Archive for the ‘Twelfth Night’ Category

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


Here are what Gina Voskov’s students are saying now that they’ve wrapped up their Shakespeare unit on Twelfth Night. To trace their journey, check out their comments before and during the unit.



Unfortunately, this is the end of our Shakespeare unit and I feel unhappy leaving this unit but also some relief as I had some hard time with understanding his writing. Though some would think that learning this would be boring and would be uninteresting. However I think otherwise because I believe that it’s not about the content but the way you teach it that makes it memorable. Personally, I prefer performing Shakespeare with others than reading it because just reading it made it hard for me to understand the words. It also enabled me to get some insight from my fellow group mates about how they thought about it.

While performing it forced me to think in that and other character’s shoes and how they would act in the current situation. What I really liked about it was dressing up as the character you’re playing and then acting him/her out, pretending this scene is actually happening in real life. The characters for this play were very different in their own way, enabling you to put your own interpretation in playing them. Continuing about Shakespeare’s writing, it was a bit difficult for me to comprehend because he would write in Old English. As a result, you would have to read in between the lines to truly grasp what he’s saying. The meaning is also found if you look hard enough, not only that but also looking up words to be able to follow and perform well. But overall, I hope that you enjoy learning it as much as I did.



Now that our Shakespeare unit comes to an end, I feel disappointed that it’s over, as well as proud and accomplished. When I look back on this unit, I will remember the work that we did to understand Shakespeare’s text as well as finding our character’s’ motives, exploring body language, and finally, I will remember the experience that I had preforming Shakespeare in front of an audience!

Personally, having come in to this unit familiar with preforming (and the contents of) Shakespeare’s work, I was not surprised to find that I could again relate to the character I portrayed and that I found the movement and character work we did with Twelfth Night a breath of fresh air.

My big understanding of Shakespeare in general, and what I take away from this unit, is that it is relatable to anyone, if you know where to look. I enjoy that when you learn what Shakespeare really meant by a word or phrase, or discover a twist in the storyline, the language barrier seems to break down, making it possible for a student or actor to really convey the meaning to any audience member, whether it be by just simply using tone of voice, or by elaborating with movement, interaction or even simple props and costumes.

Although we don’t have an abundance of knowledge to why Shakespeare wrote his plays, or even who he was as a person, I find it fascinating to know that each of his plays presents a major challenge to the actor or student, but helps them immensely along the way, with little hints hidden in the text about how to create the world of the play, almost as if the script itself was a guide.

Overall, Shakespeare has been my favorite unit of the year! I really feel that the work that our class did to understand Twelfth Night benefited me and the time spent rehearsing for our final performance really paid off.


Gina Voskov is a 7th grade English teacher at the United Nations International School in New York City. She has taught English and Humanities for eleven years in public and private schools, in Connecticut, Brazil, and New York City. She is a Folger National Teacher Corps member and attended the Teaching Shakespeare Institute in 2012.

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By Alli Gubanich



This video shows how to use QR codes to deepen student engagement with the words and ideas in Twelfth Night—and to teach essential literacy skills outlined in the Common Core. QR codes are a nice blend between the paper world and the digital world.  I was inspired to create this kind of communication by Tony Wagner’s book Creating Innovators, which is full of QR codes for the reader to scan.  In this video, I explain how to use QR codes to enhance a research paper with complementary multimedia.  The end result is a paper that certainly could be read on its own, but offers the reader additional material for visualizing the textual information.  QR readers can be downloaded to any smartphone or tablet for free.





Students usually love to curate interesting and relevant multimedia for their papers.  I have had students send me to watch cartoons and lectures, look at fine art and internet memes, listen to NPR and MTV.  I’m always intrigued by the connections my students choose to make.  Asking students to include multimedia requires them to analyze the topic in question in yet another light, and the process of choosing appropriate supplemental material requires higher level thinking skills.  Additionally, the “art of curating” really substantive or relevant material is a skill worth developing.  Including it on your rubric legitimizes the process and gives you another area in which to help your students grow.

Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five of our Teaching Twelfth Night with Technology series.


Alli Gubanich is an upper school English teacher at AIM Academy, a research-to-practice lab school in Conshohocken, PA that serves students with learning differences.  Her professional interests include technology infusion in the classroom and differentiated learning in the 21st century classroom.  Additionally, she is an accredited teacher trainer in the Socratic Seminar instructional method.  Alli is 2014 TSI alumna.

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by Gene Campbell


Before You Watch


The idea behind this video is a simple one: get your students to immediately get the play on its feet. Here you’ll learn how to help your students take a scene from any of Shakespeare’s plays (though in this case it’s a portion of Act 5, Scene 1 from Twelfth Night) and turn it into a montage of one-second movies using iMovie. Through this process, students will be asked to break down the dramatic structure of the scene, to do a close reading of the scene, and then to distill that scene to its barest essence.


The Video




After You Watch


While I did not teach Twelfth Night this year, I used a simplified version of this lesson for our first day’s discussion of Henry IV, Part I. Due to a time crunch that I’m sure everyone reading this blog has felt at one point or another, I didn’t think that I could afford the extra day or two that filming and editing a one-second movie montage could have entailed, so I opted for tableaux vivants instead. The principle was the same — get the students to do a close reading of the text and then translate the poetry, rhetoric, and imagery into one representative moment — though the time required was reduced to a single day and the finished product was a still image rather than a very brief film clip. I split my students into two groups and asked them to come up with an image for each line of King Henry’s opening speech. One student read the part, the rest of the group acted, and I photographed each tableau and then projected the photos as the reading was repeated at the end of the class so that everyone could see the finished product. Henry’s manipulation of his audience came alive as an image of unity was followed by one of discord in a neatly repeating cycle that highlighted his political savvy and duplicitous message as well as set up the questions that I would be asking them to consider when Hal begins to behave in eerily similar ways later in the play.


There were audible gasps from the students when I projected their work for them at the end of the day, and that energy and engagement helped carry us through our discussions in the following weeks. There was something about seeing the imagery made concrete that connected with them and allowed them to understand that speech — one that I have taught to at least two sections every year for the past fifteen years — in a way that was never possible before. I believe both the tableaux vivants and the one-second movies provide access to this level of understanding while lessening the anxiety many of the students feel when I ask them to act out a scene in class, and this shared process of creating meaning is everything I want my classes to be.


If you have any questions or ideas about this lesson in either of its forms, please email me at gcampbell@stalbansschool.org or reach out on Twitter (@21stCenturyLit).


Reading Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four of our Teaching Twelfth Night with Technology series.



Gene Campbell is the Dean of Students and an English teacher in the Upper School of St. Albans School, an all-boys Episcopal school in Washington, DC. He received his BA in English from Georgetown University and his MA in English from The Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. He currently teaches British Literature to 10th graders as well as 11th and 12th grade electives ranging from Comparative Literature to 21st Century Literature to Narrative Film.


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By Jenna Gardner




This is an activity I used with students at the beginning of Twelfth Night Act 2, scene 2 when Viola, disguised as Cesario, realizes that Olivia loves her because Olivia believes Viola to be “the man” she pretends to be.


The beauty of Shakespeare is in its performance, which allows students to hear and see his words and engage with all the possible meanings of a text. I wanted to help my students visualize Shakespeare’s language and to promote hypothesizing, discussion, debate, and critical reasoning regarding his implicit as well as explicit meanings in Twelfth Night. The online tool Voyant allows an entire text to be investigated by simply embedding a corpus copied and pasted from a website. Using Voyant and Folger Digital Texts, students can see the words of greatest frequency in a word cloud and perform keyword searches to see word frequency and area of occurrence in the text. Data in all the fields— word cloud, word trends, and keywords in context, etc.—can be exported and saved.







By using Voyant, my students engaged in a close reading of Viola’s soliloquy, “I left no ring with her…”, and through this tool my students began to see the role that disguise had already begun to play in Twelfth Night. Students had activating questions that they worked on in preparation for our in-class work and discussion. By manipulating and analyzing the text in Voyant, students tested questions, made observations, and drew conclusions about the force and impact of disguise in the rest of the play.


As a class we discussed Shakespeare’s use of disguise, and students began to generate other associated words—hide, deceive secret, deception, etc. Working in groups with laptops they tried out their brainstorming words and generated new terms they felt that were related to this idea of disguise. This could also be done with projecting the screen of one computer and having the class work collectively. Using Voyant’s tools to look at instances where these terms occurred in the play allowed them to see the rhythm of disguise within Shakespeare’s work and to be mindful of their occurrence when they emerged in later class readings. This activity works especially well when paired with student performance work. The whole idea of disguise really comes to life not just when students use Voyant to analyze it but when they speak and embody it.


This close reading focus on disguise also led to an in-depth discussion on the role of dramatic irony in comedy and why it is so essential. This was a text I taught at the beginning of the school year to develop my AP English Literature students’ close reading skills. All of their work led to writing an analytical essay on their close reading of this soliloquy.


Voyant can be used with any text that students find intimidating. It is a tool I used with our class study of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights in which we examined her use of hellish and heavenly terms—angel, devil, fiend—and their importance in conveying her thematic inversion of meaning.


Please feel free to send me your questions or ideas by contacting me on Twitter! (@JennaGLit)


Read Part One, Part Two, and Part Three of our Teaching Twelfth Night with Technology series.


Jenna Gardner is an AP English Literature, Junior Language Arts, and AP Art History teacher at Meadowcreek High School in Norcross, Georgia. Currently her students are in the midst of their Shakespeare Madness debates, which are calling on them to use their close reading skills to argue for Shakespeare’s ‘best’ play.

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By Rachel Jean-Marie




In this video, you will see a demonstration that provides ideas on how to engage students in a close reading of the text by exploring Shakespeare’s use of language in a specific scene in Twelfth Night using hypertext annotations.  Obviously, it’s good if students have had lessons/practice with figurative language (similes, metaphors, personification, puns, allusions, etc.)  After the video, feel free to check out ways to take this video to the next level by leading students through a process that encourages them to use a variety of tools to research the language, use hyperlinks, physicalize the text, and engage in a reflective debrief.

To take this lesson to the next level:

  1. Have students work together in small groups using a variety of resources to research the text as they read, annotate, and discuss the scene using useful tools such as dictionaries, their cell phones, the online lexicon, each other, and so on.
    (Tip: Keep the scene short by providing half a scene if necessary for longer scenes.)
  2.  Have students use the strategies shared in this video to “annotate” the text using hyperlinks, and provide students with some time to bring the scene alive through a physical interpretation of this scene.  By this point, the students should be pretty familiar with this scene.
  3. Finally, allow students to debrief the process.  After the video, check out some of my sample questions below.






This video does not demonstrate how to actually use Tagxedo.  If you can’t figure it out yourself, it’s okay!  Just ask a colleague or engage one of your shy tech savvy students to “tutor” you on it.  Nevertheless, if you have each group add their words to the Tagxedo Creator, they could create a visual representation of the terms that they chose to focus on during their “research” of the text.  If printed out, this image could be used on screen or on an overhead projector as the introductory image to their scene.
Sample Debrief Questions:

  1. What is the difference between active and passive reading? Benefits?
  2. What are your thoughts about exploring the text together?
  3. What are you thoughts about using resources like cell phones, lexicons (book & online versions), dictionaries, and laptops to explore the text?
  4. How do all of this (annotating, working with others, using resources, physicalizing the text, etc.) help with comprehension?


  • The students came up with wonderful responses.  Here are some of their thoughts:
  • Working together enabled us to explore different interpretations.
  • We got a chance to develop different skills by collaborating at some points and working independently at other points.
  • Needed it to understand the words
  • Makes piece stronger
  • Can’t act something you don’t know
  • Helps with interpretation and comprehension
  • Shakespeare uses everyday language differently and we are always changing as well as our understanding of words
  • Understanding Shakespeare’s context/meaning and our own interpretation/meaning


Students had a lot of fun with this activity.

Read Part One and Part Two of our Teaching Twelfth Night with Technology series.


Rachel Jean-Marie has been working at Boston Day & Evening Academy for the past 11 years as a Humanities teacher. BDEA is a competency-based alternative high school in the Roxbury area of Boston, MA that serves 16 to 22 year olds who haven’t been successful in a traditional school setting and were at risk of dropping out.

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By Matt Seymour




This video gives a full activity plan that teachers can use to help students learn multiple skills at once. They learn vocabulary, how to use Google Docs, and how to access and search the Folger Digital Texts. An added bonus is that it unites the class on one, big, language-based project.







This lesson has been a great vehicle for getting students to do a good second reading of the text. It shows them that after we learn a few of the more difficult words, a scene becomes even more accessible and comprehensible. This has also worked well as an introduction to using Google Docs for group work. With this tool, students have a way to collaborate on a project, even from home. It is particularly useful for when we cut lines from a scene for performances because everyone will have access to the same script.


Read Part One of our Teaching Twelfth Night with Technology series.


Matt Seymour teaches English composition and literature at Colorado Early Colleges Fort Collins. He holds a Bachelor’s in philosophy and a Master’s in English Ed. He has been teaching for 8 years.

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