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Archive for the ‘Introducing Shakespeare’ Category

In this special series we’re calling “Inside the Classroom,” we’ll follow middle school teacher Gina Voskov and her students as they embark on a Twelfth Night unit. Today, it’s all about pre-reading—check back for notes from the group throughout the learning process.

By: Gina Voskov

Photo: Gina Voskov

Photo: Gina Voskov

I am so pleased to introduce Won Jae, Lois, and Alexandra, three of my 7th grade English students.

As you’ll see, these students have a wide range of experiences when it comes to engagement in English, comfort with public speaking/performance, familiarity with Shakespeare, and with the English language. My challenge is to make the story and language accessible (and hopefully enjoyable and meaningful) to everyone.

Shakespeare’s works were formally added to our 7th grade English curriculum three years ago and the Shakespeare unit has quickly become a favorite for both teachers and students because we use the Folger approach. In two weeks, we will begin our study of Twelfth Night, a play I really love but have never taught before. My colleague and I will be using the Shakespeare Set Free materials for the play as well as other performance techniques I learned at the 2012 Teaching Shakespeare Institute.

This first post is an introduction the students have written about themselves and a brief overview of their thoughts about learning Shakespeare and studying Twelfth Night. I suspect the concerns they share with you will mirror the concerns many of your students have about learning the language. A second post will follow, mid-unit, where the three will be able to share specific activities that challenged them the most to learn. The final post will be a reflective piece after their performance project has ended.

It is my hope that my students will be able to see growth in confidence, skills, and excitement as we use the Folger approach to studying this play. It is truly a joy to be able to share these students’ words with you, and I hope you’ll check back in on their journey through our unit.

 

Meet Won Jae: (more…)

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By Folger Education

Thanks, teaching colleagues, for sharing your responses to our last post! From technology to performance, here are some of YOUR suggestions for getting started with Shakespeare. Enjoy!

Last year the following worked beautifully to engage students with the Prologue to R&J.

Start off with pairs saying the same sentence but alternating which words they stress. For instance, I would say “I want to go to the movies” with my partner saying “I want to go the movies” and so on. After the demo, students are given some fun sentences and practice with partners.  Next, I have the prologue divided into its fourteen lines printed largely onto cards. The students practice at their tables saying the line with varying emphases. Then, fourteen students stand in front of the class in order of the prologue lines and each student recites her line.  Voila! The class has read the Prologue and can move on with familiarity to paraphrasing it. This activity can be used as a way to instruct students about the function and delivery of a chorus as well.

  • Sara Davis, Decatur, Illinois

 

Here’s how I introduce Shakespeare’s language. I give students Shakespeare quotations and they make memes using this website.

  • Chris Lavold, Mauston, Wisconsin

    (Photo Credit: Chris Lavold)

    (Photo Credit: Chris Lavold)

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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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by Sam Sherman
Folger High School Fellow, Class of 2014

Folger High School Fellows, Class of 2014

Folger High School Fellows, Class of 2014

I don’t think I just speak for myself when I say that Shakespeare makes all the more sense when it is performed as opposed to it being examined from text. After all, Shakespeare wrote plays, not novels.

Shakespeare wanted actors to play out his work on the stage in a way that communicated a powerful message that is relevant to the present state of the human condition. I think that a lot of us – teachers and students alike – forget that. Sifting through lexicons, examining centuries-old texts, and trying to understand Early Modern England, we as human beings lose sight of the relevance that Shakespeare has on other areas of history, and even our present. That’s what Folger Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar helped me realize.

The production of Julius Caesar at the Folger carried excellent thematic detail. The show began when actors dressed in ragged, hooded cloaks walked out on stage. These wraiths (very fitting considering Halloween was only about a week and a half ago) spoke in haunting whispers about the Ides of March, foreshadowing what was to come in the play. The whole picture gave me goose-bumps and it was all the more frightening as the red glow from the soothsayer’s bowl illuminated the stage.

Nafeesa Monroe (Soothsayer), Julius Caesar, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2014. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Nafeesa Monroe (Soothsayer), Julius Caesar, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2014. Photo by Teresa Wood.

The first half of the play was pretty consistent with incorporating these wraiths throughout that portion of the performance.

The second half took an interesting turn when the ensemble seemed to switch out the wraith cloaks for soldier’s attire. The uniforms looked like they could’ve been from around the WWI or WWII eras.

I thought the switch from the leather bound medieval garb of the first half to the trench-coat, gas mask-wearing, rifle bearing look of the second half was a peculiar choice, but talking to the actors after the performance allowed me to understand why that decision had been made.

JaBen Early (Octavius Caesar), Julius Caesar, director by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2014. Photo by Teresa Wood.

JaBen Early (Octavius Caesar), Julius Caesar, director by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2014. Photo by Teresa Wood.

As it happens, British director Robert Richmond was inspired by the WWI memorial in England, and as it is the 100th anniversary of that conflict, he borrowed themes from the memorial and incorporated them into his rendition of the play.

The actor Michael Sharon (who played the title role) expressed that much of what Caesar’s death was about involved fighting to sustain the freedom of the Roman Republic, whereas WWI had a lot to with protecting the freedom of nations like Great Britain from the imperialism of countries such as Germany. I thought it was brilliant to put Julius Caesar in a context that was modern and relatable to the contemporary audience.

Michael Sharon (Julius Caesar), Julius Caesar, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2014. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Michael Sharon (Julius Caesar), Julius Caesar, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2014. Photo by Teresa Wood.

We often lose sight of the fact that Shakespeare wrote plays that utilized what the theater had to offer for that time period specifically. His plays are in no way limited by new conceptualizations. If anything, they’re enhanced. I often find that Shakespeare is performed at its best when interpreted in new formats.

We can try to decipher as meticulously as possible whatever we can about how Shakespeare’s plays were performed back in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. It’s something that is important to grasp, that’s for sure.

Yet, at the same time, when directors put plays into contemporary settings, be it Julius Caesar placed in WWI or maybe even A Midsummer Night’s Dream purposed as a late night rave – students and teachers alike will be able to grasp Shakespeare’s reasons for writing his works, maybe more so than they would in a traditional Elizabethan environment. This way, Shakespeare remains alive and relevant just as much as a play by Tom Stoppard or August Wilson would be and not just fade into something from “way back when.”

Continuing the conversation about Shakespeare as a living piece of theater is not only an exciting mission for any educator, but must be something they constantly try to achieve, not just for themselves, but for their students.

Folger Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar performs through December 7, 2014. Learn more at www.folger.edu/theatre.

Learn more about Folger Education’s High School Fellows program.

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In honor of #ThrowBackThursday, we’re sharing one of the more popular videos from our Teaching Shakespeare series.

Sue Biondo-Hench, a curriculum specialist (and alumna) of the Folger’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute and an English teacher at Carlisle High School for more than 29 years, often starts off a new Shakespeare unit by having students explore character and motive using a key passage of text—sometimes just a single line.

 


“What makes Interpreting Character such a successful exercise,” says Biondo-Hench, “is its multiple points of focus. Students explore a play-specific character, engage in performance-based methods for interpreting the text, and learn how Shakespeare’s language allows for multiple meanings”.

Interpreting Character uses scenes from Henry IV, Part 1  and centers on Prince Hal, but the exercise works equally well for any Shakespeare play—or any other play!

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By Deborah Gascon

It’s September and the weather is cooling down, but your students’ love for Shakespeare is warming up, right? Okay, maybe not love like, “will you go to the homecoming dance with me?” love, but maybe a lukewarm shyness sort of love? Your students aren’t ready to dance with Shakespeare, but definitely have been making eye contact and passing notes in class (or sending iMessages for you techie-teachers?).

My new batch of students haven’t experienced too much Shakespeare yet, but I have been dotting my daily lessons with a little bit of Shakespeare and performance-based instruction. By prom, they’ll all be asking their new love Super-Shakes to be their date.

Let me tell you about a quick and easy way to include the Folger’s approach to performance-based learning in our daily classroom lives. (more…)

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Guest post by Deborah Gascon

Eighteen years ago, days before my first year teaching began, my principal gave me the best advice I’ve ever heard about the first day of school. She simply said, “Make the students want to come back.” She told me to forget the syllabus and classroom procedures—the students won’t retain those rules and did I really want my first impression to be about how to ask for the bathroom pass?

As suggested, I followed through with my hopefully-memorable plans on that first day. When I ate dinner that night (in my pjs because I was so exhausted!) I had visions of my eighth graders at their dinner tables telling their families about their invigorating English class. I’m still not sure if that happened, but they all came back the next day with smiles on their faces and eager to learn. They were optimistic. And so was I.

With that advice in mind, on the first day of school for the past two years I’ve incorporated Folger performance methods in my lesson plans.  What a difference this has made. No longer were my sleepy seniors glaring at me (and the clock) and no longer were my freshmen struggling to sit still in a desk after a summer of hyperactivity.  Instead, students were on their feet, participating and laughing (and learning!).

Here are some quick methods to get the students up on their feet and loving the first day (and every day after!) in your classroom:

(more…)

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