary Festival

A choral approach like this can be especially useful for group discussions. It gets small groups discussing their interpretation, which they then share with the whole class. No group will make all of the same choices, after all, because there are so many different ways to say and do any passage or scene – why not try a bunch and see what works? Discussing everyone’s choices (and knowing that none are “wrong”) gives the students more control and less fear of interpreting the text.

We have a few examples of teaching modules which use a chroal approach:

Complexity of Character in The Merchant of Venice: In this play, especially, no one is wholly “good” or “bad.” In this lesson, high school student groups take on a character apiece and perform one or two passages of text for that character to determine what their character is like, and in what ways they are complicated.

Shakespeare Sound Out: Building Atmosphere: For elementary and ESL/ELL students, getting over the language together is especially easy when approached chorally. With text from Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, students use the rhythm and word choices in the text to determine the tone of the scene, and incorporate their choices into a performance.

Sonnet Performance: Shakespeare’s Sonnets as Scripts: The choral approach can even apply to poetry! As Louisa Newlin and Gigi Bradford say, “Breaking a sonnet down into parts for different speakers and presenting it dramatically can help students to listen carefully to the language and hear different “voices” in the poem.” Students shed some light on these sometimes ambiguous poems to create their own meanings.

How else would you use the choral approach with your class? Other plays, poems, or even books may be ripe fodder for a group to tackle. Have you used a chorus before? How did it go?

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The amount of new technology springing up around us can be dizzying, especially when our students are picking it up so quickly. Much of their daily life is conducted online – so how can our classrooms extend into that area of their life?

Teacher to Teacher - Technology

In these Teacher to Teacher Videos, we’re highlighting some ways teachers are using technology and the internet to engage their students even more deeply in their Shakespeare studies:

Videos in class are tried-and-true, but sometimes might feel like a cop-out. In this video, Josh Cabat gives us several ways in which to use video effectively as a teaching tool with many active applications to try right away!
 

 

Why should you even consider using new technologies? “It’s collaborative, and it’s available 24 hours a day,” says teacher Robert Barker. Students can connect in their own time to their classwork and each other – strengthening their connection to the material.
 

 

Finally – you don’t even have to use the technology during class-time. Assigning online homework in a “flipped” classroom, according to Greta Brasgalla, gives you more time and more material to discuss in class.

 
 
You can hear more from Robert and Greta from their recorded “What’s Done is Done Online” webinar from last spring.

What technologies are you trying in your classroom? How are your students responding to it? Let us know in the comments!

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