Congratulations William Shakespeare! Happy Birthday!
All primary school children should experience Shakespeare and be confident about exploring his language and themes. He has endured 400 years and can still conjure up magic in his writing. He is able to capture the complexities of themes, such as love and loss:
‘If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more:
‘Tis not so sweet now as it was before.’
Orlando in Twelfth Night
However, some teachers are really wary of tackling this amazing writer, probably because sometimes the language can seem rather impenetrable. So what is out there to help us teach it really effectively? It is an investment, but if you want to really know how to teach the work of the Bard, you can’t beat this Royal Shakespeare’s Company text book:
I have been lucky enough to work closely with the RSC in the past as a consultant and have attended their really high quality training. This book captures this and gives lots of very practical advice on how to approach the texts by getting a feel for the whole narrative by whooshing the text. The children are told the whole simplified story and have to improvise what they hear. It is great for getting them to have a feel for story and allows you to hone in on any misconceptions or points that you want to reiterate. Go to their website to download their teacher packs http://www.rsc.org.uk/education/resources/bank/. Many are aimed at KS 3 but they can be easily modified to work in Key Stage 2.
Here are a few other books that I dip into for ideas about approaching the text in diverse ways or to learn more about Shakespeare himself:
I use lots of simplified versions of the text to support pupils learning. Some take the poetic text and make into a really accessible story, others use a combination of words and illustrations. the poetic text and write it as a simpler narra
I also love using the graphic versions of the plays. I might just use a couple of pages and then tippex out the speech bubbles and the children can put in their own:
Marcia William’s books are good for capturing the whole mood of the play and making the plays much more understandable:
Once we have got a good feel of the play I then like to use the actual text to ensure that children work with Shakespearean language and experience the original iambic pentameter. I usually pick a number of scenes or speeches that explore the key characters, events or themes.
For example, in ‘Romeo and Juliet‘ I might unpick the prologue to learn about what the play is actually about before moving onto the opening scene between the Capulet and the Montague men. I tend to support these with the Baz Luhrman’s film of Romeo and Juliet (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romeo_%2B_Juliet)as it really brings the scenes to life. It is essential that they understand how the characters are linked to each other, so children are asked to produce a character web:
We might spend time playing with the language to get a feel for the sound of it having fun with language
I then look at a number of different monologues and dialogues to work through the story, such as when the meet after the masked ball and profess their love for each other http://youtu.be/sMel13nY0PE . I ask pupils to respond to the text in different ways, such as writing in role as Juliet imagining what it would be like to wake up in a crypt Juliet’s monologue by Ben I might ask pupils to write in role as Romeo to beg to be allowed back into Verona after he is banished Childs letter – banishment or work in a group to write their own newspaper article describing what actually happened to these star-crossed lovers romeo and juliet newspaper
Download my worksheets that show you which parts of the texts I have used Romeo & Juliet worksheets or have a look at the Royal Shakespeare Companies pack rsc_edu_rom_2010_full_pack / rsc_romeo_and_juliet_themes_2011 or the British Film Institutes ideas RomeoJulietnotes
I hope some of these books and ideas will be of some help to you when planning and delivering your Shakespeare lessons.