Archive for the ‘ELL’ Category

by Corinne Viglietta

Students working with Shakespeare's text. (Photo credit: Lloyd Wolf)

Students working with Shakespeare’s text. (Photo credit: Lloyd Wolf)


New semester, new plays! A lot of teachers are kicking off, or getting ready to kick off, a Shakespeare unit, so we thought we’d talk about what to do on those first days. From having students put some verse on its feet to creating a tempest in the lunchroom, these activities will build confidence, interest, and skill—and help your students make lasting connections to Shakespeare’s language.


  1. Tempest in the Lunchroom – Chicago Teacher Joe Scotese talks about how to “bring students to the text”—and have some fun—on day 1.
  2. Seven Ages of Man – In one of our most popular blog posts ever, South Carolina teacher and Folger National Teacher Corps member Debbie Gascon shares her tips for starting the school year—or any literature unit. Even if you’re not teaching As You Like It, student performances of Jaques’s speech make for a fabulous introduction to the words and worlds of Shakespeare.
  3. Multiple Readings of the Romeo and Juliet Prologue – In Folger National Teacher Corps member Julia Perlowski’s activity, students read the same passage in a variety of ways—chorally, in small chunks of texts, in student pairs, with annotation, with discussion, and with a pattern in mind. An excellent way to get students making their own discoveries about Shakespeare’s language!
  4. Famous Last Words – North Carolina teacher Leslie Kelly shares her approach to one of Folger’s most popular ELL resources—the “Famous Death Lines” activity. Why not start with the end of the play, practice some language, discuss the plot upfront, and make room for a rich exploration of words and ideas?
  5. Interpreting Character – Sue Biondo-Hench, a teacher in Pennsylvania and member of the Folger National Teacher Corps, shows how to introduce students to Shakespeare through close readings of character.

Try these out and let us know how they went. We’re on Twitter (@FolgerEd) and Facebook!

Corinne Viglietta is Assistant Director of Education at the Folger. She has taught English in DC, Maryland, and France.

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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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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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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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~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

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~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

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~by Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger

students of the Islamic Saudi Academy perform scenes from OTHELLO at the 2011 Secondary Schools Festival

On Tuesday I shared a Folger-favorite activity where students create the theatre-going experience of an Elizabethan crowd to see why Shakespeare’s plays had to be so arresting. To continue the experience of bringing words to life, I encourage students to be up, moving around, playing with the language and the motions. Having them imagine what it means to be Iago or Othello.

As an example, here’s a fantastic passage to have students play with:

Iago:                Ha, I like not that.

Othello:           What dost thou say?

Iago:                Nothing, my lord, or if—I know not what.

Othello:           Was not that Cassio parted from my wife?

Iago:                Cassio, my lord? No, sure, I cannot think it
That he would steal away so guiltylike,
Seeing your coming.

Othello:           I do believe ‘twas he.

Have students read these lines, which are easy to understand, aloud to each other. Are there hidden meanings? How can students use their voices and their bodies to make the lines “say” more? Iago doesn’t come out and say anything much—why is this exchange so powerful in his grand scheme?

Another fun scene for movement takes place between Emilia and Iago later in the play:

Emilia:             …What will you give me now
For the same handkerchief?

Iago:                What handkerchief?

Emilia:             What handkerchief?
Why, that the Moor first gave to Desdemona;
That which so often you did bid me steal.

Iago:                Hast stol’n it from her?

Emilia:             No, ‘faith; she let it drop by negligence.
And, to the advantage, I, being here, took’t up.
Look, here it is.

Iago:                A good wench; give it me.

Emilia:             What will you do with ‘t, that you have been so earnest
To have me filch it?

Iago:                Why, what’s that to you?

Emilia:             If it be not for some purpose of import,
Give’t me again: poor lady, she’ll run mad
When she shall lack it.

Iago:                Be not acknown on ‘t; I have use for it.
Go, leave me.

Students already understand the concept of the game “keep-away,” which lends itself well to this exchange on both sides. How does it motivate either character?

As students have opportunities for performance-based learning, they are able to gain an understanding of the language and the plot because the story becomes real.

What other exercises have you used to help students experience Shakespeare and bring the text to life?

Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger is the Docent Liason for Folger Education, and a published writer for Calliope magazine.

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Happy holiday break! I hope you’re enjoying your week off from school (if you have one)! This week I’ll be sharing two activity ideas from Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger on helping students experience Shakespeare to overcome their expectations of the language and text. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments, and let us know how your first semester went, or what your plans are for the coming one!

~by Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger

We are sometimes asked for help from teachers whose students are having trouble with not only the language, but the plot of a play. For example, I was recently asked by a young friend’s teacher if I could come and talk to her class about Othello, which they are currently studying.

The questions I ask myself when preparing for something like this is: How can I help students understand language they don’t expect to understand and follow a plot they expect is too hard to follow? How do I help them overcome their expectations?

The Folger’s approach is to give the students activities that help them experience Shakespeare, to help his world come to life off of the page.

Sometimes, especially if the students are fairly new to Shakespeare, I’ll begin with having the kids act out theatre in Shakespeare’s time with a simple role-playing exercise shared with us by another Docent earlier this year. A few students will be “groundlings” with permission to behave badly: shout out during the performance, eat, drink, and generally make a scene. A couple of students will sit on the “stage area” as the wealthiest playgoers did. Their goal is not to see the play, but to be seen, so they are encouraged to call attention to themselves. A few more students are merchants, who must sell all their wares if they want to make a living and feed their families. A couple will take the role of “cut purse” and move stealthily about the crowd, stealing whatever they can without getting caught. Now I ask some players to be ready to take the stage in a 3,000 seat outdoor theatre, recognizing they have no microphones and if the groundlings are not impressed they are likely to pelt the players with rotten fruit. At this point I bring in a student to play Shakespeare. What does he need to do to get and keep the attention of this crazy crowd?

Having the students experience this for a few minutes, with chaos and laughter and movement, teaches them infinitely more than my standing in front of them and telling them about Shakespeare’s theatre and time. They recognize that Shakespeare must have done something pretty remarkable to have had so much success getting that crowd to hear the play. The play must, somehow, be more interesting than it seems sitting there on the page.

This is, of course, the whole point. The play isn’t sitting on a page, it’s alive and active. On Thursday, I’ll be sharing an example of a scene from Othello which students can use to play with the language Shakespeare provided.

Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger is the Docent Liason for Folger Education, and a published writer for Calliope magazine.

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students perform MACBETH at the 2010 Secondary School Festival

They’re everywhere: No Fear Shakespeare, Simply Shakespeare, Translated Shakespeare. There are teachers who truly believe that their students can’t understand Shakespeare’s 400 year-old words, and turn to updated adaptations which give students the gist of the story, but none of the original poetry.

I used to be ok with it. I thought that as long as a side-by-side translation still printed the original text, students were still going to read and see and maybe even learn Shakespeare’s words. Then I flipped through one and discovered all of the poetry, all of the power, all of the original intent of the words gone. One of the awesome things about Shakespeare’s deliberate word choices is that certain words can mean so many things.

“To be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus”
“Being King is worthless to me,unless I can feel safe and secure as King”
“To be king is nothing, unless I am safely king”

Part of the fun, at least for me, is in interpreting the many ways Shakespeare could have meant the word nothing. Not to mention enjoying the poetry of the repetition of to be… thus and feel that flow within the words. When you translate Shakespeare’s word choices into a definitive interpretation, you are saying that that is the only meaning for that line, and cutting off any discussion about what it could mean to individuals.

This comes up today because of a recent article in which a teacher in NY uses his own updated adaptations of Shakespeare’s text to teach his special education students. He asks them which version they prefer, his own or Shakespeare’s, and they all say his own.

It is my opinion, and I want to stress that it is my own – and Folger Education staff will chime in with their own, that if you offer students an “easier” option, you are telling them that they are not going to understand Shakespeare. You are putting that barrier there and telling them that Shakespeare is a distant and unreadable icon of an outdated language, and that it is no longer useful to study his original texts.

I am the biggest advocate of adaptation in this office – novels, movies, plays and musicals, modern-dress, silent – anything that takes inspiration from Shakespeare I want to know about and explore. But to teach an adaptation as if it were Shakespeare is not how adaptation should be used. It should be used to explore the ideas presented in the originals and discuss them in fresh ways – not to replace the originals in the classroom.

We have seen ESL/ELL students, elementary students, special education students, students of all ages and disciplines perform, understand, and enjoy  Shakespeare’s original words on our very own stage for decades. Where does this idea come from that the language cannot be understood or taught? Please share your opinions in the comments.

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~by Holly Rodgers

Educators often face the difficult task of engaging students who are increasingly distracted by the fast-paced technology driven society in which we live.  Although Elizabethan times moved at a slower pace, Shakespeare faced the same daunting challenge as teachers today, keeping the attention of such a diverse population. While Shakespeare’s audience differed more in terms of social classes than ethnic diversity, he still had to write plays that would reach audiences on all levels.

As an elementary ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) educator, when I began to consider using Shakespeare in the classroom, I was looking for a meaningful way for my students to experience language.  What began as an experiment to give my students a taste of the Bard became the cornerstone of my students’ language instruction.  While some teachers feel that Shakespeare should be saved for high school English class or reserved for only gifted students, I felt that my ESOL students should not be denied the many benefits that early positive experiences with Shakespeare can bring.

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

As a result of incorporating Shakespeare’s works into my curriculum, my students became more confident, increased their English proficiency skills and felt distinguished among their peers.  Often second-language learners feel behind their native English speaking peers and struggle to close the achievement gap.  By experiencing Shakespeare at such an early age, English Language Learners (ELLs) are able to prepare in advance for more in-depth study of the plays and sonnets, thus facilitating the closing of that gap.

Elementary Shakespeare education can serve as both intervention and enrichment language instruction since it provides both support and challenge for all students.  Because Shakespeare wrote for everyone, his works are ideal for students of all ages, language backgrounds, and economic levels.  How can you bring Shakespeare into your classroom?

Holly Rodgers is an elementary school ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia.  She will be a presenter at this year’s Folger Elementary Educators Conference and has created ELL (English Language Learner) and elementary focused lesson plans for the Folger Education Website.  In 2010, her students performed at the Emily Jordan Folger Children’s Shakespeare Festival and were also featured on the Verizon cable program Push Pause.  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.

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