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Puzzling through the order of things in Twelfth Night

Teachers' Rating:
  1 rating

Twelfth Night

January 2003
Annmarie Kelly Harbaugh, West Ashley High School, Charleston, South Carolina.

Plays/Scenes Covered
Twelfth Night 1.2.1-26

This lesson works best with students who have not yet read 1.2.
What's On for Today and Why
Unless your students are from another planet, at least a few of them will be wary of the Bard's serpentine language. It is not uncommon for students to be afraid of reading Shakespeare. This lesson takes a small section of the play and mixes it up, allowing students to put the pieces of the puzzle back together. Along the way, students realize that they have an awareness for the kinds of clues necessary to decipher Shakespare's syntax.

The task and discussion can be completed in one 50-minute class period.
What You Need

Folger edition of Twelfth Night
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts

Handout with lines from 1.2.1-26

Twelfth Night Lines
What To Do

1. Before class, cut out and paste each of the 26 lines on the handout below onto separate note cards. Separate the cards into 6 groups, as outlined on the handout.


2. Divide students into groups of 4. Give each group a packet of note cards. You may have to fudge a bit, but there should be one card per student.


3. Ask group members to read their lines one at a time, puzzling through any difficult words together. Then—without consulting their books—ask them to put the lines in order.


4. Next, have each group share its 4 ordered lines with the class. If there are discrepancies in the order, that is okay, though you may want to have students defend their choices. Between groups, you might also ask students: "Does this sound like the beginning or the middle of the scene? Does anyone have a card that relates somehow to this group?"


5. When all groups have shared, open up the floor for the whole class to talk about the content of the scene: "Even though we don't know which lines come in what order, what can we tell about the scene so far?"


6. Now for the daring part: Combine the groups, attempting to arrange the entire scene in order. You can do this in a structured way: "Who thinks they have the opening lines? Which group follows them?" Or you can just let the class roam free for a few moments and see what they come up with.


7. When the students are lined up, have them read their note cards in order. Then ask: "Does anyone feel out of place? Are there any strange transitions between groups?"


8. Have them read the lines once again. Follow this with a mini-discussion of content: "Who is this talking? Is there more than one speaker? Where is this taking place?"


9. Finally, have students return to their desks and turn to 1.2. Read the scene in order and let them see how close they came to the order of the play.


10. Depending on how close they came, you can emphasize the idea that Shakespeare isn't quite as difficult to follow as we think, OR you can emphasize that, often, the order of the lines isn't even necessary for making inferences about the events of a scene.

How Did It Go?
If you found yourself fearing that everyone would be out of order, or if you watched with horror as someone talked someone else out of the correct line-up, or even if students had really terrific, close-text readings that led to goofy line-ups, this was still a successful lesson. You broke down some barriers today. Students left your class feeling slightly less afraid of this play. There are good times ahead. Nice work.

If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.

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