Archive for the ‘Elementary Education’ Category

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 Holly Rodgers

In 2010, I endeavored to have my students take on the challenge of performing the works of William Shakespeare.  While this might not be much of a feat if I were a high school English or theater arts teacher, my students have the added encumbrance of being non-native English speakers and all under the age of 12.

After attending the first-ever Folger Elementary Educators Conference in the summer of 2009, I was regaled by the intriguing experiences shared with me by my fellow participants whose students had all performed in the Folger Children’s Shakespeare Festival.  They all spoke so positively about their personal experiences and those of their students that I immediately began brainstorming potential plays that my students could perform to apply for the festival the following spring.

Holly participates in a movement activity during the 2011 Elementary Educators' Conference

Holly participates in a movement activity during the 2011 Elementary Educators’ Conference

Although they may be limited in their English proficiency skills, as an advocate for my ELL (English Language Learner) students, it is my job to ensure these children are not limited to the rich, educational experiences that may be more readily available to their native English-speaking peers.  Many of my students are socio-economically disadvantaged and come from homes where one or both parents may be illiterate in their native language.  Suffice it to say, the works of William Shakespeare are not something likely to be found in their home libraries, if they even have one.  Taking all of this into consideration, I felt that spending an entire school year immersing my students in Shakespeare’s world would provide immeasurable growth for them and challenge my teaching skills in the classroom.

Spending that summer editing a script, compiled of scenes from Richard III and Much Ado About Nothing, my students began the school year with Shakespeare boot-camp, which consisted of rigorous performance-based daily lessons intended to gradually build their background knowledge and comfort level with The Bard, as well as make digesting and regurgitating 20 minutes of iambic-pentameter as palatable as possible.

By the time the festival rolled around in May, my students and I were prepared in every way possible, but what we were not prepared for were the side effects from prolonged Shakespeare exposure that would continue to affect all of us well into the future.

Holly's Students perform a scene from Richard III in the 2010 Emily Jordan Children's Festival at the Folger.

Holly’s Students perform a scene from Richard III in the 2010 Emily Jordan Children’s Festival at the Folger.

My students, who I am fortunate enough to retain in my program for multiple school-years, were permanently altered by their festival preparation and performance experience.  As I’ve watched them grow over the last three years, I am stricken most with the self-confidence that every single one of those students now possesses.  They walk taller, they continue to seek out performance opportunities, and some of them even used Shakespeare to assist them in overcoming physical and mental challenges.  In the aftermath of our performance, I also found myself permanently changed as an educator.  Knowing that my young ELL students were capable of decoding, comprehending, and performing Shakespeare broke down any cultural or socio-linguistic barriers that existed for them in my mind and allowed me to realize that despite being limited English-proficient, my students have NO limitations.

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 »

During a particularly bad Idaho winter in 1996, my 10 year old niece visited me for the weekend.  She accompanied me to a meeting of my Shakespearean troupe, Stage of Fools.  Only one other brave soul dared to trek through the snow to rehearse that day, so we abandoned our show and read a scene that allowed my niece to play along.  We chose the Lady Macduff murder scene…what 10 year old doesn’t love to die a dramatic death?

Amy's niece and her friends play out a scene from Macbeth.

Amy’s niece joins a scene from Macbeth.

We started our exploration of the text by reading through the scene.  I was amazed at how quickly she picked up the language.  There were only a few words that she needed help defining, and after the second reading, she fully understood the action of the scene.  This is when the fun began…we got the scene up on its feet.  With every reading, she became more and more animated and died with dramatic flourish.  It made me wish that she lived closer so that she could join the Stage of Fools!

I could have performed the scene with her all night, but the weather made me nervous, so we donned our winter wear to make the slow trip home.  Before leaving the theatre, she asked me if she could borrow Macbeth for the week and give it back when I visited her the following weekend.  Of course, I said yes.

The next weekend, I attended her 11th birthday party.  To my surprise, she and her friends took turns enacting the scene for our entertainment during the party.  It turns out that she had read the entire play that week and taken the script to school so that she and her friends could practice during recess.  As you might imagine, I was one proud aunt.

A few years later, I was able to take her to the Folger Shakespeare Library.  It was a very special trip for us.  Today, she is an adult who still has a passion for Shakespeare.  In fact, she has our favorite quote tattooed down the back of her leg, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

"Lord, what fools these mortals be!"

“Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

Over the years, as the owner of the Shakespeare High website, I’ve been asked by parents and educators how soon we can expose our children to Shakespeare.  I always cite this anecdote as evidence that young children are more than capable of reading, understanding, enjoying, and embracing Shakespeare’s language.  While attending the “Shakespeare for All” workshop at the 2012 NCTE conference, Folger educators shared that “cognitive psychology tells us that adolescents have a harder time with language acquisition and dialect differences.  Start with grades 3-6 because they are ready.”  By introducing our younger students to Shakespeare’s language in small chunks, they will soon be ready to tackle a full play, and 9th grade teachers will no longer hear moans and groans when they introduce Romeo and Juliet for the first time.

Although I don’t teach elementary school, I enjoyed learning about the performance-based methods used when teaching Shakespeare to younger children.  If I didn’t live in the “other” Washington, I would attend the Folger Shakespeare Library Conference on Teaching Shakespeare in the Elementary Classroom June 24-26, 2013.  The conference theme is Sharing Our Stories.  I’m thankful that I was able to share my niece’s story with you and hope you will share your stories with me by leaving a comment below.

Amy Ulen is a TSI 1996 Alumni. After 20 years of teaching English and theatre, she moved into technology education.  She created the Shakespeare High website and eventually plans on updating it again. She continues her passion for incorporating technology into the study of Shakespeare both online and in face-to-face workshops.   

Read Full Post »

~by Gina Voskov

My first experience with Shakespeare was in 4th grade. I was asked to play the part of Celia in As You Like It for a Shakespeare festival. I can safely say that at the time I had no idea what I was doing or who Shakespeare was or why I had been asked to be in a festival, but 20-something years later, I remember the experience vividly. I wore a red velvet dress with a white lace collar, white tights, and black patent leather shoes. They were the most Shakespearean things I had in my closet in rural Vermont and even though they were technically my Christmas clothes, I put them on in the springtime to perform:  “I pray thee, Rosalind, sweet my coz, be merry.”

I wish I could say that my 4th grade experience with Shakespeare set me on a course to love and study the Bard, but it did not. He quickly fell off my radar and didn’t appear back on it until my 9th grade year when we read Romeo and Juliet, and then again the next year when we read Julius Caesar. I think if it hadn’t been for Julius Caesar, I would have given him a chance, but the experience of reading that stupid play set me on a course to hate and avoid the Bard–we did worksheets and talked about caesuras and sat in our seats and read aloud. I vowed I would never again pick up a Shakespeare play, and was successful in keeping that vow. Until, that is, I needed to finish my English degree and the whole thing hinged on a single Shakespeare course. Do I really need to tell you about my anger when I realized I couldn’t graduate without taking a class about the one writer I hated more than anyone? Maybe it was my professor, or maybe it was the choice of texts she had us read or the way she led us through the conflicts and tensions and beauty of the plays, but that course changed everything. It was while sitting in our classroom on a spring day after reading Titus Andronicus that I realized I needed to be a teacher. Not because it was what all English majors would likely end up doing but because I needed to share Shakespeare. And the best way I could figure how to do that was by becoming a teacher.

After a decade of teaching, I’ve been at four schools each reflecting its own unique set of geographic and demographic variations, and each possessing varying opinions of how Shakespeare should be taught, and to whom. I now teach 6th and 7th grades in a large urban private K-12 school in New York City.

One of the courses I teach is 6th grade Humanities. In October we began our study of India and started reading a novel together that makes frequent reference to Gandhi and to his satyagraha movement: peaceful resistance using truth, or “truth force.” On one particular day, I had come from a frustrating meeting during which I’d heard, once more, that young students were not “ready” for Shakespeare and likely not able to “appreciate” it, especially a full-length play. I found myself biting my tongue, feeling my temperature rise, and resisting the impulse to roll my eyes. This is the standard argument I hear about why not to read Shakespeare with young students: kids aren’t ready for it. But I know that the younger the students are, the less inhibited they are–the more willing to play with the language and toss the words around in their mouths just to hear their sounds. As students get older, the pressure to understand and be “academic” about it increases. So if kids are young and playing with and doing Shakespeare, the better off they’ll be down the road–for all of the teachers who expect them to be academic about it!

So, reeling with frustration from this meeting, I stood in front of my class and told my students, “There are people here who think you’re not ready for Shakespeare and that you can’t do it, and this makes me really mad.” We talked about how they had already been doing Shakespeare–we began our year performing the “Cinna the Poet” scene from Julius Caesar alongside 12th grade IB (International Baccalaureate) English students who were reading the same play. We researched the real Cinna the Poet, discussed why there would be a character named “Cinna” in The Hunger Games, looked at artwork and made tableaux of the death of Julius Caesar, read and performed Mark Antony’s long speech, wrote eulogies for Cinna–a man wrongfully murdered and who would have been forgotten in history if not for Shakespeare writing him into Act 3 scene 3. My 6th graders were more than ready for Shakespeare. No, they wouldn’t be analyzing iambs and trochees, but they would be experiencing the words and sentiment and they would be asking questions about what happened next in the play. (And they would also, as a whole class, memorize the entire scene and shout it from the tops of their lungs one morning before class started, just as an administrator walked into my classroom to speak to me. “What is your name?” they shouted at her, grins achingly wide across their small, bright faces, and laughter bubbling around them as they continued:  “Whither are you going? Where do you dwell? Are you a married man or a bachelor?” Do I really need to tell you about my joy at hearing these 24 voices in impromptu unison?)

I told my students that day after the frustrating meeting that I was mad. And that being mad is sometimes a great way to be political. I said that I love proving people wrong when they don’t believe in me and the kids nodded in agreement, each remembering a particular moment in their own lives where someone said, “You can’t do that.” I told the kids that I wanted to film them performing “Cinna the Poet” and to show them off during my presentation at NCTE in November.  “And in that way,” I said, “We’re going to prove people wrong.” They began to chatter and one boy’s voice rose above the rest. He said, “Ms. Voskov, this is like satyagraha. This is like fighting with the truth.” He was right. The kids doing Shakespeare would be my weapons of truth in the fight for people, at my school and everywhere, to realize that Shakespeare is for everyone, no matter the age.

The truth is, these kids in 6th grade are ready to do Shakespeare. And the truth is that it’s not just these students in my class: It’s every young person who gets the chance to work with and experience and play with the language and get the words into their bodies. In 4th grade, “doing Shakespeare” meant memorizing Celia’s lines and finding the perfect Shakespearean dress to wear on stage. I claimed that play as my own back then, and now, 25 years later, I vividly remember the performance and how much I cared about getting in right–right down to my shoes. Now “doing Shakespeare” is an act of determination. When I hear from people that young children can’t appreciate Shakespeare’s works or that to “really get” Shakespeare they have to be a certain age, I dig in my heels and recommit to the fight. I think of my students united in voice and energy shouting, “Come brands, ho!” calling for a satyagraha of our own.

Gina is a middle school teacher in New York City. She earned a Master of Arts in Teaching Secondary English from Brown University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English at the University of Rhode Island.

Read Full Post »


If you’ve been reading this blog at all, you know that we know Kids love Shakespeare – especially when that love is creatively fostered and encouraged with play! – and that even the youngest children can find something to enjoy and relate to. (I mean, this exists!)

How young, you ask?

The Kim family has been working on a labor of love to bring Shakespeare to kids through songs for kids to connect them to Shakespeare’s characters. Daeshin Kim wrote the songs, his wife illustrated the text, and his 4 year old daughter, Sherman, sings the final products. Their plan is to release the song-pictures as an app for very young children, which also shows them the scene from the play referenced in the song. For example, Juliet sings to herself that “it’s just a name,” and Cordelia “[doesn’t] know what to say.”

In order to make this project a reality, the Kim’s have started a Kickstarter campaign. Take a look at their video preview below, and consider the uses this could have for Elementary classrooms, or at home.

“They constantly amaze us with their insatiable hunger for material,” Daeshin says, “It is my wish that as our kids grow up, they absorb media that has real value, that has an actual deep connection with language, literature, history, and culture.”

We’ve mused over early-education resources before, like audiobooks (unfortunately in modern-English), animation projects by students, a Midsummer movie just for kids, Apps, and more. We love all of these projects, and hope to see more like them!

Read Full Post »

I’ll admit. I was wary of my first Children’s Festival. And each year I’m still a little wary. I know they can do it. They know they can do it. But will they do it? Will they speak the speech?

And every time I am pleasantly surprised. Yesterday we had a 9 year-old Lear who howled as heartbreakingly as any RSC alumnus. We had a tiny Lady M who covered for a missed line and blocked exit by grabbing her “husband”‘s daggers and shoving him out of the way to finish the bloody deed. There was even an incredibly emotive Ophelia and regal Gertrude who, though English was their second language, gave so much character to their roles that it could have gone on for 4 hours and no one would have complained. Today as I watched an impassioned 4th grade Brutus defend his treasonous actions in an oration, his teaching artist leaned over to me and whispered, “He has ADHD and can barely sit still to read a book.” Yet here he was, listening to his fellow actors, speaking loudly and clearly, and injecting his speeches with feeling.

Yes. They can get nervous. So can you, as their teacher. But elementary students CAN and WILL read and perform Shakespeare. It’s just up to us to give them the opportunity to.

Read Full Post »

~by Lucretia Anderson

In the olden days, families might sit around the parlor reading Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays together for the day’s entertainment. In 2012 we’re shaking it up! This past Saturday, Danielle Drakes and I had the privilege of working with an enthusiastic mix of 6-12 year olds and their parents in a workshop we called Shakespeare in Action! We had a fabulous time introducing Shakespeare’s language, some swordplay and creating scenes from Macbeth. The children and adults took to it likes flies to honey: immersing themselves in the playfulness of our activities and rollicking in the language of the Bard. Kids loved pelting their parents with Shakespearean insults as well as imaginary snowballs in our warm up activities. The parents didn’t hold back either! Interestingly most of them, including the adults didn’t know much about Macbeth. Once we explained there were swordfights and witches, it was on and it was thrilling to see these families engage with Shakespeare so fully.

The morning went by so quickly that we should have called it Shakespeare on the Fly! But sometimes doing drive by Shakespeare leaves them eager for more which was our intention!

What was really great for us was to find out the reasons families chose to attend a Shakespeare workshop in a dark theatre on a bright sunny Saturday morning with the Cherry Blossom Festival blooming all around us. Besides the young boys who came mainly for the sword fighting, most of the parents just really wanted to expose their children to Shakespeare in a different way than they’d been taught. Also, having the chance to do something together that was out of the ordinary also seemed to have a certain appeal. For the kids, I think the experience is priceless. It’s one thing to learn about Shakespeare and the plays at school, it is quite another to really experience the work with your first teachers, mom and dad.

What was your family’s exposure to Shakespeare? How are your kids experiencing Shakespeare now?


Read Full Post »

~by Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger

Most teachers might think that arming students with a host of insults and asking them to hurl them at each other is NOT a good idea. But, in teaching Shakespeare, it can be the beginning of a fun learning activity.

I had the opportunity today to watch two master teachers gather students on the Folger stage and teach them what it means to play with Shakespeare’s language. The plays are full of insults, and these are marvelous sound bites to help students connect language, expression, gestures, and meaning.

In the first activity, two students faced each other, each with a short insulting phrase. Students had a few moments to review the words, determine meaning, and think tone and gesture that would really get that meaning out to the audience. Then, one pair at a time, students hurled the insults.

I use the word “hurl” because the delivery of the lines was physical—in fact, it was palpable. The students threw themselves into the activity, making faces, shouting, narrowing their eyes, turning toward or away from the other person—all movements that reinforced the meaning of the words.

The second activity gave students a chance to build a scene. The teacher provided a more extended disagreement between two characters. A small disagreement grew into a shouting, gesturing match as students literally built on the words with their actions. By the end, there was no doubt about meaning and emotion spilling off the stage.

Using insults and arguments is a great tool for helping students take words off the page and give those words real meaning. They are able to make strong connections through their emotions—something students have an abundance of during school years. They all know what it means to feel angry, hurt, frightened, furious; it’s not a huge task to think of voice volume, facial expressions, or gestures to demonstrate those feelings. Acting out Shakespeare’s insults creates a great opportunity for students to explore the connections among language, tone, gestures, and meaning.

There might be an extended benefit as well. A teacher told me once that she thought students using Shakespearean curses in the halls at school would be a great upgrade from the language she typically hears.

Read Full Post »

Odds are that in a classroom of students who have never been taught Shakespeare before, the majority of them may already be at least a little familiar with some aspect of his work. I have no statistical proof to back that statement up, but it does seem likely that in a world where passionate couples are referred to as “Romeos and Juliets,” and the iconic image of a young man holding a skull is enough to make the brain jump to “to be or not to be,” that students are surrounded by Shakespeare already.

It’s an interesting conversation-starter, anyway. When I taught with SSO one of the first conversations was to ask the class what they already knew about Shakespeare. A lot of voices piped up with “He wrote stuff,” “Weren’t there some plays?” and some character recognition, “Romeo and Juliet, that was his.” Before they even get to a sit-down conversation about what they know about Shakespeare, they don’t realize the tidbits they’re picking up from pop-culture. I saw them relax before my eyes as they realized they already knew the subject, they just hadn’t been up-close yet.

I’m sure that by this point in the year, your students are already quite familiar with Shakespeare from your lessons, but it’s a fun conversation to have. Before there was a book and an audition, what did they already know?

Read Full Post »

While there are many student Shakespeare Festivals all over the world, some teachers might feel trepidation at cutting, directing, casting, rehearsing and organizing a performance for their class.

One of our SSO teaching artists, and long-time Docent of the Folger, Amy Thompson, has been doing that very process for the last few years at Nottingham Elementary in Virginia. This year, she has decided to document her process of producing Macbeth with 5th graders, who will be performing in May.

Third Witch First Murderer

If you’ve never produced a student Shakespeare before, or have wondered how others are doing it, Amy’s blog is very specific to her process. The pain of cutting the text to less than half an hour, the creativity in doubling the cast, the process of auditioning 5th graders, and the excitement of beginning rehearsals.

It’s certainly worth keeping up with, and we’d love to hear about your experiences, too! Let us know how your rehearsals are going in the comments, or if you’ve ever kept a production blog for your classroom performances!

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »