Teaching Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream - Lessons and Resources

Teaching Shakespeare can be a snooze fest OR it can be the best unit of your year. Of course, we all aim to be innovative and engaging, but what freshness is left in Shakespeare? A lot! Here are some creative ideas for teaching Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Title - Teaching Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream summary

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a conflict in the fairy world collides with the forbidden elopement of two humans. What we get is a Shakespearean rom-com full of betrayal, love triangles, and supernatural meddling. This is a fun play for 8th and 9th graders but can also be read more deeply at other grade levels.

Ideas for introducing any Shakespeare play

Shakespeare meets Doctor Who

Students have a lot of preconceived notions about Shakespeare, so I try to “shake” things up by starting off my unit with an attention grabber. I like to start my unit with the first few minutes of “The Shakespeare Code” from Doctor Who, which shows the Doctor and Martha arriving in Elizabethan London. The Doctor “translates” the customs and habits for Martha, like pulling her out of the way of a dumped chamber pot! This is one way to get students excited right out of the gate. (I shared this idea back in 2018 and y’all loved this mix of Shakespeare and pop culture!)

Introduce Shakespeare… with a mystery game!

I have students play through an escape room I made called “The Missing Script.” Students play as Alex, an aspiring actor, and Alex helps Shakespeare’s servant find a misplaced script. The game takes students through the Globe (they look high and low – maybe the servant left it in the Galleries?), over the London Bridge, and through the Royal Exchange. They solve puzzles as they learn about Shakespeare’s London, and, if they are successful, they find the missing script!

Cover for Introduction to Shakespeare Escape Room

Teaching Shakespeare’s Language

Before teaching A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it’s a good idea to build student comfort with Shakespeare’s language. Mya Lixian Gosling is a Shakespeare aficionado who shares comics on her blog, Good Tickle Brain. She has an extensive collection of Shakespeare comics on a range of plays, Shakespeare’s biography, and his language. Be sure to check out her pieces explaining Shakespeare’s vocabulary (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). (Note: some of Gosling’s comics have PG-13 humor - always preview materials before you share them)

Gosling says in her bio, “As you can probably tell, I'm really not much of an artist. However, a lack of talent has never stopped anyone on the internet before.” Your students can channel this confidence, whether or not they consider themselves artists, and create a comic about one of Shakespeare’s words. Following Gosling’s example, students should create an “Is…” and “Is not” frame for their chosen vocabulary word. 

I also use this Shakespeare’s language activity before any Shakespeare play I teach. This activity uses web resources, videos, and a FUN grammar presentation to kick off your Shakespeare unit. Students walk away understanding Shakespeare’s contributions to English, iambic pentameter, and that tricky thou/you.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream lessons

A solid foundation

Grab this Dramatic Plot Diagram and Dramatic Vocabulary Terms freebie to get your Shakespeare unit (whether teaching A Midsummer Night’s Dream or otherwise) off on the right foot. Students will be able to fill in the plot of the play as they go.

Cover for Dramatic Plot Structure freebie

Use paired texts to highlight A Midsummer Night’s Dream themes

Appearance vs. Reality: Kid Ace (3:07)

This is a segment of The Kelly Clarkson Show featuring magician Kid Ace. The clip in and of itself is just a magic trick, but this is an excellent jumping off point to talk about illusion and our expectations. One of the reasons appearance vs. reality is such a strong theme in so much of literature is because humans seem like they want to be deceived and amazed. We almost don’t want to trust ourselves. Sharing contemporary magicians with students has another benefit: Shakespeare’s works are full of magicians and magic, ranging from Prospero in The Tempest to Oberon’s magic in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Deception & Betrayal: “What to Do if Your Best Friend Betrays You”

Here’s the thing: most of Shakespeare’s characters don’t react with open and honest communication, and that’s what makes it drama. We all love drama, but part of connecting literature to real life is considering other ways in which characters could have reacted. In this column from TeenVogue, readers get a reality check for accepting the big feelings of betrayal and making a plan to move forward in a healthy way. Students can use this article as inspiration for writing (or acting out!) advice to Helena who feels betrayed by Hermia (and eventually vice versa!).

(BTW, have you seen the Sassy Gay Friend skits from Second City? Here’s one featuring Ophelia that you may enjoy. These aren’t appropriate for all classrooms, so this is recommendation just for you, teacher friend.)

Are you looking for more paired texts for teaching Shakespeare?

Check out this resource!

Discuss a Shakespearean mystery

The conflict between the fairy queen, Titania, and her husband, Oberon, begins because she has a “little Indian boy” that Oberon wants. When the play was written, explorers believed that what was North America was India and that the people who inhabited North America were Indians. In most renditions of this play, the Indian boy has been depicted as being a boy from India. 

However, Dr. Julie Brown of Astoria, Oregon (my neighbor!) uncovered another reading of this text: one person exploring at Queen Elizabeth’s behest kidnapped an Inuit woman and her one-year-old baby. Could this have inspired the “little Indian boy” of the play? Here’s an article about Dr. Brown’s findings – students can use the discussion questions to connect their reading of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to larger discourse about Shakespeare.

Cover for Shakespeare Activity - Nonfiction and Discussion Activity

Have students adapt the text

One of the great things about teaching A Midsummer Night’s Dream or any Shakespeare play is the opportunity for students to adapt the text. Students can take the play you’re working on and reimagine the ending or scenes between key characters. I’ve had students rewrite the ending of Much Ado About Nothing as a tragedy and rewrite Hamlet as a comedy - students are empowered by the idea of transforming Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s cast would have added in jokes matching the cultural moment or current events of any given day, meaning that his plays existed in evolution, even close to their year of origin. 

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Perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream abridged

I love incorporating drama into my classroom, so it’s not a stretch to give students the stage in our Shakespeare units. If you’re a little hesitant about how to work this in, I’m here to tell you that you DO have time, and students WILL step up and embrace the responsibility.

Students can use this version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and perform a 30-minute Reader’s Theatre after a class period or two to practice. They could even work a little longer and add blocking and costumes for a Staged Reading (Check out my post A Play in a Week). Lastly, they can memorize their lines completely in a 2-3 week unit and perform their plays for each other. 

Find more abridged Shakespeare plays 

made for teens here

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Your A Midsummer Night’s Dream unit

The best part of teaching Shakespeare is that we can incorporate a lot of different texts and really keep things innovative. You can use any of these ideas in your A Midsummer Night’s Dream unit to help shake things up. You can also check out my ready-made A Midsummer Night’s Dream unit here.

What are your favorite A Midsummer Night’s Dream lessons? We’d love to hear from you in comments here or over at the @secondaryenglishcoffeeshop Instagram.

More resources from Coffee Shop teachers:

Six Tips for Teaching Shakespeare by Tracee Orman

William Shakespeare - Puzzle Games - Introduction to Shakespeare by The Classroom Sparrow

Happy teaching!

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