“Shakespeare is too hard… Shakespeare is too old… I can’t relate to Shakespeare….”
It’s one thing to tell students that they should study Shakespeare, it’s another thing to get them engaged in the plays. The language barrier alone is a tough barrier to overcome.
Try this Pre-Study exercise with your students. It’s for Romeo and Juliet, but you could follow the template for any Shakespeare work.
Before you even say the word “Shakespeare” give students the I would never… exercise.
1. Give students the I would never…. Action Sheet. Download the sheet at the end of this post.
2. Ask students to rank the actions from worst to least with #1 being the worst. Some of the actions are:
So if “kill someone purposefully” is something a student would absolutely never do, (one would hope!) it’s the worst action and therefore is #1.
3. After students rank the actions on their own, divide them into groups and have them discuss their answers. Where do they agree? Where do they disagree? Why might they disagree? I did this exercise with a class in which many of the students were Muslim. For them disobeying their parents ranked 1 or 2. This astonished the Caucasian students and made for a great discussion
4. Bring the class together to discuss the actions. Ask students what they would think of a play that has every one of these actions in it. Have them brainstorm what type of play it would be, who the characters would be, where and when it would take place
5. End the discussion by telling students that the play in which all of these actions occur is a Shakespeare. See if anyone can guess the play
6. If they don’t get Romeo and Juliet, reveal this to students. Ask students how they view Shakespeare based on these actions?
7. Have students write a reflection about the exercise and their view of Shakespeare after learning about the actions that take place in one of his plays.
by Julie Hartley
Shakespeare is one of the greatest resources a drama teacher can have. But teaching it can be a challenge. Practical Approaches to Shakespeare in the Drama Classroom helps drama teachers break down the Bard to make his themes, language and characters accessible to all.