By Gina Voskov
NYC teacher and Folger National Teacher Corps member Gina Voskov is back with the third installment in her series “Inside the Classroom,” in which her students share their experiences with Shakespeare at different points throughout their Twelfth Night unit. You can read the first installment here.
We are about five classes into Twelfth Night, and, as promised, my three 7th graders, Won Jae, Lois, and Alexandra, are back with some reflections about the opening of the unit. Enjoy!
Won Jae: Now that I think of it, Shakespeare isn’t that bad. As I said before, Shakespeare always used to bore me, and I didn’t think very importantly of it. But the thing is, after I had a few lessons of Shakespeare, I didn’t think it was as bad as I thought it would be. One of my favorite things we did in the beginning of our unit was the first one, when we tried to say the word, “O” in many different tones. I was surprised to see how different it can sound when we try to say the word in a different tone! For example, when we tried to say the word in an excited way, the tone became very high-pitched, while when we tried to say “O” in a tired way, we dragged the word in a low pitched voice. I believe that this exercise was used to train our voices so when we read Shakespeare, we can use various tones.
However, my favorite activity was when we did this activity called, “Slugs versus Clods”. It was when our class broke into two groups, and we had a script to follow, and they were full of insults that were used during Shakespeare’s time. We were supposed to state the insults as one whole group, but tension built up and people started to raise their voices and stop following the script. The thing I’m really looking forward to is acting out the play, which will be the final for our Shakespeare unit. I hope that we do a lot of acting in the future while we continuously read and learn about Shakespeare.
Lois: Twelfth Night is the play being learned in class and my experience with it grows every time. In class, we’re learning about stressing words and the tone used when reading from Shakespeare’s play, as well as understanding its context, scene blocking and doing many other activities. The activity I liked and seemed easy was “If music be the food of love, play on!” This line comes from the character called Orsino, who believes that if music is feeding his love for Lady Olivia, then let the music keep playing. Our class had replaced the words “music” and “love” to our own words and what we think this blank would ‘feed’ what. (For example: “If Netflix be the food of relaxation, binge on!”)
I also liked the activity of journaling, answering two questions: The first question was “What does it mean to be lovesick?” and the second was “How do people act when they’re in love?” I liked this one because we got to answer in a way that makes us think about love and how people would think about it and their actions. Also, it made us think about how Orsino felt about Lady Olivia.
An activity I thought seemed difficult was the complements. It was difficult for me because the words written on the sheet were unknown to me and there was so many. Hence, it wasn’t easy to make sense of the words and form a correct sentence that could be understood. However, the work done helped me in ways to read and learn more on Twelfth Night by knowing that depending on tone and stress of words, it enables the audience to interpret many things. Further, learning chorally and individually helped me learn because thinking by ourselves makes us think deeper, and hearing other’s thoughts puts together a bigger picture for us.
Alexandra: Ms. Voskov introduced the unit by doing an activity to become familiar with the vowel ‘O’- an exclamation and way of conveying emotion that Shakespeare commonly uses. Having done a similar exercise before in my acting class, I was pretty curious to how the students in my class would respond. I definitely felt like there was a positive response when we went around the classroom reading a line from Shakespeare containing ‘O’. I was happy to see that most everyone really understood how Shakespeare had intended for the actor to read the line. Another exercise that we have done so far, beginning the play Twelfth Night, is exploring the first line of Orsino’s soliloquy: “If music be the food of love, play on!” We then substituted ‘music’ for something else that we were passionate about and substituted ‘love’ for what our particular passion feeds. I really enjoyed this exercise. I had never done anything like it before, so it was really refreshing. Having seen this passage countless times before, I also definitely feel like I am now able to look at and understand it differently, already achieving a goal of mine when it comes to studying Shakespeare in class!
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.