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

By Emma Remsberg


At the end of June, I started my internship at the Folger Shakespeare Library. It was an exciting and busy time for the Education office, every spare table space being used to house an intern.


Reflecting on my internship, it’s hard to choose a favorite part. I love the milieu of the Education office—fun, smart, and very witty – and I really enjoy the work that I’ve been doing with museum programs. But perhaps most of all, I am incredibly grateful for all of the opportunities that I’ve had to explore the Folger as an institution. Being able to delve into the “nooks and crannies” of the Folger was super exciting, and I’m really glad to have had that chance.


For instance, every two weeks I attended the “Practical Paleography” workshops hosted by EMMO. They’re very fun, helped me to brush up on my Latin over the summer, and introduced me to secretary hand (which utterly baffled me at first, and still does – but in a fun way).


I was also assigned a Reading Room project (finding examples of the “To Be” speech in American culture). I cannot fully express how thrilling it was to be in the Reading Room of the Folger, to work with rare materials, to have my own shelf right next to the stained glass window depicting the Seven Ages of Man. The Reading Room is hands-down my favorite physical space in the Folger. I think I could happily live there forever, but for now I’m content just to do research.


What else? I got to operate a Gutenberg-style printing press – setting my name in type, inking the form, rolling the paper through the press, etc. I went to afternoon teas and chatted with readers about their research. I sat in on fascinating lectures and workshops with faculty of the Summer Academy, which brought 29 teachers from around the country here to the Folger for a week on Hamlet.


The Education team encouraged me to take advantage of any opportunities that appealed to me, so I did. I spent my summer not only learning about museum education but also exploring everything the Folger offers, doing things I never could have dreamed of when I submitted my application. I’ll miss this internship, miss the folks in Education, miss being immersed head to toe in Shakespeare. But at least I know that when I return to school, I’ll be able to do so with reinvigorated enthusiasm about the Bard, a “Folger Library loves me” T-shirt, and a whole lot of stories to tell.


Emma Remsberg is the Museum Programs Intern at the Folger Shakespeare Library. She studies Greek, Latin, and Medieval Studies at Swarthmore College. She just started dabbling in paleography.

By Jennie K. Brown


Jennie K Brown's class reads Shakespeare. (Image: Jennie K. Brown)

Jennie K Brown’s class reads Shakespeare. (Image: Jennie K. Brown)

After my summer experience at the Folger Shakespeare Library, I decided that I was going to get my students up and moving around my classroom in some sort of Shakespeare activity within the first three days of school. And guess what? I did just that!

On day two of the new school year, I ditched the rules and procedures protocol, and instead, each of my classes participated in a Shakespeare compliment activity (an activity that I first experienced first-hand this summer). I do something similar to this in March when we begin Romeo and Juliet; however, instead of Shakespeare compliments, they spew Shakespeare insults at one another. I never thought this was something my 9th students could handle on day 2, but I was totally wrong! Continue Reading »

We revisit Julia Perlowski’s active lesson surrounding Romeo and Juliet‘s Prologue from 2014.


By Julia Perlowski 

William Fox presents Theda Bara in William Shakespeare’s masterpiece Romeo and Juliet, 1916. Folger Shakespeare Library.

William Fox presents Theda Bara in William Shakespeare’s masterpiece Romeo and Juliet, 1916. Folger Shakespeare Library.

If the use of Shakespeare’s early modern English is under attack in some “regular” and “honors” English classrooms, just think about what the reaction might be to the use of such rigorous text in an Intensive Reading class!

At Pompano Beach High School, I am not only the ONLY drama teacher, I am also the ONLY reading teacher. I teach all levels of reading from grades 9-12. While I am producing Romeo and Juliet in the auditorium during fourth period with my drama students, I am reading the same texts way out in portable 3 during first and second periods with my striving readers.

I believe that a text does not have to be changed among students of a variety of abilities… just the TASKS! One may “perform” Shakespeare by acting it out or by engaging in ANY activity that requires one to read closely and critically to execute the task. With struggling readers, there is great power in reading and re-reading and re-reading, for that is how even the best of readers grasps meaning, nuances, and depth.

Here is the “performance” task around the R&J Prologue for my Intensive Reading Class:

Continue Reading »

By Casey Christenson


“Yeaahhhhhh, a close reading.  So, liiiikkkkkeeeee, what do you mean?”


Inevitably and understandably this is a strategy I must visit and revisit with my students each year. This time it’s while I’m handing out photocopies of Barbara Ascher’s “On Compassion,” and it has only been about twenty-four hours since the last time I was asked to explain my expectation.  “It will probably look different for each of you.  It’s evidence of your engagement with the text.  It’s kind of like having a conversation with a piece of writing.” I’m always okay with the uncomfortable looks on my kids’ faces.  What does a close read look like, and more importantly FEEL like, for a seventeen-year-old anyway?


When I consider how intimidating it must be for a young reader to personally engage with a piece of writing, I remember what it felt like to stand on the Folger stage for the first time.  Sure, I’d probably read Hamlet’s lines at least two dozen times on my own and with my students, but standing on the stage where actual performers became Hamlet was incredibly overwhelming.  How was I, in all my non-actor ways, going to BE Hamlet and deliver my lines to the beautiful Ophelia?  Enter prompt book assignment stage left.

Paul Robeson's Othello prompt book.

Paul Robeson’s prompt book for Othello. (Image: Folger Shakespeare Library)


As my partner Chasidy and I read through our assigned script together, our observations and questions came naturally: How would Hamlet say this?  What would he be doing? What would Ophelia’s body language say?  The experience was about nothing more than piecing together what we knew to be true about our beloved characters and bringing them to life as we came to know them.  Our own past encounters played a role, but our prompt books were the evidence of OUR conversation with Hamlet.


My week at the Folger reminded me of how vulnerable we can be with a text if we so choose.  Our experience with a piece of literature is so incredibly personal.  I’m grateful I got to be a student again and was reminded of the process that opens us up to the worlds our favorite writers create for us.


Do my students fully understand this amazing process? Not so much, but if they realize it’s less about the grade, and more about implementing a strategy that will enable them to having a potentially meaningful conversation with the works created by some of the greatest writers ever to put pen to paper, I’ll take a smudged, over-highlighted, but closely read, photocopy of “On Compassion” any day.



Casey Christenson teaches AP Literature and American Literature at Northview High School in Johns Creek, GA.  She was a participant in Folger’s Summer Academy 2015 during which time she felt a lot of feels.  Casey is human to two dogs, two cats, and two frogs, likes the color blue, and thoroughly enjoys writing ridiculous biographies about herself.

By Folger Education

This post you’re about to read was viewed, shared, and liked more than almost any other on our blog last school year. Since its original publication, both Debbie Gascon, the high school teacher who wrote it, and Folger staff, have heard from teachers all over the country who loved—and tried out, to great results—Debbie’s ideas. If you’re looking for a way to make your classroom joyful, active, collaborative, and, yes, just the right kind of challenging—right from day 1—look no further. Try out a few of Debbie’s tested strategies for getting students on their feet and into complex texts in minutes. And let us know how it all goes: shoot Corinne Viglietta an email at cviglietta@folger.edu. Wishing you and your students a happy, productive return to school!


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:

Continue Reading »

By Jill Burdick-Zupancic



Ophelia. (Image: Folger Library)

As summer (too quickly) comes to a close, I’m filled with a mix of excitement and anxiety. What will my students be like? Will what worked last year work again this year? What can I do to make this year a successful and engaging one? Big questions. No easy answers. But, here are some basics I’ll when starting a new school year with the Bard.


    • Start Early – I’ve started each of the past three school years with “2-line scenes.” It’s an easy activity to create: find some of those famous zingers – insults or notable lines – from any of Shakespeare’s works, give one line to each student (preferably from different works), have the kids get in pairs, and ask them to create a scene! This does a number of fantastic things early in the year. First, it gets the kids out of their seats during a monotonous week of syllabi review. Second, it gets them building the classroom community by learning the norms of performance (however they choose to set those). Third, it forces them to think creatively to create a new context using Shakespeare’s words. I’ll use this on day one, but I think any time the first week works well. You’ll have exposed your students to Shakespeare early, and chances are they’ll come across some of those lines again as you approach longer texts throughout the year.


    • Variety – Most of us spend a great deal of our year studying literature, and we love it! But, I find my students’ attention waning when we’re studying a longer text. Consider your objectivesand try to insert small pieces of Shakespeare throughout the year. Want the students to explore tone? Check out Claudius’ speech from Act I, Scene 2 of Hamlet. Analyzing imagery? Also from Hamlet is Gertrude’s retelling of Ophelia’s death – a great choice! Teaching the kids about persuasion? How about that powerful interaction between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth at the end of Act I? Whatever you choose to use, just because you’re not sitting down to tackle an entire play doesn’t mean you can’t spice up some Chaucer, Twain, Hurston, or Hemingway with a little Shakespeare!


    • Confidence – Yes, be confident in yourself, but also be confident that your kids will get Shakespeare, they will connect to Shakespeare, and they will like Shakespeare. He’s still around in our classrooms and throughout the world outside our classrooms because he’s relevant, and kids will understand that with you as their guide.

Cheers to the start of another exciting school year!


Jill Burdick-Zupancic is beginning her eighth year as an educator and currently teaches Honors English and AP Art History at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, VA. She is a Member of the Folger National Teaching Corps and a Teaching Shakespeare Institute (TSI) alumna from 2012. Jill can be reached at jeburdickzup@fcps.edu.


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