Christina Porter is an English teacher and Literacy Coach at Revere High School in Revere, MA. For the past several years, she has taught a spring course in Shakespeare for English Language Learners (ELLs).
Carol Moran Petrallia, retired, taught English language arts classes which included ESL/ELL students at Columbia High School, South Orange/Maplewood School District, Maplewood, NJ.
1. Working in pairs or small groups is less threatening and allows for independent feedback and discussion amongst students
2. ESL and ELL students may need additional time for pre-reading activities that introduce the play's organization by act, scene, and line. Reading the play aloud may be daunting for ELL students and needs careful handling. Deciding what will work best for your class—reading in the round, taking parts or performance—depends on student confidence and ability level. Performance often leads to a more thorough understanding so it is a good argument for a second reading. (For example, the trepidation of the soldiers in Hamlet becomes clearer when the Ghost actually appears.)
3. Plot summaries and reference notes may also be helpful, and the Folger Editions contain both, making them well-suited for ESL and ELL classrooms. ESL and ELL students may also benefit from keeping a notebook of characters' speeches. Carol notes that notebooks provide “a vital reference point for noting specific monologues and dialogues that will help students understand character and plot development.”
4. Word study activities that guide students in how to interpret meaning from context, reference notes, or other aides can be especially helpful before beginning a play.
5. Students who are reluctant to read and speak aloud can be supported with a step-by-step approach in studying the text. They might read aloud with a partner at first, then in a small group, and then present and perform for the class. Such strategies support and encourage students as they challenge themselves in their language exploration, analysis, and performance-based activities in engaging with Shakespeare. The 30-Second Hamlet activity is a great place to start, as it provides an excellent introduction to the main plot of the play and gives students the opportunity to speak Shakespeare's language for themselves.