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Creative ways to teach Shakespeare to seventh-eighth graders

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Ladies, would you brainstorm with me?  I will be teaching a Shakespeare unit to 7th-8th graders at my local homeschool co-op this coming year, and the sky is just about the limit for what I can do.  This will be a Monday-only class, and the Shakespeare part should last about 30-40 minutes each Monday. Students will complete homework Tuesday-Friday to hand in the following Monday.  My class will also be learning a variety of sentence constructions and writing short paragraphs with them as well as working through Jr. Analytical Grammar Mechanics at the same time.

I would certainly want to include Shakespeare's biographical information.  I have researched just a bit and found a little about the history of English that includes the English in Shakespeare's time. For comparison, I might touch on literature from Old English and Middle English to compare with Early Modern (Shakespeare) and Modern. I know from memory the first 18 lines of the Prologue of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in Middle English and could throw that in for fun to hear or even to memorize some. We could study a Shakespeare sonnet or a section of one of his plays.  The students would be able to act out scenes, draw cartoon sketches, write their own sonnet, etc....  Part of the objectives would include learning that Shaespeare coined lots of phrases and words that we use today. This would also be a great time to review figures of speech because they will be writing with similes, metaphors, personification, and hyperbole.

I would love to hear other suggestions or to learn about resources with creative ideas. I love to teach grammar and writing, but I am NOT literature-minded.  I struggle to plan and implement lit lessons that truly impact students in meaningful ways.  

This part of my English class will be 17 weeks long and take place the second semester of the 20-21 school year. I need to get ideas now because I do all of my planning during the summer. 

Ok, any ideas?

Edited by Sweet Home Alabama
Remembered additional info
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Well, to start with, how do you want to structure the class overall? For example: spend the semester on 1 play, and all the other materials and lessons revolve around that as the "spine"? ... Or maybe choose 4 of the plays from the Animated Tales (see below), and spend 4 weeks per play -- with 3 weeks covering various topics related to the play/Shakespeare/language/etc. and the 4th week for each "unit" being watching the animated (abridged) version in class? Or...?

Doing "reader's theater" of a short passage in class can be fun. Perhaps have students read some fun go-along historical fiction, such as The Shakespeare Stealer (Blackwood), or, Swan Town: The Secret Journey of Susanna Shakespeare (Ortiz), or, King of Shadows (Cooper). Or, "practice" Shakespearean language by having students read aloud in class the very fun William Shakespeare's Star Wars (Doescher)

More ideas in these resources:
How to Teach Shakespeare to Your Children -- book
- Will's Words: How Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk (Sutcliffe) -- book
- Words Shakespeare invented -- web page
Parallel Shakespeare materials -- student workbook & teacher version; teacher guide; parallel text (side-by-side original & modern translation)
Folger's Theater: Shakespeare Classroom Teaching Modules -- free downloadable materials
Shakespeare Insult Generator -- free pdf
- Glencoe Literature Library -- free lit. guide: Midsummer Night's Dream; The Tempest; Julius CaesarHamlet
- Music in Our Homeschool: 10 Weeks of Shakespeare -- purchase & adapt the lessons (gr. 7-12) for your classroom -- looks like this uses some of the resources I mention elsewhere in this post 😉 
- Animated Shakespeare website -- free: info/teaching vdeos; downloadable activity/lesson sheets
-  We Are Teachers website -- 30 printable activity ideas, and, tips for teaching Shakespeare to middle schoolers
- Scholastic: Shaking Up Shakespeare -- free activity ideas and links to websites
Animated Tales: Shakespeare -- watch 25-min animated versions of the play (with original text, but abridged/shortened version of the play)

Edited by Lori D.
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Wow, Sweet Home Alabama, it looks like you already have a full, thoughtful class planned out!

I can't highly enough recommend the book that Lori D. already listed:  How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, by Ken Ludwig.  I refer to this book all the time.  The best thing that you will get out of this book, and the one thing that I would encourage you to add to your class, is to memorize some Shakespeare passages, in addition to the first lines from  Canterbury Tales.  Shakespeare wrote his words to be heard, so you will want your kids to memorize key passages so that they can have that wonderful, delicious feeling of letting those words roll off their own tongues.  (I still have memorized "The Quality of Mercy" speech from The Merchant of Venice - thirty-five years after I first memorized it!)  

Depending on the kids, some might be very inspired to memorize Henry V's Agincourt speech.  My own kids (9 and 11) love to recite passages from Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night's Dream.  

Have fun!  Shakespeare's words should be in one's heart, and the sooner the better.  What a privilege you have of guiding these kids to love Shakespeare!

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I don't know if time will allow for this, but my kids were part of a creative theater group that wrote and performed their own version of Romeo and Juliet. They used a lot of the original language but wrote a new storyline.  Instead of a love story, they made Romeo a band (pronounced Ro-MAY-O) and had Juliet plan to run away from her classical upbringing to join a rock band.  It was really cute, and it worked.  They had a lot of discussion about the original storyline and how to work the language into their version. 

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I guess it depends how much material you have to cover. If you can focus on just one play, it might be fun to act out scenes and then have the kids try to re-set the story in different times and places. And/or maybe show them versions of whichever play you're doing with drastically different settings but the same language.


Even something like West Side Story, if you're doing Romeo and Juliet, or Akira Kurosawa's Ran for King Lear, could be interesting. Although it sounds like you want them to focus on the language and the poetry, so maybe that doesn't fit. 

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For something fun and light and depending on your audience Terry Pratchett’s “Wyrd sisters” is loosely based around Macbeth and is lots of fun to read.

i think there’s also something along the lines of shakespeare Star Wars.  It was meant to be part of one of the curricula we did but we never got to it so I can’t vouch for it.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Shakespearean insults have been a bit hit every single time. Translating passages into modern English is another, and it shows comprehension. Get as specific as you can with this; if you have different local dialects or neighborhoods with certain vocabularies and ways of talking, make use of that. I once had some kids decide to do it 'the way Ms. Katilac talks' with hilarious results. You don't realize how many pet phrases you have until snarky kids point it out 😄

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