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Archive for the ‘introducing Shakespeare’ Category

 

As you probably know, April 23 is Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, and the Folger Education staff wants to get everyone involved in the celebration. So we are hosting a Balcony Scene Flash Mob Festival. It’s simple. It’s fun.  And it will get a lot of people speaking Shakespeare.

UNCWe hope to get groups from all across the country to take part.

So please join us!

All you have to do is use this CORRECTED BALCONY SCENE SCRIPT., divide your group into Romeos and Juliets, and read the scene chorally.  As shown in the photo to the right (performed at the University of Northern Colorado in February), the definition of a balcony is very loose. It can be a stage in the school auditorium, the top row of the bleachers, the roof of a building, chairs in the cafeteria, or what you will. The photo below was taken at the Folger Library’s Flash Mob during the April 6 birthday bash and open house.

Folger flash

We will be posting all the submitted videos on our own YouTube page. While this is not strictly a competition, we will acknowledge and award entries in a variety of categories such as most creative or unusual setting, best costumes, most passionate or whatever else we think of at the time.

Just be creative and have fun!

Here are the rules:

  • You need to use the Official Edited Script of the CORRECTED BALCONY SCENE SCRIPT that we’ve posted here. It takes about 3 1/2 minutes to perform.
  • The scene needs to be performed chorally–all the Romeos must speak together and all the Juliets must reply together.
  • Have the Juliets elevated somewhere and the Romeos standing below them.
  • Record the scene on video and upload it to YouTube.
  • Send the YouTube link by April 30 to EducationGroup@folger.edu.
A scene from Romeo and Juliet. By John Massey Wright. Folger Shakespeare Library.

A scene from Romeo and Juliet. By John Massey Wright. Folger Shakespeare Library.

In an earlier post we wrote about the Balcony Scene Flash Mob in Boston that broke the record previously held by the University of Northern Colorado.

We’re hoping some group will break the record of 160 “actors” this month, so consider this a challenge.

But even if your “mob” consists of 20 fifth-grade students or a group of senior citizens at the local assisted living center or a class of theater kids at the local mall, we want to see it. And if you can get any local media to cover your mob event, let us know that too.

Any questions? If so, contact me at Mlomonico@Folger.edu

And be sure to check out our Romeo and Juliet board on Pinterest for a collection of beautiful images and famous quotations from the play.

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That Shakespeare KidWe have teachers ask us all the time how to introduce Shakespeare’s language in a way that’s engaging to students.

One possible approach: young adult novels that weave the Bard’s words along with the kind of dialogue familiar to students.

“That Shakespeare Kid,” by Folger Education’s senior consultant Michael LoMonico, presents just this combination.

Fourteen-year-old Emma narrates the story of her friend Peter, who, after a bump to the head, finds himself able to speak only by using the words of Shakespeare.

What a pickle!

This excerpt picks up the story the day after the accident, when Emma sees Peter at the bus stop and finds his conversation much altered:

—————————————————————————————————————

I went right over to Peter. “Hey,” I said. “I was so worried about you. Are you feeling better today?”

Peter hesitated a while and before he could stop himself, he found himself saying, “Methinks I see these things with parted eye.

“What are you talking about? I said.

But soft, methinks I scent the morning air,” he said.

“Huh? Start making sense,” I said.

All the world is cheered by the sun,” Peter answered.

“Very funny,” I said. “Methinks you’re an idiot.”

Go Rot!” said Peter.

“What’s with you and this stupid way of talking?” I asked.

I never was so bethumped with words,” said Peter. “Tis my occupation to be plain.”

“Listen, Peter,” I said. “You’re really starting to get on my nerves.”

Alack,” was all he said.

Just then the bus pulled up.

“Well, methinks that I’ll be sitting as far away from you as I can on the bus. You’re really creeping me out.”

Peter avoided all conversations on the bus, which wasn’t very hard because, as I said, except for me, he really didn’t have many friends. I always thought Peter was a bit odd, and I found his oddness kind of fun. But that morning I just wasn’t in the mood for this latest goofiness, so I sat next to my friend Melanie, and Peter sat in the back seat—alone.

He wasn’t quite sure why he was speaking so funny, he told me later. “My thinking seems pretty normal,” he thought to himself. “But each time I open my mouth, these strange words come out. Until I figure this out, I better try to say as little as possible.”

Peter got into school with the decision to keep quiet until he could figure out why he could no longer speak a simple sentence. He just shook his head when Mr. Scott, his math teacher, asked him if he did his homework. Of course he had done his homework, but he knew if he had said yes, he’d blurt out something like, “Shall we go draw our numbers and set on?” He did the same thing in Social Studies because if Ms. Delaney asked him a question, he might say, “To be or not to be. That is the question.

He wasn’t the kind of student to just sit in the back and keep quiet, so he felt frustrated all morning. He was sitting alone in study hall when I came in and sat across from him. “You don’t look too good,” I said. “Are you feeling alright?”

I am not merry.”

“Well that’s OK, but I hope you’re still not talking that dumb way you were this morning.  I don’t know what you were trying to prove.”

Why ‘tis good to be sad and say nothing.”

“Huh? Not again,” I said. “Why are you acting so lame? What do you have to be sad about?”

In sooth, I know not why I am so sad. I have this while with leaden thoughts been pressed.

“So you don’t know why you’re talking so funny and you don’t know why you’re depressed,” I said. “Well if you ask me, start talking like a normal person and see if that helps.”

“Say, why is this? Wherefore? What should we do?

I shook my head and walked away, despite Peter’s desperate cry, “Anon!”

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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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~by Jessica Lander

Students giggle together during a theatre game at the 2013 Folger Secondary School Festival.

Students giggle together during a theatre game at the 2013 Folger Secondary School Festival.

On the grass behind the theater – once a fire station – two teenagers embraced each other and slow-danced.  They wore sheepish grins as they took each other’s hands, swaying and revolving to the music.  Iron & Wine and Graffiti6 and Elliot Smith floated from my portable speakers.  Curious dog walkers with waddling pugs and sweaty joggers threw sidelong glances.

It was week four, opening day, only hours before curtain.  Our Romeo and our Juliet were nervous.  Would their performance be believable?

The three of us met behind the theater to explore the act of falling in love.   The two teenagers began by locking eyes, standing quiet for twenty minutes without once letting their glances dart sideways.  Most students would feel too awkward to dance along the streets of Charlestown.  But these two seventeen-year-old actors were willing to try.

In theater such willingness is called “saying yes.”

Saying yes is the number one rule of improv.  If your improv partner says: “That soup you’re eating looks delicious!” and you respond, “I’m not eating soup,” the skit falls flat.   In our converted black box theater saying yes became the first rule and promise of our ensemble.

Last summer, as a teaching artist for Actors Shakespeare Project, my July crackled with witches and Scottish thanes.  This year we – ten students and four teachers – took up residence in the bloody streets of Verona.   Our students were a demographic chart of the Boston area. Our ensemble came from the suburbs and from the heart of the city; from public schools, from exams schools and from private schools.  Some had previously lived in youth detention centers.  Some had years of acting experience in camps and school plays and some came with no formal theatrical training.  What set them apart from their peers was that these ten teenagers were willing, even eager, to say yes.

Saying yes can be challenging in any setting, particularly in the confines of a traditional school classroom.  Raising your hand, offering up the answer to a math problem, sharing a poem, proposing a hypothesis – they all open you to vulnerability.  I have had 6th graders and college students of mine say no.  I have had students as far as Thailand and Cambodia and as close as Charlestown say no.  School textbooks and tests are lined with “right” and “wrong” answers and school halls are varnished in peer pressure and the shine of social status.

The black box exists outside this norm.

Over the course of four weeks I watched as ten teenagers chose instead to just say yes.

They said yes to playing improv games that required them to squirm like jello and row furiously like Viking warriors.

They said yes to walking and running and crawling through our theater to explore the space.

Two young men said yes to locking hands and attempting to push each other across a room while yelling their lines and furrowing their brows.

One young woman said yes to chortling like an old man with a beer belly and then cooing like a baby girl.

Everyone said yes to playing games of Mafia every day (four weeks straight) during lunch, holding heated debates and flinging accusations, in each subsequent game, about who might be suspect.

One young man said yes to swinging his arms in the air for an entire monologue.  Another young woman said yes to trying not to smile (a real feat for her).

In four weeks our students said yes to dancing in the rain, to singing, to arguing about character backstories, to fake punching each other in the nose, to sharing painful stories, to laughing out loud and crying out loud.

It is not easy saying yes.  You need three things.  You need peers that won’t snicker, you need teachers who won’t seek “correct” answers, and you need a space wide open to allow students to spin and floors strong enough to encourage students to leap.

And if you are lucky enough for such a convergence, then Romeo and Juliet waltz in a park, while dog walkers stare and at least one teacher smiles.

What can you and your students say YES to? Let us know in the comments!

Jessica Lander is a teacher and writer in Cambridge, MA.  She has taught, among other things, Shakespeare and critical thinking to college students in the Cambodian Capital of Phnom Penh and the northern city of Chiang Mai, Thailand.  Closer to home she has taught math and Shakespeare to 6th graders in the Boston inner city.  She has written for the Boston Globe Magazine and keeps an education blog, Chalk Dust: http://jessicalander.blogspot.com

 

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Teacher to Teacher Title Screen - Getting Started

For the next few weeks, we’ll be running a feature on one of our favorite online resources: our Teacher to Teacher videos! In these short clips, teachers share their favorite Shakespeare plays, ideas for teaching, and resources for the modern classroom. This week, let’s start generally with ideas for introducing your students to Shakespeare.

First things first: we know that the language can be a big hurdle for many students on Day 1. In this video, Joe Scotese describes how getting students on their feet to find the action in the words builds their confidence for the days to come. You can teach Joe’s own Tempest in the Lunchroom to try it out!

But where to begin? Leslie Kelly tells us that we don’t have to start with the opening lines of the play – instead, why not start with the characters’ deaths? Having fun with an overly-dramatic death scene will give them more ownership over performing the language, and give them a sense of play. Teach Leslie’s ESL/ELL-friendly Famous Death Lines.

Finally, are you stuck teaching only one play? Scott O’Neil gives his arguments for incorporating speeches from all over the canon into any unit. Not only will learning the speeches familiarize students with the language, they might never be exposed to certain plays, otherwise! Scott’s already compiled his favorite speeches from King Lear for his class. What speeches would you use?

 

What’s your favorite way to introduce Shakespeare? Tell us about your Day 1 experiences in the classroom in the comments below!

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Yesterday I stumbled upon this video from Australia’s ABC in 2011 about Shakespeare and his hip relevance to today’s audience. Excited, I started the video, and felt my face twist into a confused squint.

AU Shakespeare in Schools

A lot of their statements are great! Shakespeare was a great writer. His plays have survived for centuries. His language can be difficult because it’s very stylized, and once you “click in” it rolls more easily. However, they sort of veer off the point when they’re talking about these things for a modern audience. The stories are a part of what keeps Shakespeare alive, but the stories were all (or mostly) taken from other sources. Shakespeare’s language has survived, as well. It’s not just because we can make Romeo “emo” that we relate to the characters today, it’s because they are saying things that we think and feel as well.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [abridged] is a really fantastic show, but it – on its own – is not “Shakespeare.” I do love that show, and it adds an element of fun that students would respond to – but it’s not the only way to make Shakespeare fun!

What do you think? Why do you think Shakespeare is relevant, and how do your students find connections to his plays?

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Every year the schools participating in our local outreach programs, Shakespeare Steps Out  and Shakespeare for a New Generation, have to select one of Shakespeare’s plays to perform at their respective Festivals. There are always the big populars: Midsummer, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet – but sometimes the teachers are looking for something a little different, or something they can tie into other parts of their lessons throughout the year.

But how to choose?

Student Players, Secondary Schools Festival 2013

Student Players, Secondary Schools Festival 2013

Lucretia wrote a fantastic post for us on this topic in 2010. One of the things she’s seen teachers do in the past is give their students examples of a few plays and lets them decide which they’d like to focus on. Additionally, using our 15-minute plays would also give them an idea of the language and plot! Here’s an excerpt from our Romeo and Juliet:

There, at this party, is where Romeo first sees Juliet. (6. O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!) They dance. They kiss. She says, (7. You kiss by the book.) Only at the end of the party do they learn that the other is from their own family’s hated enemy.  It’s too late, they are in love with each other. Romeo sneaks away from his friends, climbs the wall into the Capulet’s orchard, and sees Juliet at her window (8. But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?) Juliet, not knowing Romeo is nearby, says (9. O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?)  They confess their love to each other, but Juliet is called inside. Romeo says, (10. Wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?) Juliet says, (11. If that thy bent of love be honorable, Thy purpose marriage, send me word tomorrow.) They enlist the help of Juliet’s Nurse to send messages and Friar Lawrence to marry them.

Lucretia also gathered some great advice from veteran festival participant Sharon Rosenblatt of Gesher Jewish Day School:

When I select a play, I try to use one that has as much of these elements [outrageous humor, black magic, blood and lots of great sword fights] as possible. I also consider, of course, the number of students with which I have to work. Midsummer is great for a large cast. Macbeth is wonderful; the ghosts, madness, blood and sword fights make it fun to perform. I have recently added Twelfth Night to my selection…the idea of boys being girls and girls being boys gives everyone a great laugh and a real sense of Shakespeare.

Ms. Rosenblatt also offers up three insights from working on Shakespeare with her students over the years.

1) The plays are very confusing at first, but the more you work with them the more they understand. The more they understand the better the performance becomes. 2) Encourage everyone to take a part- the bigger, the better. It never fails that those reluctant students who selected very minor roles always regret their decision. 3) Don’t panic or become discouraged. These kids will knock you out; just give them this opportunity and step back!!

What are your favorite plays to focus on in class? Would your choices be different if you were (or weren’t) planning to perform them?

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Earlier this week we were approached by a performing group who was going to use Romeo and Juliet for the first time with their young audience. They were concerned with how to tell the end of the story without being too disturbing or too blase – getting the lesson across without traumatizing their audience.

We’ve been giving the tragedies to elementary-aged kids for a good long while, but it was still an interesting question to ponder. Lucretia Anderson put in her two cents: “They were desperate teens who did something awful to themselves resulting in a huge tragic loss for both families. This should teach students that coming together and eradicating hate is the way to go. We usually say that they “took their own lives” instead of saying they “committed suicide” or “killed themselves.” Romeo takes poison, Juliet stabs herself with a dagger. The elementary kids can handle it.

Ultimately, each teacher or presenter is familiar enough with their own audience of students that they know what they’ll be able to handle. But is there a line to toe, and where is it?

The research bug got me again, so I looked at a few examples of books for kids that depicted the lovers’ final acts. Read on for these examples, below, but how do you talk about fictional tragedy in your classroom?

Graham Hamilton, Nicole Lowrance, Romeo and Juliet, Folger Theatre, 2005.

Graham Hamilton, Nicole Lowrance, Romeo and Juliet, Folger Theatre, 2005.

~Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb

Here Romeo took his last leave of his lady’s lips, kissing them; and here he shook the burden of his cross stars [sic] from his weary body, swallowing the poison which the apothecary had sold him, whose operation was fatal and real, not like the dissembling potion Juliet had swallowed, the effect of which was now nearly expiring, and she about to awake, to complain that Romeo had not kept his time, or that he had come too soon.

…but when Juliet saw the cup closed in her true love’s hands, she guessed that poison had been the cause of his end, and she would have swallowed the dregs if any had been left, and she kissed his still warm lips to try if any poison yet did hang upon them: they [sic] hearing a nearer noise of people coming, she quickly unsheathed a dagger which she wore, and stabbing herself, died by her true Romeo’s side.

~Shakespeare Stories by Leon Garfield
He knelt beside her and made his sad farewell.

“Eyes, look your last. Arms, take your last embrace! And lips, O you the doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss a dateless bargain to engrossing Death.” Then, with a sudden joyfulness he cried, “Here’s to my love!” and drank the apothecary’s poison; and so, in an instant, ended for ever the parting from his love.

Longingly she kissed Romeo’s lips in the hope that some poison still remained on them. There was none; so she took his dagger and pressed it lovingly into her heart.

~Romeo and Juliet for Kids by Lois Burnett
He held her close in a final embrace.
Romeo found the poison and held it high,
“Here’s to my love. Thus with a kiss I die!”

The Friar left her in the tomb below,
And she knelt one last time by her Romeo.
What’s here? A cup, closed in my true love’s hand?
Poison, my lord! This is not what we planned!”
She drank from the bottle, but it was dry,
“One friendly drop to me you deny?

Juliet stabbed herself, and life defied,
Then fell to the ground by Romeo’s side.

~The Random House Book of Shakespeare Stories, [liberally] retold by Andrew Matthews

With a cry, Romeo rushed to her side and covered her face with kisses and tears. “I cannot live without you,” he whispered. “I want your beauty to be the last thing my eyes see. We could not be together in life, my sweet love, but in death nothing shall part us!”

Romeo drew the cork from the poison bottle and raised it to his lips. He felt the vile liquid sting his throat. Then darkness swallowed him.

For a time, there was no sound except the spluttering of the torch. Then Juliet began to breathe. She opened her eyes and saw Romeo dead at her side with the empty poison bottle in his hand. At first, she thought she was dreaming. But when she reached out to touch Romeo’s face and smelled the bitter scent of the poison, she knew the nightmare was real. Friar Laurence’s plan had gone terribly wrong. She cradled Romeo in her arms and rocked him, weeping into his hair. “If you had only waited a little longer!” she whispered. She kissed Romeo again and again, desperately hoping that there was enough poison on his lips to kill her too.

Then she saw the torchlight gleam on the dagger at Romeo’s belt. She drew the weapon and pressed the point to her heart. “Now, dagger, take me to my love!” she said, and pushed with all her strength.

~The Best-Loved Plays of Shakespeare, from Star Bright Books

The death of Romeo
Romeo opens Juliet’s tomb. He gazes lovingly at his bride.

“…Ah, dear Juliet, Why art thou yet so fair? Shall I believe that unsubstantial death is amorous and that the lean abhorred monster keeps thee here in dark to be his paramour?”

Romeo then prepares himself to die.

“Eyes, look your last! Arms, take your last embrace! And lips, O you the doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss…”

He drinks the poison and dies.

Juliet Awakes
Just as Juliet wakes up, the Friar arrives. He sees the bodies of Paris and Romeo. He tells Juliet they must fly away at once. When Juliet sees that Romeo is dead, she refuses to leave. She sees that he has taken poison. ‘O, churl! Drink all and left no friendly drop to help me after?’ she says. She kisses his lips. Then she takes up Romeo’s dagger to stab herself.

~Tales from Shakespeare, by Tina Packer

Romeo held the lantern over Juliet’s face. “O my love! My wife! Death hath had no power yet upon thy beauty.” He kissed her cold lips, then lay beside her. “Here will I remain with worms that are thy chambermaids.” Romeo uncorked his poison. “Here’s to my love!” He closed his eyes and drained the bottle. The poison was quick. Romeo kissed Juliet again. “Thus, with a kiss, I die.”

Juliet knelt down. She found Romeo’s bottle and lifted it to her lips. “O, churl,” she said fondly. “Drunk all, and left no friendly drop to help me after? I will kiss thy lips. Perhaps some poison yet doth hang on them.”

The voices outside grew louder.

Juliet drew Romeo’s knife and aimed it at her heart. “Oh happy dagger! This is thy sheath. There rust and let me die.” With a swift motion, she stabbed herself and collapsed beside her husband.

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~by Emily DenBleyker

I am not a teacher. I dropped my education major my first semester of college, and I have never looked back. And yet, somehow, in the funny way that life seems to happen to us, I ended up scheduled to teach a writing class for 8-10 year-olds at the day camp where I worked as an assistant.

“Ok,” I thought. “This won’t be too bad. I know how to write. I’ve been with these kids all summer. I’ll just pull out what I know and it’ll be great.”

What I know is Shakespeare.

So day three of the class was dubbed “Literary Flourish Day: Metaphor, Imagery, and Meter.” The day before, I had been trying to explain “showing versus telling” to the students, and these elements are good examples of how to do that. And what better writer to use an example than the master of showing?

We started with metaphor, using Romeo’s “O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright./It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night/As a rich jewel in and Ethiop’s ear.” We worked through all the language and figured out what it meant, and we discussed how we knew how beautiful Juliet was to Romeo, without him ever using the word “beautiful.” Then the students drew a picture of Juliet – how they saw Juliet through Romeo’s description of her. Most of them picked up on the image of an earring and had Juliet wearing large hoops; some of them even picked a time period and made “’80s Juliet,” in neon and teased hair.

For imagery, we used The Seven Ages of Man, from As You Like It. I wrote each age on a giant notepad, and again, we worked through it and visualized each stage, picking out the characteristics of the age, both physical and emotional. Then each student (luckily, there were 7 that day) picked an age and acted it out. Their favorite image, undeniably, was the infant, “mewling and puking.” They all pretended to mewl and puke for about 10 minutes.

Lastly, we tackled rhythm. We talked about rhythm in music, and then we turned to Macbeth, using some of the “Double, double, toil and trouble” rap to show it in literature. Then the students made metrical lists of their favorite things and presented them to the class.

I am not a teacher. But being able to show these children how beautiful life can be, on the page and the stage, made me so thankful for the teachers we do have: those with a passion to take the beautiful things we’ve been given and introduce them to the next generation, passing wisdom and the value of aesthetics down through the ages.

People hundreds of years ago recognized the value of Shakespeare’s words, the relevancy they carry even to 8-10 year olds, so let’s continue that tradition. Share the lessons you’ve learned from Macbeth and the Henrys, from Cordelia and Miranda. Show them the richness of words, the images they can conjure, and the meaning they can give to life. We can all be teachers. Some people just get paid for it.

And for the record, when I asked the students at the end of the week what their favorite activity had been, a good majority of them said, “Learning about that Shakespeare William guy.”

Emily DenBleyker was the spring 2013 Folger Education intern. She is now a senior at Gordon College, completing degrees in music and communications. Her roommates tolerate her rants on the beauty of words, if only because she edits their papers.

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Folger Educatin Intern Samantha Smith writes about her experience at our Elementary Educators’ Conference

On the last day of the 2013 Shakespeare in Elementary Education Conference at the Folger Shakespeare Library, students from Capitol Hill Montessori took to the stage in the Folger Theatre to perform a short play entitled “Much Ado About Shakespeare.”  The play’s title summed up the three-day conference in which I was able to watch educators, authors, and graduate students talk, shout, and jump their way through nine presentations highlighting different ways to introduce children to Shakespeare’s text.  To me, the smiles and articulate answers of the Capitol Hill Montessori students as they replied to questions posed by educators in the audience illustrated the theme of the conference, which centered on how engagement with Shakespeare’s plays positively influences elementary students’ academic, artistic, and personal growth.

As a college senior eager to blend my academic interest in Shakespeare with my desire to work with young students, it was heartening to talk with professionals of different backgrounds who demonstrated diverse ways to encourage their students to study and enjoy Shakespeare’s plays.  All of the participants in the conference shared a love of Shakespeare’s words but each drew on his or her own education, training, and personal interests in ways that reinforced for me that there is no solitary path leading to a career based on engagement with Shakespeare’s plays.   Ken Ludwig, best known for his Tony-award winning plays and musicals, explained how he combined his writing talents with the enjoyment he felt teaching his own children to memorize passages from Shakespeare in his book, How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare.  Author and musician Daeshin Kim shared how his daughter’s positive response to nursery rhymes as a language-learning tool sparked his interest in composing short children’s songs sung from the point of view of Shakespeare’s characters.  As I read Mr. Kim’s book, A Horse With Wings, and listened to a song sung by Cordelia entitled “I don’t know what to say,” I was as delighted to learn about such an innovative way of sharing Shakespeare with children as I would have been listening to Mr. Kim’s songs as a pre-school student.  I learned that my lack of crafting talent was unchanged from my pre-school years while participating in a craft-based lesson by Holly Rodgers (a teacher from Fairfax County public schools) for The Merchant of Venice, which demonstrated a visual and tactile way to connect ESL students with Shakespeare.  The effectiveness of performance-based teaching was reinforced for me as I participated in Renee Vomocil of The Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s examples of warm-up games, Virginia Palmer-Fuechsel’s combination of spoken word and movement activities, and the movement-based exploration of Romeo and Juliet led by OSU/RSC Stand Up for Shakespeare educators Lorraine Gaughenbaugh and Anna Meyer.  These exercises made me excited to act portions of the plays I so enjoy reading.  The effectiveness of these lessons on younger students was clear when I watched Jennifer Ventimiglia’s class in the Czech Republic dramatize sonnets and heard from Dr. Barbara Cobb about how her Shakespeare in the Schools Partnership Initiative was successful in getting children excited about Shakespeare.

A line from recent Georgetown University graduate Angela Ramnanan’s presentation on her master’s thesis best summarized the conclusion I took away from the conference: ‘results obtained from the research project provide compelling evidence of Shakespeare’s relevance in our current curriculum based on his cultural and linguistic influence.”  There is indeed much to do to further incorporate Shakespeare education in elementary school curriculum, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to learn about so many ways that educators are already inspiring their students to love Shakespeare.

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