Six Tips for Teaching Shakespeare

Teaching Shakespeare Tips

I have to admit, nothing scared me more my first year of teaching than Shakespeare. I kept wondering why hadn't I paid more attention in high school when my teachers taught it. Then I remembered: my experience with Shakespeare plays in high school consisted of students sitting in desks taking turns reading lines we didn't understand from a textbook. 

I wanted to make sure my students had a better experience with Shakespearean plays than I did. Now that I've taught the Bard for almost 20 years, I'm happy to pass along tips for generating excitement around Shakespeare and his works.

1. Introduce the Bard: For some of your students, this may be the first time they’ve studied Shakespeare, so it’s important to give them a brief introduction of the man and why, after hundreds of years, his work is still relevant today. Use posters, quotes, let them know how many words the man created and coined. Ask them if they knew Shakespeare was a favorite author of Tupac Shakur's

If you need help with this, check out my Shakespeare Introduction presentation. It can be used with ANY Shakespeare play or unit, is editable, and comes with an editable student handout: The Life & Times of William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare freebie - use with any play

2. Be Prepared: This is the hard part, but it's essential. Know the play you are going to teach. Use graphic novels or the Manga editions if it will help you AND your students.  Read translations, study famous quotes from the play, and, most importantly, find ways it can connect to your students’ lives. The Folger Shakespeare Library website is an excellent place to start. You can also use the No Fear Shakespeare (SparkNotes) website for translations of the text.

Have your students watch the play then act it out.

3. Watch It/Act It: Plays are meant to be performed and watched, not to be read in silence or sitting in desks. Watch the play in class (there are plenty of great versions available), pausing to discuss lines more in-depth and the emotions within those lines, THEN have your students perform select scenes. Unless your class is a drama class, most students will feel uncomfortable acting in front of the class, at least right away. Allowing them to see the scene(s) first and study their lines before they perform will help ease their fears. I usually just select a few scenes from the play to be acted as it would take much too long to both watch AND act the entire play. Don’t forget to use props! They can be as simple as fake daggers, sheets that students can fashion into robes, and fake ivy students can use as headpiece or crown. To help with understanding the lines, here’s a FREE handout you can use with your students.

Free Shakespeare Download

4. Get Creative: Use a portion of your class period (10-15 minutes) for creative time during the unit. 

• While you are introducing Shakespeare, have students recreate a model of the Globe theater. 
• If your students are struggling with the lines, use memes to help them understand, then challenge them to create their own. 
• Make masquerade masks while watching Romeo & Juliet, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing and others. You can use the templates in my FREE handout.
• Decorate fake daggers to use as props while acting out certain scenes.
• Provide coloring pages for students. Coloring is a great way for students to decompress and it’s also been shown to boost creativity in teens.

5. Create a Parody: One of my students’ favorite activities all year is creating parodies for Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Julius Caesar. They hear about the assignment from previous students and look forward to it all year. This anticipation, of course, generates and builds excitement for studying Shakespeare. Plus, they tend to grasp the content better while practicing essential technical and communication skills. You can view some of my students’ past projects on my YouTube Playlist: Student Video Parodies and learn more about assigning a parody here.

6. Bring Food: A guaranteed way to get your students excited about Shakespeare is to bring food! When I teach Julius Caesar, I’ll often bring in grapes, cheese, mixed nuts, and sparkling grape juice and call it our Ancient Roman feast. In fact, that combination of food can be used for many of Shakespeare’s plays. You can also plan ahead and have students sign-up to bring in a snack so you don’t have to provide it all. It is amazing how motivating food can be in class.

Six tips for teaching Shakespeare

Make sure you check out these great Shakespeare resources and check out Addie William's post on Romeo & Juliet:

Six Creative Ideas for Teaching Romeo & Juliet by Addie Williams
Romeo and Juliet Unit Plan by Presto Plans
Shakespeare Interactive Notebook Flip Book by The Classroom Sparrow
Macbeth by Shakespeare Student Workbooks by Stacey Llyod
Introducing Shakespeare Learning Stations by Room 213
Introduction to Shakespeare Escape Room by Nouvelle ELA

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