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Posts Tagged ‘teaching Shakespeare’

Karen Peakes (Emilia) and Janie Brookshire (Desdemona) in Othello, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2011. Photo by Carol Pratt.

Karen Peakes (Emilia) and Janie Brookshire (Desdemona) in Othello, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2011. Photo by Carol Pratt.

By Deborah Gascon

I set a goal this school year to include several, less time-consuming (but equally as meaningful), mini-research projects into my teaching of literature. Enter resident experts!

This quick strategy to get students researching more frequently scaffolds the skills they need to complete the big, scary research paper we assign in the spring.

The research also provided another opportunity to delve deeply into the text and study Shakespeare’s language. I started using resident experts with Othello, but this project is universal to anything you teach.

I provided my students with a list of possible research topics regarding Othello and Shakespeare and the time period.

Topics included, but were not limited to, Moors, Cyprus, Venice, maps, naval officers, interracial marriage laws of the time period, rights of women, love tokens, willow trees/the willow song, sumptuary laws–the list goes on.

Some students added topics while we read: one student researched the psychology behind jealousy (after reading Iago ironically boast “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey’d monster”) and another student asked to research the symbolism behind strawberries. The topics were vast and self-selected.

After students chose a topic, they were given time to research during our reading of Othello.  I told my students to find the five most interesting points about that topic related to the reading and then to back up those research topics with evidence from the text, combining Shakespeare’s language with their research. (more…)

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By Sara Lehn

Last year an unforgettable group of my twelfth grade students became fascinated with the connections they saw between Batman and Hamlet.  At first I was skeptical, but the more they defended their beliefs, the more I came around to their way of thinking.

Consider: an angry, morose member of the wealthy elite who has lost his parents and has very few people to whom he can turn, disgusted with the disgraceful state of his beloved city and obsessed with a need to seek justice for his lost loved ones.

It does sound kind of familiar, doesn’t it?

My students used this parallel as the basis for their final video project on Hamlet, performing the famous “closet scene” between Gertrude and Hamlet in full Batman regalia, drawing parallels to the interrogation scene between Batman and the Joker in the film The Dark Knight.  They called it The Adventures of Batlet Hamman and played it to an enthusiastic response at our school’s Shakespeare Festival in April.

Since then, I have been intrigued by connections between Shakespeare’s classic works and current pop culture.  Teachers frequently use modern updates of the plays in class, but many of us don’t consider the films and television shows out there that share similar themes and characters but may not have been intentionally conceived with Shakespeare in mind.

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Secondary Festival 2013

Secondary School Shakespeare Festival, 2013. Folger Shakespeare Library.

By Mike Klein

Year after year kids in my classroom have strikingly similar reactions to my announcement, “Tomorrow, we’ll be starting Shakespeare.” That reaction is usually a series of “Ughs,” or “Oh nos!” or “Whys?” The most dreaded by English teachers everywhere is, of course, “I hate Shakespeare!”

Perhaps I am different, perhaps I’m a masochist, but I relish these answers. I see them as my opportunity to do what I set out to do when I decided to become a teacher – change minds.

Teaching Shakespeare in my class begins by starting not with books, but with words. Not just any words, Shakespeare’s words. The most effective method of getting kids of any age (I know because I do these lessons with my middle school drama kids!) comfortable with Shakespeare is by leaving the books on the shelves. Books can be cumbersome and have copious notes and footnotes so I begin by giving them a single page of lines from the play I’m going to start them with.

Almost any play works with an exercise called “Three-Dimensional Shakespeare,” outlined by Michael Tolaydo in Shakespeare Set Free. I use it for Hamlet, King Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Much Ado About Nothing.

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Yes, it’s that time again for teachers all across the country. So here are some things Shakespeare says about school and learning and teachers.

Learning:

O Lord, I could have stay’d here all the night
To hear good counsel: O, what learning is! Romeo and Juliet: 3.3

O this learning, what a thing it is! The Taming of the Shrew: 1.2

Learning is but an adjunct to ourself.  Love’s Labour’s Lost: 4.3

Here let us breathe and haply institute
A course of learning and ingenious studies. The Taming of the Shrew: 1.1

Study:

Where did you study all this goodly speech? The Taming of the Shrew: 2.1

You could, for a need, study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines, which
I would set down and insert in’t, could you not?  Hamlet: 2.2

Give it me, for I am slow of study. A Midsummer Night’s Dream: 1.2

Alas, I took great pains to study it, and ’tis poetical. Twelfth Night: 1.5

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Guest post by Josh Cabat

Over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to attend both a week-long workshop on reading strategies at Teachers College and the week-long AP English Language and Composition prep course sponsored by the College Board.

In so many ways, these two activities are diametrically opposed, certainly in terms of the ultimate target audience and, in some fairly interesting ways, in terms of philosophy.

What I’m taking away from these two experiences, however, is how remarkably similar they are. While the levels of complexity were completely different, it turned out that I spent both weeks engaged in exactly the same two activities: teaching close reading techniques, and learning how to teach students to structure coherent arguments and support them with relevant and valid evidence.

Clearly, these activities are founded upon the changes wrought by the Common Core. And as we all know, Shakespeare is one of the few authors mentioned by name within the strictures of the Core. And as I was enjoying these two very different weeks of professional development, I thought a great deal about where Shakespeare might fit into all of this.

Close reading is not really an issue, of course; all of the performance-based activities promoted by the Folger are founded on exactly the kind of close reading demanded by the new standards. But what about the other strand, the idea of evidence-based argument?

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Scott Van Wye, a student of Richard Phillipy at Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis, won first prize at the 31st annual English-Speaking Union National Shakespeare Competition on May 5. Scott performed a speech by Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing and a cold reading from The Tempest in addition to a sonnet. The competition was held at Lincoln Center Theater in New York City for 58 winners of ESU Branch competitions nationwide. Scott’s prize for placing first is a full scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art’s Young Actors Summer School in London. (more…)

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Folger Library Exterior: Bas relief: Julius Caesar

by Gina Voskov

One of the courses I teach at my school is 6th grade Humanities, and next up in our year’s curriculum plan is learning about Ancient Greece and Rome. I’m excited about getting the kids up and out of their seats for this class, and the best way I can do that is by getting them to interact with Shakespeare.

For this unit, I’ll be giving them some Julius Caesar, the Cinna the Poet scene in particular. This scene never fails to get all kids speaking, thinking, and moving. It’s also just about the easiest scene in the books with respect to language–there’s none of that stuff that turns so many kids away–the thee‘s and thine‘s and whatnot. I love giving this scene to groups of kids at the start of the year because it’s a great way to build community. But now that we are 3/4ths of the way through the year, I’m going to open our unit with performance. This scene will definitely have them asking questions about history, which is what we teachers hope for, right? (more…)

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