Harvey Sadis has spent 40 years in the classroom—25 of them with elementary students—and has connected generations of young children to the works of William Shakespeare. His focus on the best-loved works of Shakespeare formed the basis of his classroom literacy program.
Here, he shares ideas on how to introduce Shakespeare to elementary-age learners. Many of these techniques involve "performance." Performance doesn't mean putting on a show on a stge with costumes and props (although it can.) Performance means getting students out of their chairs, onto their feet, speaking the lines aloud. Vocal and physical engagement work particularly well with younger students.
Shakespeare Tried-and-True: Things for Teachers to Think About and Do
1. Choose a play that you really like. If you're enthusiastic, chances are that your students will be to. Read it over several times (preferably aloud), or you may want watch a film version to familiarize yourself with major plot elements, characters, and key lines.
2. Draft a script. This is not as scary as it sounds! You can choose to do a single scene, a condensed version of the whole play, or some variation in between. A downloadable "32 Second Macbeth" is available to get you started. (See the right side of this page.)
3. Tell the story of the play to your students with excitement and passion. Adding a simple costume or a prop will make the telling more concrete.
4. Divide your students into groups and distribute scripts. Explain that you will be reading the lines out loud.
5. Experiment with inflection, movement, and interpretation. Ask students what they think is happening in the scene, and why. The process of exploration will creates an opportunity for students to discover meaning for themselves. It may help, if you get stuck, to model the way you want students to deliver their lines. If you want expressiveness, then speak the lines with great expression. If you want volume, tell your students to use their playground voices.
Next: More Ideas