Fun with Shakespeare

 This term, my low literacy class and I faced the prospect of battling and struggling through Shakespeare for 8 weeks. Instead, it turned out to be an experience students thoroughly enjoyed through utilising Elizabethan culture to make scenes from Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth concrete, understandable and accessible for the kids.

I focused our study of Romeo and Juliet around the class and gender division in society at the time and how this manifested in things such as celebrations, food, language and clothing. We looked at the scene at the language used to address each other in Romeo and Juliet (especially the servants, the way the nurse could be taunted without consequence and the way the older rich males were spoken to and obeyed) and the scene in which Romeo is asked if he can read by a servant. This gave context for an investigation and discussion of the education in the time of Shakespeare. 

Next we looked at the ball scene and how it explored the entertainment of the upper classes during the period. We read/acted out the scene and then it was the students’ job to design a feast which would be eaten at this ball ( see worksheet: Design a feast for the Capulet Ball). To give them the background to do this, we watched an episode of the series ‘Supersizers Go Elizabethan’  available on YouTube, which provided them with information about eating habits, courses and meals.

We then used Macbeth to investigate All things unnatural including witchcraft, religion and kings and queens as ‘gods’. Students divided into groups and investigated something which interested them about the sentences delivered to witches, the kings and queens of the time, or the religious wars which waged. Students then examined the original script and the representation of the witches in 3 different productions of Macbeth using a YouTube clip, and after this had to come up with the staging and costuming of the first scene in the play for a Shakespearean audience(see the Globe stage diagrams I developed). In order to be able to do this, students needed background about what the Globe Theatre was like in this period. They used this The Globe Theatre interactive site and digital worksheet to investigate this.

Please feel free to use the resources I developed during this unit which are attached on this page, but do give Creative Commons credit where it is due.

Student creativity rife in Romeo and Juliet unit

I have been blown away by the creativity displayed by students in this unit thus far, and thought I would share some examples with you all out there in the virtual staffroom.

The Sing a Sonnet task (which I have posted in the unit blog post) brought out some wonderful adaptations of Romeo and Juliet’s sonnet in Act 1. Students were required to keep the structure and rhyming pattern of the sonnet, whilst adapting the language and the imagery/symbolism used in the poem. Particularly impressive examples are posted here:


(Romeo and Juliet are chatting on facebook)

Romeo: I have a bad reputation but can I poke you               

              On this wall, but what of your reactions

              My messages sent every minute anew

              To clarify my rash actions


Juliet: my friend, you worry too much

           Your simple words show your feelings

           Poke me, it is not a harsh touch

           Poke wars are not uncommon dealings


Romeo:  if poke wars are common, isn’t messaging too

 Juliet:  it is indeed with people known well


Romeo:  aren’t I known well enough, so please do

               If not my love filled words will not be so swell

 Juliet: I will only reply if the message warrants


Romeo:  then they will never be abhorrent




Romeo- Your hand is like a Pottermore account that I am not skilled enough to acquire.                                  

A girl like you is more valuable than the elder wand                                                                                                 

To make an unbreakable vow with you is my desire.                                                                                                                 

May I have the honour of meeting you at the pond?                                                                                                                                                                                                           .                                                                                                                                                                                            

Juliet-Romeo you are totally skilled enough to get a Pottermore quill.                                                                                        

Because you keep trying to get the magical quill shows much dedication.                                                               

For wizards hold their wands with incredible  skill.                                                                                                                                                  And holding a wand builds up much love and admiration.

Romeo- We both have wands so why don’t we make an unbreakable vow.

Juliet-Wands are for magic not for declaring love.

Romeo-Magic is an awesome thing just like our time together now.                                                                              

Please make this vow with me my turtle-dove.

Juliet- You do not need my wand to make a vow with me.

Romeo- Please grant me your wand so we can be bonded for all eternity.

(Makes unbreakable vow)


I also asked students to design a graphic organiser to organise their analysis of each Act of Romeo and Juliet which we had discussed in class. Every group of students came up with an organiser which demonstrated a very complex understanding of the concepts and issues in the play, and also mapped the relationship between elements of the play such as character, plot, themes, stagecraft and language. Students submitted these on paper as they found this easier, so I am unable to upload them here for you to marvel at.

One group with whom I was particularly impressed with designed their graphic organiser as a world map (‘All the world’s a stage’!) and used colours and their knowledge of different countries, seas, and various geographical features to demonstrate various aspects of the play and relationships within the play.

Another group designed their graphic organiser as a snakes and ladders game, using the symbolism of the snake and ladder to indicate whether a relationship between characters was positive or negative, and also to indicate the techniques which are associated with the downward spiralling events of the play.

Other graphic organisers included a tree, a garden and a series of arrows inside arrows.

The take home message for me was that it is astounding how creative kids can be when you let them organise their own knowledge. I would almost bet that their conceptual understanding of the play and the elements of drama is more sound than it would be had they not been involved in categorising and organising the information themselves.

Why do teachers make life hard for ourselves?

Reflecting upon the lessons I conducted this week with my Yr 9 class, I realised I had staged a mini-experiment (by accident of course!). One lesson was almost completely teacher centred (me feeding them the information) and the other 2 were students contributing and generating much of the information themselves.

Let me tell you, the results of my experiment reveal not only that students were more engaged during the student centred activities, but also that it was much less stressful for me!

Whilst the student centred lessons took twice as long to prepare as the teacher centred ones, during the lesson itself I was much more relaxed, flexible and able to assist the kids who were struggling with the ideas and concepts of shakespeare.

It really begs the question, why do teachers make life difficult for themselves by conducting teacher centred lessons? They have to work harder to get kids on task and enjoying the activities, it gives you much less flexibility to explore issues which arise (because you may not be the expert on those!) and it makes for a state of anxiety during the lesson. Not to mention all the benefits and skills to be gained by students who generate and own their own knowledge.

We are told time and time again to make it student centred because it is better for students learning. While this may be incentive enough for those of us interested in students wellbeing, perhaps we need to rephrase our arguments.

Convincing teachers that student centred lessons equal less anxiety for them might be a way in which we can hook those teachers who have ignored other arguments in favour of student centred learning until now.