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Friday, 19 May 2017

Shakespeare and Y7

We are currently introducing Year 7 to the delights of Shakespeare. This revelation was initially met with a combination of groans and grimaces from the students, and a range of comments about either 'never having done Shakespeare before' or 'not understanding it'. My main aim for this topic is therefore to foster their love for the Bard, and to make sure they are all ok with not understanding every word. This is an experience they need to all get used to - to being comfortable with not understanding things - and to see it as a surmountable and positive challenge instead of a reason to give up (I'm looking at you, GCSE students).

As an NQT, I was nervous about my first time round teaching Shakespeare. I began the year with Macbeth with Y8 and made many mistakes.

I was so concerned with getting them to be able to write analytical paragraphs that I think they became lost in the text itself - partly due to the language, partly due to looking at it in extract form only - and I forgot the fun of it. I think they learnt that some people went a bit mad due to ambition and some deaths occurred, but in all honesty that might be it. I think I pitched it all way above and beyond and got myself in a thorough flap in the process. My mistake at the start of the year was definitely to see all of my students as the year group they were starting off as, instead of oversized Y7's who were still trying to figure out how to be Y8's. I expected too much, and it left both myself and the students rather bewildered. I have learnt from the experience!

I knew on my second stab at it that I needed to focus on encouraging a love of Shakespeare, and of theatre, in my lovely, keen Y7's. We are studying The Tempest, a play I have never looked at myself before. Scary.

One of the highlights of my PGCE was a trip to the The Globe and a teaching workshop with an actor. It brought the language to life for me in a way I have never experienced before. The main message was to get the students talking, and acting, and playing with the words. What happens when you stress this word instead of this? What happens if you play this character as melancholy, and this as angry; what changes when you switch the two? It was honestly such a lesson for me in regards to the intricacies and opportunities of the language. We are so often put off (even as teachers) by Shakespearean language and it provides a barrier to understanding its depth and opportunities.

So, to Year 7.

We began by braving a Whoosh. Where with Y8 I was too controlled and nervous to do much acting, at this point in the year I am much more at a "to hell with it" place. With 30 excitable eleven and twelve-year-olds on a Friday morning in May, we pushed all of the tables back to the walls and sat in a circle and did our Whoosh.

It was loud. It was raucous. Behaviour fell apart amongst mass giggles and over-excitement several times, but we brought it back swiftly and the main thing is: they loved it. I used this fab Powerpoint from TES, with the key words for each scene up on the board allowing full class involvement. I made sure everyone contributed in some way and we had MULTIPLE male Miranda's and female Ferdinand's which they found utterly hilarious. The storm noises from our chorus were fab; the delight on their faces a joy to behold. Everyone stepped up to their role and threw themselves into it. Even the initially skeptical boys saw their mates getting up and getting involved and asked for a speaking role next section. No one killed each other. I didn't totally and utterly lose my voice from trying to holler over them. They politely rushed to push the tables and chairs back into place at the end of the lesson and left the room chattering about their roles and what they liked best. Every lesson since we have had requests to act! I was pleasantly surprised.

Our pre-reading work had involved looking at the opening of Lord of the Flies and considering the rules they would establish on an island if they were stranded. The initial responses of "We'd kill the weakest!" were tempered by discussions of societal order, how they would establish basic survival (linking nicely to our Holes and Survival Writing topic from September), how they would put rules in place so as to ensure tyranny would not occur from their selected leaders. They drew maps of their islands and wrote up their rules in best.

We linked this to the opening of The Tempest and went through the plot a second time in storyboard form. We have followed this up with watching the RSC DVD of The Tempest performed at the Globe. They have been confused a lot, but we regularly stop and discuss what is happening and why, which character is which, the production choices and why they have been made. This also means that regardless of whether the students managed to get a place on our upcoming trip to watch The Tempest in theatre, they have experienced a full Shakespeare play being acted in a real theatrical setting. This has linked wonderfully to our contextual work about The Globe, for which Twinkl has been invaluable.

In my previous teaching blog I mentioned how I had no concept that Twinkl catered for KS3+. I have since found a wealth of Shakespearean resources, both for Shakespeare himself, The Globe and The Tempest. The below Tempest character cards have been particular useful; I now have multiple laminated copies!


I have used these Powerpoints a lot to help students understand the context of Shakespeare, as several claim they never studied Shakespeare prior to secondary school. They're clear and full of fab images to help bring the information to life, and also save me a lot of time!

Students have since used this info to produce their own leaflets and posters as homework which feature pride of place on my wall as of a hasty Friday afternoon stapling session! I know everything is off-centre but it has been one of those weeks! I also used Twinkl's Shakespeare display writing, available here.

I have been so impressed with their hard work and enthusiasm and they have learnt so much in this short term already! That is a 3D Shakespeare head with facts about his life on the back and a handmade scroll attached inside with detail about the Globe - adorable! Although he does watch you wherever you are in the room...

In today's lesson the class have been divided into small groups and given roles and scenes to practise acting out. They will be performing next week, and I have stressed to them that their interpretation, whatever it may be, is key to doing it well. They all need to be involved in bringing their scene to life with background noises and expression, and modern interpretations or gender swaps are completely fine too! I will keep you posted on our success/failure...

If you have any fab experiences or ideas about teaching Shakespeare please share below!

Tempest synopsis available here that links to the RSC Globe production - my lovely TA made this to help support our SEN and EAL students. Feel free to use!



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