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Shakespeare series – email one

Our Shakespeare series e-newsletters have proved so popular that we’ve decided to re-send all of them in April (in honour of the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth).

This is the first of four e-newsletters written by Francis Gilbert: English teacher, writer, commentator and journalist. It focuses on how to introduce your students to Shakespeare and ensure that enthusiasm levels remain high from the outset. For a fuller version of the ideas (in the form of a teacher-facing resource), simply click on the link in the blue box below.

Francis Gilbert on introducing your students to Shakespeare ...


1 Starting off

  A good introductory lesson gets students to think:
  • why study Shakespeare?
  • what is the point?
To start, ask students to complete a spider diagram in their books on all they know about Shakespeare. Use the 5Ws to trigger thoughts:
  1. What did Shakespeare do?
    What plays did he write?
  2. When did he live?
  3. Who were his audience?
  4. Where did he live?
    Where were his plays set?
  5. Why did he write?
    Why do we still study him?

2 Films and photographs ...

  Now show some dramatic photographs from Shakespeare's plays based around themes that your students will be interested in, such as:
  • love
  • murder
  • betrayal.
Get your students to guess what is going on by discussing the photos in groups and then reporting back. Then tell them the answers, and ask them to write a short paragraph on how their ideas were similar and different to Shakespeare's.

(NB: The full resource includes image and website suggestions.)

» Download the resource


3 Putting pen to paper

  After you have explored some images, you could get your students to do some sustained pieces of writing. For example:

Imaginative students could write a story or play of their own, based on the photographs they have looked at. E.g. entitled, The Murder or The Love Affair.

Higher ability students could write an argumentative piece either for or against this title: Shakespeare is no longer relevant to students in the 21st century.

(See the full resource for two further writing suggestions...)

4 Variations on a theme

  Now that you've done some initial thinking and exploration, why not put Shakespeare on trial for crimes against school children?

To do this, divide the class up into prosecution and defence, giving everyone a role. Here are suggestions for cast members: prosecution and defence lawyers, a judge, jury members (could be the whole class), Shakespeare himself, a teacher defending him (possibly you!), pupils as witnesses for prosecution and defence, a famous actor who has acted in one of his plays (like Claire Danes who was Juliet etc). Give them a lesson to prepare their speeches and then hold the trial.

Francis Gilbert's next email: Shakespeare as part of the 'cultural capital'.