Posts Tagged ‘TSI alum guest post’

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 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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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:


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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:


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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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