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Posts Tagged ‘Introducing Shakespeare’

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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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 Kevin Costa

Whenever I begin a Shakespeare play with my students in my two-year course, The Institute for Shakespeare and Renaissance Studies at McDonogh School, I get the class working on text from just about Day One. I don’t spend a lot of time setting up with talk about Shakespeare’s life or with the history of the period — there’s plenty of time for that later, if at all.

Owiso Odera (Othello) and Ian Merrill Peakes (Iago), Othello, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2011. Photo by Carol Pratt.

Owiso Odera (Othello) and Ian Merrill Peakes (Iago), Othello, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2011. Photo by Carol Pratt.

When I first started this course, I would choose the play we’d cover for two years, but this fall I took a different approach. My students and I looked through the Complete Works, and we read bits and pieces of plays that I thought they might like. This year, I think we may have looked at the moment in Othello where Iago helps convince Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful (3.3). Then we also read through the two scenes in Measure for Measure where Angelo propositions Isabella to sleep with him (2.2 & 2.4).

If you have a choice of play from which to chose, this is a compelling way to have students own their experience from the get-go. In other words, get students hooked by offering some of a play’s “greatest hits.” Once they have a taste of something they like, they’ll certainly want more since a well-chosen scene can really awaken their curiosity for the whole work.

If you don’t have a choice in play, that’s no problem at all. Here are some ideas for some of the most-taught titles.

(more…)

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Folger Library Exterior: Bas relief: Julius Caesar

by Gina Voskov

One of the courses I teach at my school is 6th grade Humanities, and next up in our year’s curriculum plan is learning about Ancient Greece and Rome. I’m excited about getting the kids up and out of their seats for this class, and the best way I can do that is by getting them to interact with Shakespeare.

For this unit, I’ll be giving them some Julius Caesar, the Cinna the Poet scene in particular. This scene never fails to get all kids speaking, thinking, and moving. It’s also just about the easiest scene in the books with respect to language–there’s none of that stuff that turns so many kids away–the thee‘s and thine‘s and whatnot. I love giving this scene to groups of kids at the start of the year because it’s a great way to build community. But now that we are 3/4ths of the way through the year, I’m going to open our unit with performance. This scene will definitely have them asking questions about history, which is what we teachers hope for, right? (more…)

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As you probably know, April 23 is Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, and the Folger Education staff wants to get everyone involved in the celebration. So we are hosting a Balcony Scene Flash Mob Festival. It’s simple. It’s fun.  And it will get a lot of people speaking Shakespeare.

UNCWe hope to get groups from all across the country to take part.

So please join us! (more…)

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A while back I wrote Shakespeare in Other Words citing the reasons teachers should avoid using “No Fear” or “Made Easy” or any other parallel text edition in their classroom. Needless to say, it generated over 40 comments, including some from an author of “The Shakespeare Novels.”

But now I realize that simply dismissing those books wasn’t enough. What should teachers do, who not only find it difficult to teach the real stuff, but who may struggle with the language themselves? So here are a few suggestions:

  1. Since students can access the No Fear versions online for free, why not suggest or even encourage them to read them at home. And then read and teach the real text in class.
  2. Start with “baby steps.”
  3. Begin with a 15 Minute Play. There are eight of them on the Folger site.
  4. Pull out 30 juicy lines from the play you’ll be studying, put each line on a 3×5 note card, and give one to each student. Then they find a partner, come up with a scene using only the words on the cards, and perform the scene for the class.
  5. Instead of Made Easy texts, create a Made Shorter text. Using the Folger Digital Texts, copy a scene, paste it into a Word file, and edit it to a version that your students can handle.
  6. If you want to teach Iambic Pentameter, watch the video called Living Iambic Pentameter, but DO NOT SHOW IT TO YOUR CLASS. Instead, do your own version in class. No kid wants to watch other kids having fun.

Those are just a few ways to get past the fear and teach Shakespeare for Real. Post your comments below with other suggestions.

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Image~by Emily DenBleyker

The Taming of the Shrew came first, when I was 7 or 8 – a community theatre production in their tiny theatre in the middle of a cornfield. Then, when I was 9 and bored with the 4th grade reading list, my teacher gave me special permission to read Romeo and Juliet for a book report. My mom and I read it together: first the story from Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, then the actual play, side by side on the couch, trading roles, talking through each scene, playing with the language.

My mother started buying every Shakespeare DVD she could find – filmed theatre productions, movies, specials about Shakespeare – and we would watch them together on quiet nights. I would watch them by myself in my free time or while I was doing homework, internalizing Juliet’s “Wherefore art thou,” and Beatrice’s “What fire is in mine ears?”

I’ve spent this semester as an intern in the Education Division of the Folger, and I’m finding myself more in love with these words than ever before – both how and what they say. It would be cliché to extol the magnificence of Shakespeare’s metaphors and the intricacies of his characterizations, but what I’m marveling over are the lessons and truths he could convey.

At the Secondary School Festival, I saw students who had found the sweetness in the lines years before and I saw students discovering the language for the first time. No matter how new they were to this crazy world we call the theatre, they learned what it feels like to stand in front of a few hundred people and say centuries-old lines that still apply to today. The costumes and the details are a little different, but these stories are told everyday in real life: people lie, fall in love, pretend to be something they’re not.

The biggest thing I’ve learned these past few months is this: to be able to teach these lessons, we have to learn them ourselves. Not literally – I’m not advocating usurping your brother’s dukedom just so you can learn how it feels to be reunited.  In the broader sense, if you look for Shakespeare’s stories in everyday life, you will find them. The words will come alive on the page and your life will be that much more dramatic (in a good way).

Emily DenBleyker is a junior at Gordon College in Massachusetts. She is spending this semester in Washington DC with the American Studies Program and interning with the Education Division of the Folger Shakespeare Library. After graduating next May, Emily hopes to work in theatre education. Or literature. Or film criticism. Or marketing. 

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