Lesson Ideas That Help Make Teaching Shakespeare Fun For Students

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The first year I taught a Midsummer Night’s Dream my kids developed “The Look”. You know exactly what it is: The drool slowly dribbling down their chins, the glazed eyes, the fingers itching to Facebook. It was clear to me that I just wasn’t going to get through to them with just using the text.

Some teachers, playwrights and filmmakers treat Shakespeare’s work like sacred ground. The traditionalists believe that we must teach the classics as is. The problem is, the language and the pace of the plays sometimes do not help students grasp the full meaning of the play. The best way to get through to them is to be able to use modern references to Shakespeare with some easy techniques and creative projects which will make them fall in love with the text.

Choosing a Scene

Students will find it overwhelming and daunting task to write a compare and contrast essay, journal or project. The best thing to do is to observe carefully one particular scene. If the students get the handle of it and like the task, you can then go on and do other activities with them.

Try to pick a scene which has the best examples of the characters, the scene and their language. Make sure students go over the scene carefully so they understand it properly before they go on to embark on changing it.

In this example, let’s use Midsummer Night’s Dream- ACT III Scene 1

The students are asked to create groups to begin the project. The project should count as a good portion of their grade in order for them to get points. In this case, students will able to comprehend Shakespeare’s message by changing genres and language. Each group is assigned a different genre, and this way you will have a lot of creative responses. You can switch it around for different projects depending on what the students choose to do.

1. Shakespeare as a children’s book - By choosing this scene in Midsummer Night’s Dream Students must adapt the scene to make it more children friendly, yet still maintain the message of the book. They are asked to create illustrations and pay particular notice to the use of color and setting.

2. Midsummer Night’s Dream as a Latin Soap Opera- In this case, overdramatic, melodramatic speeches are the key to success. Students are asked to create a video of a Latino soap Opera called “Night Dreams in Media Noche” complete with dialogue and characters.

3. Midsummer Night’s Dream as a local legend- This explains the genre of a legend, and the task is to make the language, setting and characters particular to the local area. Descriptions are the key to this exercise.

4. Midsummer Night’s Dream as a Facebook Account- The two characters in the scene must engage in status updates and wall conversations to get the point across. Students can use photographs and videos in the Facebook account to make it more engaging (This is perhaps one of the more challenging so beware of using this one).

Other Ways to Modernize the Text

Rap or Music about Shakespeare

  • Have students to create a rap or song about one of the scenes.

Modern Adaptations on Shakespeare

  • The easiest- and laziest - way to do this is to try to show modern film adaptations. Films like 10 Things I Hate about You ( a modern version of the Taming of the Shrew), O ( a Modern version of Othello), Leonardo Dicaprio’s, Romeo and Juliet and other movie versions can provide a modern day reference to Shakespeare’s work. While watching the film, make sure the students have a question sheet, a compare sheet, and try to make particular attention to the following:
  1. In what ways do they use a visual medium of film to interpret parts of Shakespeare’s play?
  2. What are the characters wearing and how does it reflect the character’s personality?
  3. Does the use of modern language hinder the plot?
  4. What elements of the play were left out or reinterpreted? Why do you think this is the case?
  5. How has the use of music emphasized the tone in the scene?
  6. Do you think the modernized version is faithful to the original? Why or why not?

Above all, bear in mind the purpose of these Shakespeare teaching resources is for students to become more engaged in the text and not for it to become a distraction! Hopefully by the end they will fall in love with Shakespeare!