Archive for March, 2013

~by Holly Rodgers

The benefit of exposing students to Shakespeare is paramount to establishing strong literary foundations in the classroom, for all learners, regardless of age and academic abilities.  While I could give testimony of the many advantages to be gained by doing so, I would like to focus on one in particular, the ability of Shakespeare to serve as a metaphorical gateway drug to get students addicted to reading. While I had known that allowing my young ELL (English Language Learner) students to participate in performance-based Shakespeare study would improve their developing language skills, and perhaps make them more critical evaluators of what they read; I had underestimated the stepping stone Shakespeare could provide to gain access to other challenging works of literature.

My 5th and 6th grade ELL students had spent the first nine-weeks of the school year studying Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  While they were enjoying working with the plays, they also began to complain that they missed reading novels.  They wanted something “hard” to challenge them, but I was struggling to find them something that would segue nicely from Shakespeare.  Due to the extensive fantasy worlds woven into the plays my students had studied, I felt the mythology and adventure of J.R.R. Tolkien would suit them well.

We proceeded to read The Hobbit during the month of December and I soon became aware of how well-prepared my students were for the challenging vocabulary, complex plot lines, and colorful characters, which are all signature trademarks of Shakespeare’s works.  While my students were unconvinced that they would ever find another writer  they would worship at the feet of like Master Will, they quickly grew to love Tolkien and reading about the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and his band of dwarves.  Many of the themes and motifs present in the plays we studied were also found in the fantasy world of Middle-Earth.  My students had no difficulty accepting the existence of fantastical creatures such as dragons, dwarves, hobbits, wizards, and elves when they had already been exposed to fairies, witches, and ghosts in MSND, Macbeth, and Hamlet.  The rhythm of Tolkien’s language also required their ears to acclimate, as was also necessary to establishing the beat of iambic-pentameter.  Challenging vocabulary was not intimidating to them as Shakespeare had taught them to have no fear of unknown words.

While Shakespeare will always be their first love, my students are learning that their relationship with The Bard is not exclusive.  There are many great writers out there worth reading and I believe that Shakespeare has given my students the courage to tackle each one with no trepidation.  Always up for a challenge, my students have now chosen to take on a new literary task.  They are attempting to read the entire Lord of the Rings by the end of the school year.  For those of you who would like to follow along with our progress, we are chronicling our reading adventures on our recently-founded blog Teaching Tolkien.   My students are completely hooked on reading and for that, I am eternally grateful, Master Shakespeare.

Holly Rodgers is an elementary school ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia.  She has been a presenter at the Folger Elementary Educators Conference and has created ELL (English Language Learner) and elementary focused lesson plans for the Folger Education Website. She has spent her varied educational career as both a language and music teacher.  She earned her M Ed in Multilingual/Multicultural Education from George Mason University and her BME in Instrumental Music from Louisiana State University.

Keep the conversation going with Holly on Twitter @hmrodgers

Read Full Post »

AHorseWithWingsPhotoA Horse With Wings is a new children’s book that introduces children to Shakespeare by having characters from his plays sing songs. The journey from  the idea to create the book and its completion is an interesting one.   A few years ago, Daeshin Kim and his wife, Sohyun An,  moved their family from Los Angeles to Paris.  A big adventure, to be sure.  The Kims wanted their children to learn French through immersion in French culture, and they were looking for a change of scene.  What they found in Paris was the challenge their children faced adjusting to their new surroundings. What they also discovered was the power of music to help them get used to their new life in a new country.  The family listened to all kinds of music: English, Korean, and French songs, and they sang along to the sounds and danced to the rhythms present in the music.

Daeshin Kim says that, “the way that music helped our daughter to acclimatise to life in a new country really opened our eyes (and ears!) to the power of music, and our ideas to create children’s songs (with the added bonus of having each song sung from the point of view of a character from Shakespeare) is well documented.”  He even wrote about it on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s myShakespeareblog.  Inspired, the Kims recorded some sample songs, sung by their daughter.

Their journey took them to Kickstarter, a website where people can pitch ideas to raise funds and help to make their project a reality. Daeshin Kim listed his plan for the book, posted a video about it and, according to him, the fundraising effort resulted in the largest amount of money raised for a children’s book on the site, ever.  And somewhere along the way, Folger Education became aware of this work and began to follow its development all the way to the actual production of the book, A Horse With Wings, which was released last December.

A Horse With Wings contains 16 songs, composed and performed by the Kims, including their then five-year-old daughter.  The vibrant illustrations were done by Sohyun An.  Each page has lyrics expressing the point of view of the character from a Shakespeare play on a variety of topics and issues most children will be able to connect with, as well as a line directly from the text of the play. For example, in one of the songs Hamlet sings about Yorick, the court jester, who entertained him in his youth.  In another, Juliet wonders what’s in a name.

There is a free parents’ and teachers’ guide available as a PDF file.  An iPad app is scheduled to be released this spring.  To be sure, these are exciting times for the Kims, and it can be a great opportunity to introduce youngsters to Shakespeare, too.

Full disclosure here: I was asked to write the foreword to the book, which I was happy to do.  The book is getting a lot of positive response.  Daeshin and his daughter were recently interviewed on CBS in Los Angeles, and he’s expected to be part of Folger Education’s conference on teaching Shakespeare in the elementary school in June.  For more information about A Horse With Wings, visit our Shop.  Happy Reading — and listening!

Read Full Post »


I was fortunate to be the co-founder and co-editor of Shakespeare Magazine, a publication of Georgetown University and Cambridge University Press. Together with my co-editor, Nancy Goodwin and later, Martha Harris, we were in existence from 1996 to 2003. Our audience was mainly teachers, but our reach extended to theater companies and the general public.

 Until recently, some of our archives lived on our Website, created and hosted by Amy Ulen. But alas, all things come to an end (or do they?) and the site was closed. But I managed to salvage the featured articles from the site, and I’ve posted some of my favorites below. I hope you enjoy them.


One of my favorite features of the magazine was the Broadsheet, located on the inside back cover. Simply stated, these were one-page, copy-ready handouts for teachers.  I’ve converted several of these to PDFs and posted them below. Check them out:

Exit lines
Early Modern Marriage
Aaron, the Moor
80 Odd Words
Throwing Lines
Othello Word Frequency

If any of you were subscribers, I’d love to hear from you, so do comment below.


Read Full Post »

There may be snow on the ground, but Spring is in the air at the Folger.  As the Cherry Blossoms in Washington prepare to bloom, so do our local budding Bards as they prepare for the student festivals right around the corner. While the high school students will stomp the boards in just a couple of weeks at our annual Secondary School Festival, their younger comrades in the elementary grades will give them a run for their money in mid-May during our 34th Annual Children’s Festival. The work of all of these youngsters in their grappling of the text, their connections to the intricate characters and relationships in Shakespeare’s plays is sometimes inconceivable and without a doubt exciting.


On the heels of our Children’s Festival is the equally exciting Conference on Teaching Shakespeare in the Elementary Classroom. So for all of those who would like to know what this work looks like, now is your chance to join the movement. We are excited to host both local and national educators as we experience the incredible work being done with primary level students and Shakespeare.

As we share our stories, we’ll also experience and hear the stories behind two newly published books that should be welcomed additions to your Shakespeare for kids library.

Internationally acclaimed playwright Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor, Crazy for You) joins us as our keynote speaker. Adding author to his long list of accomplishments, Ken will talk and give a demonstration from his newly published book How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare (available June 11). We’ll also be joined by Daeshin Kim, writer and composer of the picture book and CD, A Horse with Wings: Songs for Children Sung by Characters from Shakespeare. Hear about Daeshin’s journey to re-creating the stories of Shakespeare’s characters through music and the voice of a child.


To see a full list of our conference presenters and to register, check out http://www.folger.edu/eec.

Read Full Post »

~ by Danette Long

I recently had the pleasure of working with 20 pre-service English teachers at Montana State University in beautiful Bozeman, MT.  My purpose for working with the students was to discuss methods for teaching Shakespeare in secondary education.  I should begin by saying that this is a topic near and dear to my heart because I had no idea how to teach Shakespeare to high school students for the six years I taught English in Northern New York.  I wished dearly at the time that I had someone to enlighten me about teaching Shakespeare in a way that would actively engage my students.

I began my time as guest lecturer by asking Montana’s future English teachers to free write about their biggest fear relating to teaching Shakespeare.  There were many variations, but the responses boiled down to five big fears:

  1. Lack of student engagement or general boredom with Shakespeare
  2. Inadequacy in interpreting Shakespeare’s language for students
  3. A personal lack of expertise regarding all things Shakespeare
  4. A personal lack of enthusiasm for Shakespeare and his work (It seems not all English majors love Shakespeare—imagine my surprise!)
  5. What to acknowledge or leave out, particularly regarding Shakespeare’s bawdy.

Anyone with experience in Folger philosophy will know that I could not have asked for a better set up to the next three days as I walked these students through several Folger activities.  The magic began as soon as I opened the lid of the Shakespeare Set Free Toolkit and we pushed the classroom chairs to the wall for:

in such business
Action is eloquence, and the eyes of th’ ignorant
More learned than the ears
(Coriolanus, III.ii)

While teaching performance-based approaches to Shakespeare’s texts to Twenty-First Century English teachers is hardly what Volumnia was trying to convey to her son in Coriolanus, the words are certainly applicable.  After all, it is one thing to tell someone something; we do this with our students all the time.   We tell them that they should use performance to teach Shakespeare.  It is another to show them, lists of resources that address performance are often mentioned in English methods courses.  But when you have them do it, practice it, teach it for themselves, well then, you have something altogether more powerful…

D Long 2 - Discussion

We began by discussing Edward Rocklin’s idea of reading “as investigators” in his text Performance Approaches to Teaching Shakespeare.  Specifically to go beyond the traditional ideas of identifying and discussing what the words in a text might mean, but to delve deeper and ask, “what do these words do?”, “what can these words be made to do?” and most powerfully, “what do these words make an actor make the audience do?”  These are heady questions to pose when teaching Shakespeare.  Taken together they bring out the important fact that Shakespeare’s texts are plays full of action, not static words pinned to the page.

We then investigated tone, stress, and subtext in language.  If you have attended a Folger Act I workshop at NCTE, you recognize the focus.  (If you haven’t had the pleasure, I suggest you mark the session in next year’s catalog).  Then we moved into some ice breakers with insults and compliments and 2-line scene cards, exploring the magic of the Shakespeare Set Free Toolkit.

The investigation of Shakespeare continued with a close reading of Othello’s Act II, scene i using Michael Tolaydo’s “Up on Your Feet with Shakespeare” found in Volume 3 of Shakespeare Set Free.  As we read, reread, discussed and debated the text, the students wrote notes on the board to support their investigation of who the characters in the scene were, the relation between the characters, the location of the scene, and what the characters were doing.  The students were amazed at how easily they understood what was going on in the text without having had any background for the play provided.  The level of close reading brought on by performing the lines was far greater than any read-from-your-seat analysis they had experienced in their own Shakespeare instruction.

D Long 1 - Group

Before I set them to the task of teaching their own performance-based lessons I shared one of the 15 minute plays from the Toolkit’s zip drive.  The students couldn’t stop talking about the applications for the 15 minute Henry IV, part I.  We discussed how easy it would be for them to recreate the 15 minute process with any play they would teach to their students.  (Many students shared that this was one of their favorites from the three-day workshop).

Finally, I put the students in groups to do the most important work of all: teach a Shakespeare lesson through performance to their peers.  Students worked in groups of 5 to prepare a performance-based lesson from the Twelfth Night Unit Calendar also found in Volume 3 of Shakespeare Set Free.  Each group had their own lesson to teach to the class.  In my opinion, this practice was the most meaningful exercise I could have students do for it is when we do a task ourselves that we achieve the confidence to repeat the process.  It is not enough to tell our future teachers to use performance; it is not enough to show them performance; if they are to have the confidence to use performance in their own classrooms with their own students, our pre-service students must experience the performance for themselves and they must be given the opportunity to teach through performance.

D Long 3 - Performance

At the end of our last day I reminded the students of their 5 big fears and asked them to write once again, only this time I asked them to share how the workshop had helped alleviate those fears.  Here is what they said:

“This workshop has helped to alleviate these fears because I was able to act as the student and the teacher.”

“These different methods do not allow students to be un-engaged.  They have to participate, pay attention, and contribute.”

“I think the experience has helped me get some new perspectives on Shakespeare.”

“Shakespeare’s language no longer seems so impenetrable…Students are imbuing words in the play with meaning, I’m not doing that for them.”

“By putting students in the center of the text through performance, they will grasp key moments and details.”

“Introducing performance-based activities does a lot of the interpretive grunt work for the teacher because the students move into the close reader role more easily, often without realizing it.”

“Before, I did not feel like enough of an expert on Shakespeare to teach my students…but now I realize I can collaborate and learn along with my students…”

“I also feel as though I can approach teaching Shakespeare with energy as opposed to dread.”

“The one main aspect of this workshop I felt to be most beneficial was getting us on our feet and actively participating…”

“To be honest, I am much more excited to teach Shakespeare in my classroom.”

As for me, my love of all things Shakespeare grows with every new experience.  I will continue to make Shakespeare three-dimensional for any student in any classroom where I am lucky enough to be a part.

After teaching high school English for six years in Northern New York, Danette moved to Bozeman, MT where she is currently a Pre-Service Practicum Instructor and Supervisor of Teacher Candidates at Montana State University in Bozeman, MT.  She is an alumnus of the Folger TSI 2010 and had the honor of presenting in a Folger strand at NCTE 2011.  She earned her Master of Arts in English at Montana State University and her Master of Science in Teaching English from SUNY Potsdam in Potsdam, NY.  Though her friends think she may be crazy, she soon intends to pursue an Ed.D in Education.

Read Full Post »