Christina Porter teaches English and is a Literacy Coach at Revere High School, Revere, MA
This is a pre-reading activity for Hamlet.
What's On for Today and Why
For many students, Shakespeare's language can be intimidating. For English Language Learners (ELLs) this can be especially true. In an effort to make the language more approachable before reading, and allow students to make some predictions about the text, students will analyze a Wordle of the top 150 words in Hamlet. Wordle.net is a website that allows you to cut and paste text and create a word cloud (a visual of the words in the play) that occur the most. The most frequent words appear the largest in the word cloud. By allowing students to explore the language of the text before reading and predict what will occur in the play, the text becomes more accessible.
This lesson should take one class period to complete.
What You Need
Folger edition of Hamlet
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
Wordle, Wordle, Wordle Handouts
What To Do
1. Divide students into small groups and give them Handout #1 (Wordle of the play). Explain to the class that this word cloud shows the words in the play that are used the most. Before reading, explain to the class that they will analyze this language, categorize it, and finally make some predictions about what the play will be about.
2. Give students Handout #2. This handout has five categories: "Characters, Critical/Important Nouns, Archaic Words, Stage Directions/Locations, and Other." Review with students what these titles mean. Depending on their backgrounds, they may be more or less familiar with terms such as "archaic words," "stage directions," and so on.
3. Instruct students to place words from Handout #1 into appropriate categories on Handout#2. Depending on the students you have, you may choose to get them started by selecting a few words as a class and placing them in the appropriate category. Also, remind students at this point that there is not a clear right or wrong answer; they are simply collaborating and offering their best guess as to where these words belong.
4. As students work, circulate among them to answer questions on pronunciation, etc.
5. Bring the whole class back together and ask for groups to volunteer (either on a whiteboard, chalkboard, Smartboard, or using a document projector) to explain where they have placed their words and why.
6. if you wish, you can share Handout #3 with the class, which places some of th words from Handout #1 into their appropriate locations. An alternative is to have them check their predictions after the class has completed reading Act 1.
7. For homework/classwork, have students use Handout #4 to make predictions about what they think will happen in the play.
How Did It Go?
While they were working in small groups, were students collaborating and having thoughtful conversations about the language in the word cloud? Were students able to explain (verbally or in writing) why they chose to place a word/s into certain categories on Handout#2? Did students make intriguing/clever/thoughtful/accurate predictions about the play on Handout #4?
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.