Friday Five: Activities for Teaching Any Shakespeare Play at Any Level

As the year winds down and we move in to summer, I know many of you will spend time building and enhancing your curriculum.  Here are 5 ideas for teaching Shakespeare that you might consider implementing next year.  The summer will give you time to seek out and read some of these books.

1. Take a page from Gary Soto’s book and have students write an original poem based on one line from a play.


2. Have students connect the play to a modern text by taking a quote and tying it to a modern film/show where the situation is similar, and then explain the similarity.

3. Ask students to imagine a modern scenario where the same situation could feasibly occur, much like Margaret Atwood’s Hagseed, based on the Tempest, or Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler, based on The Taming of the Shrew.

4. Have students annotate a scene (or a portion of a scene) in terms of direction: blocking, lighting, set, costuming, inflection.

5. Ask students to rewrite a portion of a monologue/soliloquy but change or modernize the topic. The act of rewriting can be a powerful way to understand blank verse and iambic pentameter.


Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

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Friday Five: Activities for Teaching Any Shakespeare Play at Any Level

The Value of Asking Students to Re-Write Hamlet’s To Be or Not To Be Soliloquy

The Value of Asking Students to Re-Write Hamlet’s Soliloquy

This year, when teaching Hamlet, I offered a choice for students: they could write a traditional homework exploration, or they could rewrite the To Be or Not to soliloquy in III.i and also write a reflection about the process of writing it.

This came about because last year, a student included her own version in her final synthesis paper:

For the reader’s pleasure: Un Soliloque en Pointe

To dance or not to dance—that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The pain and aching of outrageous footwear,
Or to take arms against ballet tradition
And, by opposing, end it. To spring, to bend—
No more—and by a satin shoe to end
The bunions and the thousand shocks
A dancer’s foot is heir to—’tis an effectuation
Devoutly to be wished. To jump, to point—
To point, perchance with ease. Ay, there’s the rub,
For in shoes soft and dead what blisters come,
When we have shuffled off this marked sprung floor,
Must give us pause. There’s the misalignment
That makes arthritis of so long life.

The results this year were impressive, and based on reflections, I will be requiring it for students next year.Here’s why:

1. Students had to choose a decision they were thinking about and write about it, thereby putting themselves in Hamlet’s mindset. Now, there were a number of silly versions, but even in those, students had to consider both sides of the argument. Some wrote about the decision to go away to college, some wrote about taking a nap.

2. Rewriting it helped students really understand what Hamlet was saying–better than just reading and taking notes on it. Here’s one student’s thoughts: “Writing this version of Hamlet’s soliloquy gave me a better insight into what he was really saying. It’s easy to glance over something once and not understand it, but going through line by line to see what fit while making my own version really helped comprehension. I noticed while reading over it when I was finished that Shakespeare really did write in a way allowing natural breathing techniques for those delivering his lines, which made it easy to replace the words and still have it make sense.”

3. They were fun to read and also gave me insight into how much students understood about how the passage was composed as well as what they were currently struggling with in their own lives.

I also think this activity––having students rewrite a soliloquy from Shakespeare–could be transferable to other plays like Macbeth or Julius Caesar, or really any instance where a character has a solo where they’re trying to make a decision. Although only about half of my students chose to do this option this year, I’ll be having all of them doing it (with more guidance and deliberate teaching from me) next year.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

The Value of Asking Students to Re-Write Hamlet’s To Be or Not To Be Soliloquy

Connecting Classics with Modern Texts: Using Slaughterhouse 90210 in Your Classroom

I discovered Maris Kreizman this summer at the Cape Atlantic Book Company. I’d taken a day trip down to see the lighthouse (and, of course, visit a few bookstores). Rain came down in torrents, prohibiting any view more than about six inches in front of my face. Soaked through and mildly disappointed, I visited the Cape Atlantic Bookstore and found sunshine in the form of books and delightful bookshop owners. Slaughterhouse 90210 was displayed facing out and I swear a spotlight encompassed the book and I heard flights of angels singing. I knew immediately I needed this book and the lessons it contained.

Essentially, this book takes classic quotes from literature and pairs them with images from popular culture: TV shows, films, rockstars, and political events. Originally a tumblr blog, the book showcases many pairings that make you consider how, as humans, we’re more alike than not alike (to paraphrase Maya Angelou). Fast forward six months later, and I’m using the book / blog as a jumping off point for teaching Hamlet to my students. One of my biggest goals in teaching Hamlet derives from the belief that we haven’t changed much as humans in the last few hundred years.  So I’m asking them, a-la-Slaughterhouse 90210, to take a quote from Hamlet, and pair it with an image from pop culture.  They then need to explain the connection for a reader who might not initially see the connection (or know the reference in the visual). So far, this assignment is going swimmingly. As I teach, I periodically stop and ask if students have noticed any passages, quotes, themes, or situations that seem familiar, or that they could connect to other stories. Unsurprisingly, Harry Potter has come up often, but also my seniors have mentioned Game of Thrones and other television shows (see Game of Thrones image below).

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So far, results have been impressive. This activity will also help scaffold our final synthesis essay, where students will be asked to choose a theme to write on and include at least five primary texts and three secondary sources and explain something significant about what it means to be human. This activity already has them thinking about connections between texts based on characters as well as themes.

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Plus, this is a transferrable activity. You could essentially do this for any book. It could be an in in-class assignment or homework for any text, really.  You could start by choosing one quote and do it as a class, or you could place students in pairs or small groups and have them match quotes and images. There are so many ways to incorporate Kreizman’s brilliant idea. The benefit of seeing the threads between texts are plentiful. Students begin to make connections on their own, they begin to see archetypes and tropes, and they can tie their own interests to the texts you read and discuss in class.

Let me know in the comments if you plan to try this out and what your results are with your students!

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

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This connection to Whiplash and the obsessive way he trains himself was one of my favorites–a connection I would not have thought of but that makes perfect sense.

Connecting Classics with Modern Texts: Using Slaughterhouse 90210 in Your Classroom

Up Late with Margaret Atwood’s The Tent

You all probably already know I’m enamored with Margaret Atwood. I think she’s one of the greatest writers of our time. I’ve reviewed Stone Mattress and Negotiating with the Dead on here already. Last year I even had the pleasure of hearing her read from Stone Mattress when she came to State College, PA. (The best part was the hockey video she showed before she came on stage. No, wait, the best part was that she cracked herself up when she was reading her own work–laughing at the same parts I found hilarious.)  Anyway, last week at the book sale I found a copy of her book of short pieces, The Tent, so of course I snagged it.

This compilation of shorter fiction, imaginings, and interludes read quickly.  I found a few especially compelling pieces–one called “Horatio’s Version,” which cracked me up, and also has become a part of the collection of pieces I will use when I teach Hamlet. At one point, Horatio writes “I have to say that I did my best as second banana during the Elsinore affair.”  Silly, yes, but the rest rings true of Horatio’s character.  There are many lovely little pieces in this collection with Atwood’s signature sense of humor and edgy prose.  There are little nuggets like this one that you’ll want to write down to remember: “Fear is synonymous with the future, and the future consists of forked roads.”

So if you’re interested in reading some of Atwood’s shorter pieces, this is a nice place to start–each selection ranges anywhere from one page to five pages, and it is easy to pick up and put down if you don’t have a large chunk of time.  However, these little pieces are guaranteed to stay with you for a while.

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Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

Up Late with Margaret Atwood’s The Tent