Archive for the ‘Tales from the Classroom’ Category

This post originally appeared on Making a Scene on December 13, 2012


~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.



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By David Fulco


Students performing the Dumb Show from Hamlet . (Image: David Fulco)

Students performing the Dumb Show from Hamlet . (Image: David Fulco)

At the end of TSI 2014, I made a pledge that I would not read the syllabus to my class on the first day of school.


After a summer collaborating with some of the most innovative teachers in the country, it did seem a shame that I would return to my classroom and fall back into the trap, albeit a safe trap, of

going over rules and regulations, expectations and procedures on that first day.


Couldn’t the first 45 minutes of the year be used for a better purpose? Shouldn’t the first 45 minutes of the year be used for a better purpose?


(What does it say about me that I hear Peggy O’Brien’s voice in my head when I ask myself those questions before the start of each school year?)


For the past two years I have asked my 10th grade students at The Laboratory School of Finance and Technology in the South Bronx, New York City to perform Tableaux Vivants on the first day of school. As a reference for our still life poses, I use the original text of the Dumb Show from Hamlet (3.2.144-156). That the students aren’t familiar with Hamlet or won’t read Hamlet as sophomores, is not a problem. The Dumb Show stands alone, allowing you to discuss as much, or as little, about Hamlet as you would like.


What I do:


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By Sara Lehn

Michael Fassbender as Macbeth

Michael Fassbender as Macbeth (Image: StudioCanal)

“Who would you choose?  Benedict Cumberbatch or Michael Fassbender?”


“But have you seen the new Michael Fassbender trailer?  It looks amazing!”


It is the first meeting of the school year for my Shakespeare Society’s Executive Board.  Although it has been months since we all met, our table is brimming with enthusiasm, excitement, and fresh ideas for how to bring Shakespeare to our school’s population.  And, of course, a debate on which would make a better field trip: Benedict Cumberbatch’s live theater broadcast of Hamlet or Michael Fassbender’s upcoming film of Macbeth.  There is clearly some dissent in the ranks.


Several years ago, a group of students started an application for a new Shakespeare club in our high school.  I was not a part of the initial process, but I was lucky enough to be able to step in and help them to pursue their goal.  Last September their efforts came to fruition, and I became the advisor of the new Shakespeare Society.


We started out simply: the 30-second Macbeth, Slugs and Clods, light-hearted activities to provide a little laughter and fun.  We planned a movie night and spent a wonderful Friday evening curled up on the floor of our study center with blankets and pillows and slices of pizza.  As the year progressed and our school’s annual Shakespeare Festival approached, we chose and rehearsed scenes and planned audience-participation activities.  The festival culminated our first year together, and left me looking forward to continuing the expansion of our club.


Students don’t have to love Shakespeare to join our Shakespeare Society. In fact, several of my club members openly profess that they are not particularly big fans.  (more…)

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By Stefanie Jochman


Debbie Gascon’s brilliant advice to start the school year with Shakespeare has made my hot, humid classroom one of the coolest places to be on the first day of school. This year, my freshmen and I

Shakespeare in a Mug (Image: Stefanie Jochman)

Shakespeare in a Mug (Image: Stefanie Jochman)

played a game of “Shakespeare in a Mug,” my modification of “Shakespeare in a Can,” an activity I learned from Michael Tolaydo and Caleen Jennings at the 2014 Teaching Shakespeare Institute. The results? A fun 45 minutes that taught me a lot about who my students are and what they need in the year ahead.

Here’s how it works:



  • 3 mugs or small containers
  • 2 sets of short lines from Shakespeare plays printed on small strips or squares of paper (I used insults from Romeo and Juliet, a play we will study in a few months. As Jennie K. Brown suggested in her post, compliments create an even more welcoming atmosphere.)
  • 1 set of places/ situations printed on small strips or squares of paper (I chose places and situations that would be familiar to students (i.e. Green Bay’s own Lambeau Field, our local shopping mall, the principal’s office, the Oscars)


  1. Pair students and have them choose who will be partner “A” and partner “B”
  2. Partner “A” takes a line from one mug. Partner “B” takes a line from the other mug.
  3. Partner “B” also selects a location/situation from the third container
  4. Allow time for students to plan a small improvised scene that takes place in their location/situation and involves both of their lines. I also allowed students to add a line or two of their own to help set the scene if necessary.
  5. When time is up, students perform their brief scenes for the class, and everyone earns a round of applause!

What I discovered:

  1. My students need models. When they first received their lines and situations, my freshmen struggled to figure out what their lines meant, how they fit together, or why someone might utter them in their chosen situation, but after I modeled a quick scene with a brave volunteer (we were rival Packers and Bears fans who got into a scuffle at Lambeau), they understood what to do.
  2. My students are kind and brave. One line that made it into my mix was “Go thy ways, wench” (2.5.46) from a conversation between the Nurse and Juliet. It’s not an insult in that conversation, but it sounds like one. A boy who had been partnered with a girl picked the line from the mug and quickly asked to exchange it; his refusal to call a classmate “wench” made my heart melt a little bit. Later in the week, I asked students to write letters of introduction. A few students admitted to being very nervous about public speaking, but they took on the “Shakespeare in a Mug” challenge with gusto!
  3. Shakespeare on Day 1= Critical thinking on Day 1: Students had to puzzle out the tone of their performance by thinking about what words meant and what lines sounded like when read aloud. When groups weren’t sure about how to fit their lines into their situations, a few questions about the conflicts, meetings, or actions that normally happen in their location—a process not unlike using context clues to determine a word’s meaning—were all they needed to put the scene together.

“Shakespeare in a Mug” is open to interpretation. When I first played “Shakespeare in a Can,” partners kept their lines a secret from each other, but I modified the game to create more opportunities for conversation and collaboration on the first day of the new year. I’ve read about other versions of this activity that use small groups rather than partners. “Shakespeare in a Mug” also doubled as my classroom icebreaker; I required partners to learn fun facts about each other introduce themselves to the class prior to their performances.

Were the scenes perfect? No. Did we laugh a lot? Yes. Did my students learn that my classroom will be a safe place to collaborate, make mistakes, and be creative? I hope so. And did I get a snapshot of the funny, kind, shy, smart, creative, bold, goofy, determined, friendly, inspiring learners my students are? Absolutely.


Stefanie Jochman teaches 9th grade and International Baccalaureate English classes at Notre Dame de la Baie Academy in Green Bay, WI. She received her BA in English and Secondary Education from St. Norbert College and her MA in English from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Stefanie is a proud alumna of the 2014 Teaching Shakespeare Institute.


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By Quintin Burks


Well, it’s that time of the year again; the leaves are starting to change, the nights are getting cooler, and the school year has begun. As I start to see new and familiar young faces fill the hall of my school, some filled with excitement and some apprehension, I’m reminded of just how important the beginning of the school year is. Every year, it becomes more and more apparent to me just how important the first few weeks of instruction are in setting the tone for my entire class. It is for this reason that Shakespeare has become my go-to for starting the year off right.


Though it may seem crazy to start students off with literature that they most likely identify as especially difficult or only for the intellectual elite, the immediate dispelling of these popular myths by interacting with Shakespeare’s works is a profoundly beneficial practice. Students actively engage with Shakespeare’s words and, in so doing, are empowered by a form of success that seems, and is, particularly momentous. Moreover, teaching Shakespeare according to the Folger Approach produces a high level of investment in your class because it is ridiculously fun, in addition to being incredibly effective.


One approach to beginning the year with Shakespeare is to teach a variety of excerpts instead of an entire play. I find that this approach is particularly beneficial, because it allows students to develop the literacy skills that we are trying to teach, without some unintentional road blocks that come with reading an entire play. Instead of trying to remember plot and character details (which are sometimes highly confusing, even in short plays like Midsummer) students will be focused on working with short excerpts from a variety of plays that serve, for all intents and purposes, as a whole play.


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By Folger Education


OK, everyone. Your students and fellow teachers have so many compelling things to say that we simply had to keep posting your responses to our Bard Notes call. Read on, and enjoy. We hope that you’re all still loving this school year! Thanks to colleagues like you, we sure are.


“Michael, an 8th grader in Lexington City Schools, examined a 16th century hornbook and said, ‘And he wrote all that, with a shorter alphabet than ours?’” – Eric Wilson


“In answer to a meeting icebreaker, ‘What would you do with a million dollars?’ Response:  ‘I’d like to give a lot away; I’ve always wanted to.’” – Bill Lambert


“This fruit tastes so good, it’s like getting to know someone.” –Ari Brooks


“At Thursday’s open house last week a former student of mine, now in 7th grade, approached me.  We hugged and I admired how much he’d grown since I last saw him in third grade.  His one and only question for me was… ‘Mrs. Everson, do you still teach Shakespeare?  I was so touched…he remembered performing Macbeth in our third grade class!’” – Mrs. Everson


Hotspur would never consider paternity leave.” – Gregg Marshall


“‘You have to meet kids where they’re at,’ said Elinor Scully, Head, The Langley School” – Robin Tatu


“Most compelling moments of the last week: A new teacher orientation speaker who read the poem ‘First Lesson‘ by Phillip Booth. Carries such beautiful and touching messages for both teachers and students at the beginning of a new school year!” – Julia Wharton

(Image: Folger)

(Image: Folger)

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By Folger Education


In this month’s Bard Notes, Peggy O’Brien asked our teaching colleagues one question: What’s the most compelling sentence—from the mouth of a student or a teacher or a principal — that you’ve heard in the last week?

(Image: Folger)

(Image: Folger)

And…wow! Here’s what you shared:


“We are ALL here to learn.” – Maureen Berzok


“One of my students said this a few days ago: ‘I never realized how much power a text can have when you just look at the words.’” – Chasidy Burton


“A returning student said to me, ‘I used my first paycheck from my first summer job to buy a giant poster of Walt Whitman for my bedroom.’” – Margaret Mackinnon


“This year we started school with Whitman’s ‘Oh Me! Oh Life!’ and as a culminating activity each of my students had to write their verse.  Here is one of my favorites, from my student Emily in 10th grade pre-AP English:  ‘I am only a minute, insignificant being who aspires to be able to unravel the fabric of the universe and stitch it back in a manner fathomable for mankind; I have my work cut out for me.’” – Judy Perrone


“My most profound sentence came from a student who turned in his six-word memoir poster a few days late. He had a rough start to the year and was a student who raised my concerned teacher antennae pretty quickly, but I think he’ll be ok. His memoir message: “My head is above the water.” Sometimes, that’s all we can ask, isn’t it?” – Stefanie Jochman

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