Natalie Maddern says:

Following our seminar last week, there is one more thought that I would like to add to my comments below. Our seminar group was discussing ideas about putting Shakespeare’s villain’s on trial for their actions. I found this great link which is a unit plan for Romeo and Juliet called, Let’s play the blame game, where student’s will play out a court room scene to determine who is responsible for Juliet’s death:,M013587,R11511,R11556,R6301,R6014,R11551,R11557,R10560,R11548,R10561,M007976,R8816,R11474,R10916&fromSearch=true

I found this on Scootle. If you haven’t had a look at Scootle, it’s a free online service which has many ideas for unit plans and resources for use across all curriculum areas. For example, there are short films, photos, lesson ideas… and it is all cross referenced to the ACARA curriculum. It’s a useful tool for finding starting ideas to work from. Here is a link to the homepage:

Natalie Maddern says:

In our seminar group there were mixed reactions about Shakespeare. I have studied Shakespeare at middle and high school and then at university. I have seen productions by Bell Shakespeare and at the Globe Theatre in London.
I have had different reactions to Shakespeare during each of those encounters, ranging from loving it to loathing it. I think my reactions have been, to some extent, influenced by the text in question and/or how it was presented, and I think its important to bear that in mind when thinking about teaching Shakespeare in schools.

Text selection
Two of the most challenging Shakespeare experiences I have encountered were studying Hamlet (year 12) and Antony and Cleopatra (at university). Both being very long works, I think it can be difficult to keep the momentum of student interest alive for the duration of the play. Alternatively, I quite enjoyed some of the shorter plays such as Macbeth and the Merchant of Venice. These shorter plays still have ample depth of character, themes and plot to be discussed, while being a more achievable length for students to tackle, particularly if they have not encountered much Shakespeare previously.

This link lists Shakespeare’s plays in order of length:

Relevance to modern issues
Another challenge is overcoming the ‘why is this relevant’ issue. Most of you are likely to agree that there are universal themes throughout Shakespeare’s plays, with many of the storylines being reused in modern movies. This could be a way of introducing the timelessness of Shakespeare. Here’s a couple of movies, but an internet search will bring up long lists:
  • Ten Things I Hate About You – The Taming of the Shrew
  • She’s the Man – Twelfth Night
  • Baz Luhrmann’s modern adaption of Romeo and Juliet
  • The Lion King – Hamlet
  • Macbeth (James Mcavoy as a Chef in a Scottish restaurant)

A technique used by one of my university lecturers which I found engaging and helpful, and which could be a useful way to introduce an overview of a Shakespearean play was to modernize the characters to make them recognizable to students. Here is the example the lecturer provided to us which is for Macbeth:

The Macbeth family at Home
Underneath the historical remoteness and strangeness of their lives, Macbeth and his wife are actually a very recognizable type of married couple, undergoing very recognizable experiences, eg:
  • He’s some way up the corporate ladder, but has a chance to go right to the top if he breaks a few rules.
  • He and his wide have a warm, even passionate physical relationship.
  • They both want to see him make the best of his opportunities and get ahead.
  • She urges him to break the rules by questioning his masculinity.
  • She’s prepared to be the gracious hostess for her husband – she even covers for him when he ‘loses it’ at a dinner party.
  • When he gets to the top he finds that it’s really stressful and his friends all hate him for what he’s done to them on the way up. OK – screw them, he’ll show them just what kind of a bastard he can be!
  • His wife has a nervous breakdown and becomes psychotic. Eventually she tops herself.
  • He ends up on the scrapheap.
Notes by Associate Professor Patrick BuckridgeGreat Books 1, Griffith University
Performing Shakespeare
The last comment I’d like to make is that I have generally found that watching a play being performed helps me to understand it (with the exception of Julius Caesar). Looking online, I have found that Bell Shakespeare offer a number of teaching aids

  1. 1. The company travels around Australia visiting schools. This would probably need to be coordinated as a year level activity rather than a class activity to spread the cost. However, it could be a very good way of introducing and demystifying Shakespeare.
  2. 2. The company performs about three plays per year, and usually at least one of those plays is performed in Adelaide. This year it is Comedy of Errors. There is a reduced price for student groups and matinee sessions.
  3. 3. The company has developed learning packs which have really useful summaries of the plot and characters, as well as information about the production of the plays. This could be useful not only to give students an overview but also if you were incorporating drama into the lesson plan. Here is one I found for Macbeth:
  4. 4. The company run national teach forums to break down key plays (there aren’t any 2013 dates available, but in 2012 the SA forum was held in Nuriootpa):
  5. 5. They also provide a list of links to relevant websites:

There are probably other companies that do similar things, but having seen a number of Bell Shakespeare productions, I can recommend them and they seem to have a strong focus on education.

14180372-illustration-of-education-apple.jpgKate Green says,

I have been allocated a Drama unit for my up and coming placement which I feel is not my strong suit. However in saying that I have stumbled across the following link;

'The Script Frenzie: Young Writers Program'

  • Script Frenzy is an international writing [[#|event]] in which participants attempt the creatively daring feat of writing an entire script in the month of April. For 30 days, you get to let your imagination take over and create the film, TV show, play, or graphic novel of your dreams! That means participants begin writing April 1 and must finish by midnight, April 30. The script goal allows 17-and-under participants to set reasonable, yet challenging, individual page-count goals.

    In 2011, 3,000 young writers participated through the Young Writers Program.This program is aimed at secondary students in engaging and motivating them to produce a script of their very own. It defines what a script is and what a good/ bad script looks like. Other areas covered are;
    • Characters
    • Creating Conflict
    • Writing Good Dialogue
    • Lights and Camera etc.

  • I feel this is a great way to have students engaged and excited about Drama! I think the above program is probably better suited to year 10 and above students, however it could be pulled apart to develop a year 8/9 program. It provides step by step instructions with reasonable goals and deadlines. Students (especially secondary students) are often further motivated when there is a competition, which this program is!

Lesson plans

Jean offers an exemplar of a unit on Shakespeare suitable for Year 9 upwards. The approach to curriculum design used here is adaptable to other plays. This unit worked very successfully with Yr 10/11 students at the Australian Science & Mathematics School.

Daisy Keating Says:

This is awesome. Please take the time to watch, such an inspiration:

Reegan Mastrangelo - Approaching Shakespeare
I was having difficulty editing the classical literature section so I've had to settle with posting here, albeit not exactly the right section.

During our session in the Sturt Library, I came across a comic version of Macbeth by a company called “Classical Comics”. I think it was a brilliant resource and has a huge amount of potential to help bridge the language difficulties students experience with studying Shakespeare whilst still retaining the important values of the language and the historical teachings. In these versions, the play is fully illustrated in a comic style panel form, with large amounts of colour and stimulating activity for students to analyse. Most importantly, the Shakespearean text is also included in speech bubbles, adhering to this comic-style format. I believe the most valuable element of these “Classical Comics” however is the fact that they publish plays in three formats. One, the fully illustrated version with the original text in its entirety. Two, the same as one, except with slightly simplified text, which will be easier for students to understand. Three, the same again, yet with drastically simplified text, but still telling the same story of the play.

There is great beauty in the fact there are three separate versions, as it provides suitable material for students at differing levels. I believe the intermediate version would be best used for an average class, as it retains most of the Shakespearean language, while being somewhat easier to understand. Importantly, however, the most simplified version would be excellent for struggling students in English or ESL students, as they will still discover the main points of the story, but have a much less strenuous of a time deciphering the text. All the while, the text is accompanied by brilliant illustration in a familiar comic format, with the colour exceptionally showcasing the mood of scenes, and symbolism being spread magnificently across the page.

In addition to this, motion animated versions can also be purchased to accompany the texts, to provide an even more stimulating experience for students. The scenes are in cartoon format similar to that of the book, yet lines are spoken, characters move, sound effects are added and every scene is brought to life.
In my opinion, such classical comics are brilliant and could be used to great effect in the classroom. I believe they could be used superbly in conjunction with original text formats of Shakespeare, so the students still have an understanding of the way the plays are set out and stage instructions are incorporated. Having said that, I think the large majority of a play like Macbeth could be studied using these classical comics as a class set, so students could follow along and take interest in Shakespeare, a practice which many teachers may find difficult.

The website contains information on all their work, as well as examples of the motion animated option.

Bridget Roberts Says:

From discussions in our seminar it became obvious to me that many future English teachers are hesitant about teaching drama or performance literature as a part of their English course. As a drama major I felt obliged to gather some information and practical ideas to add to the information already posted here and hopefully convince other English teachers of the wealth of experiences in drama!

One of the mindsets which is most detrimental to the practical study of drama in an English program is the out-dated notion that ‘education is still seen too narrowly as something that occurs mainly through listening, reading, writing and computing’ (Anderson, Hughes, Manuel, Arnold 2008, p.8). One of the greatest factors drama offers to English is the opportunity for experiential learning of texts through ‘social enactments’ (2008: 8). The students are given a text and asked to experience and explore the text on many different levels. When the students have performed the play or experimented with excerpts of dialogue this experience can then be analysed and connections can be made between the students’ experiences, analyses of the text and reflections or responses from the students who were audience members. This offers an insight into the way drama can be used as an interactive, engaging and experiential learning tool.

Anderson, Hughes, Manuel, Arnold 2008 offer that drama can be a spring board for:
  • The living process of developing oracy, the forgotten basic, and maximising students’ purposeful talk
  • Engaging deeply and critically with narrative and literature
  • Making accessible difficult and unfamiliar texts, including the dramatic texts of other eras
In this way drama can be an engaging and dynamic approach to an old, difficult or unfamiliar text, especially helpful to break texts down to analyse the components such as individual characters or pieces of dialogue.

Drama is a great way to teach texts!

Practical ideas:

How can I incorporate drama skills, role play, play texts or performance into my English unit plans to create engaging and experiential learning opportunities?
  • To develop oral literacies- have students read plays aloud with each students assigned a character. Students will stay engaged with the dialogue to find out what happens, who is talking to whom and when it is their turn to add to the conversation.
  • When approaching paired text tasks looks at a novel alongside its play text and furthermore the film version. Discuss similarities, differences and strengths and limitations presented by each medium.
  • Filmmaking- have students create a short expository film or documentary as a way to differentiate from report/expository writing.
  • Introduce students to Shakespeare with a practical activity using Shakespearean insults.
  • Performance poetry including Shakespearean sonnets, require students to analyse and engage with a piece of poetry and learn the techniques and structures required to perform it.
  • Look at slam poetry as performance literature.
  • In a poetry unit have students write a soliloquy to be performed in class.
  • Approach free writing in creative writing through free speaking theatre sports including the game where a group of students tell a story as a group adding only one word each as it travels around the circle.
  • Instead of typical recount writing have students format their recount into a script with key characters, setting and dialogue to highlight what is occurring.
  • Helping students be active readers- students can engage with a novel by adapting it to a stage show. This could be a novel on a certain theme or idea, teachers choice or student preference.
  • A great way to approach Shakespearean texts are with film versions where the students can see the language in a type of situation or context. There are certain films which maintain the themes/ general story but modernise the language. If your students are to be studying the text it is helpful for them to become accustomed with the language. There is a great Australian version of Macbeth and the well-loved Luhrmann Romeo and Juliet

Reference: Anderson, M. Hughes, J. Manuel, J. 2008. Drama And English Teaching: Imagination, Action and Engagement. Oxford University Press: Victoria.

Christina Q-Goetz says:

I admittedly am one of those people that dreads the thought of teaching shakespeare, although one way in which I think that teaching it would be less daunting is by making the text into a drama performance. I remember when I was in high school, the english class was reading Macbeth, and after reading it all of the students chose their different roles and put on a performance at the end of the term. This way of including the play allowed the students to get a great understanding of the texts, but also allowed them to learn the pronunciation of the words correctly. It also made what would be quite boring for some students something that was fun and exciting because they were not only reading the words but also acting them out and using their imagination at the same time in an active way.
Although Shakespeare is not the only text that can be transformed into a drama performance, almost anything that is taught in English can be role played or acted out which is great as it can allow the students to express themselves in more than one way and get the most out of their lessons. By incorporating these different elements it can also encourage the students to be motivated when completing their set tasks as they will be able to see the end result of whatever they produce and feel that sense of pride and satisfaction.

Adrian Skewes says…

Approaching performance texts…

‘The complete play (the work that the author intended you to apprehend) is only apprehended when it is acted on a stage. Like music, which must be heard, a play lacks a physical dimension when we read it in a book. The reader must supply that dimension’ (Adler & Charles, 1972, p. 150)

Reading plays should be as effortless as prose, but they can, depending on their age and the density of language (e.g. Shakespeare), provide difficulties in understanding. If a middle-school students are having to focus on simply decoding new words and words presented in difficult new ways, like in Shakespeare, they aren’t necessarily going to be imagining the worlds and characters as fully as they might otherwise be.

To address this, break the play into readable chucks. Sometimes the play will have short scenes with multiple acts, other times it won’t have any! So its best to read ahead a determine important chunks that can act as goals. You can then scaffold the reading by introducing what’s going to happen at the start of the chunk, and summarise it at the end and get the students to offer comments. This also would act as a way to keep track of how fast your progressing and how well the students are following the narrative, depending on the difficulty of the text.

If its an important scene and you are actually doing Shakespeare, see if you can find multiple film versions that adhere to the script and use this as a way to highlight important scenes, or scenes which have a lot of physicality which isn’t specifically described, or perhaps is just dense. Importantly if the text is dense or depending on the level of the class you segments of video would help reduce the cognitive load on students, giving them a ‘break’ from reading, also it would help them to visualize the characters and settings, which again, they might be having trouble doing as there is never any real description of these.

Some other ideas that you could do would include story boarding the scene as you are going, but this would have to depend on how you setup the reading of the play. This could make for some fun class sharing, as different students would illustrate the importance of scenes differently.


Adler, M.J. & Charles V.D. (1972) How to Read a Book, New York: Touchstone Books.