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5 Tips For Teaching Shakespeare

December 8, 2016

/ by

Jeff Hersh


As we've now well settled into another school year, one guarantee is the great Bard’s (William Shakespeare’s) timeless works will be taught.  

Every year, educators know they will face challenges when it comes to encouraging today’s young people to read, understand, and appreciate these classic texts, and they also know that Shakespeare’s words were written to stand the test of time.

We have compiled a list of 5 sure-fire tips to help all teachers teach the classic works and engage their students as they follow the rite-of-passage that is studying William Shakespeare.


Have the Students Perform the Parts


Shakespeare’s words were written with the intention of being played out on stage, not merely read..  It’s essential to have young people read the parts aloud, and to select scenes for them to act out in order to enhance their understanding. Just having students read parts isn’t enough. Assign scenes to groups and have them prepare and rehearse. It creates instant student engagement with the text.


Relate the Text to your Student’s Lives


Shakespeare wrote about characters feeling and reacting to all the universal emotions, which is why his stories still resonate with viewers and readers today. Connect what the characters are going through with experiences your students are having. Young people will understand Juliet’s crush, Macbeth’s jealousy, and Hamlet’s uncertainty. Use those connections to your advantage.


Appreciate the Language  


Before you read a play with your class, take time to have students learn to appreciate the language of Shakespeare’s texts. His genius was in his poetry and rhythm, and it’s not something to fly over. Take the time to do a pre-reading lesson that has students speak the words, and play with the rhythm. This preparation will make the reading of the play mean more to your students.


Illustrate the Scenes with Clips from Films


As we said earlier, Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be seen, not read.  Ideally, perhaps there is a local production of the play you are teaching that students can see. If not, showing key clips from the many Shakespeare adaptations on film will help readers of all levels gain a visual context to the plays. Some teachers will even have students who need extra help with reading to watch an entire film before they read the play, so the students have an anchor to help them comprehend the play.


Teach the Themes


Shakespeare’s plays are all grounded in universal themes. At the end of the day, your students don’t need to be Shakespeare scholars, but they do need to be able to write and think critically about the themes presented. Focus your unit lesson plans on helping your students be able to identify the themes and use the text to support their thesis and arguments and you will have successfully navigated the Shakespeare teaching challenges.  

“Is not birth, beauty, good
shape, discourse, manhood, learning, gentleness, virtue, youth,
liberality, and such like, the spice and salt that season a man?”
~William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

What are some of your favorite ways to engage your students when teaching Shakespeare?  

 ELA practice assignment


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