Are you a Fen-sucked Dull-eyed Canker-blossom? Do you know how many sonnets the Bard wrote, or which phrases we use that he coined? Have you any idea what an oxlip looks like? If you’re curious about answering any of these questions, then this Ultimate Guide to Teaching Shakespeare might be for you!
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Each Spring, our homeschool is transformed into a tragic, comedic, insult-driven world of the art of the brilliant 17th-century playwright. It’s Shakespeare in Spring! When I first started teaching Shakespeare to my girls in elementary school, I was a bit nervous about what they would understand and how much translating I would have to do. I was concerned that they were too young and that truly appreciating Shakespeare wouldn’t be possible until they were much older. But, I loved reading and performing the plays of Shakespeare in high school, and I was eager to get them started on this rich literature and its eloquent language.
My girls surprised me.
They still surprise me. They not only enjoy the comedies, but are intrigued by the mystery of the tragedies. I have caught my children sneaking to read Shakespeare when they are supposed to be working on something else. They are constantly asking when they can watch the current play we are studying because Shakespeare is meant to be performed and can be enjoyed so much more this way.
How Do I Teach Shakespeare to Elementary and Middle School Students?
This is a question I get from time to time when people learn that I teach Shakespeare to even my youngest kids. It isn’t surprising. If you picked up a play and started reading, it would be difficult. But, that’s not really how you should teach it to your kids. And so, I created the Ultimate Guide to Teaching Shakespeare to help parents who love the Bard and want to share his plays with their kids.
Step 1: Pick out what you would like to study
Each Spring, we start by picking a play or a few sonnets to study. This can change depending on our interest level. We try to pick plays from different genres each year. Sometimes, we pick plays just because we love them and we want to study them again.
Step 2: Read an adapted version
The language of Shakespeare can be difficult for small children. We start our study by reading the play from a children’s book of Shakespeare’s stories. Our favorite, by far, is Favorite Tales From Shakespeare. This book has fantastic illustrations and tells stories with such humor and creativity that kids and adults will both love it.
My girls love the stories in this book and beg me to read from it often. Unfortunately, it is out of print, so the only way to obtain it is used. However, if you can find it, grab it. This book will strike an interest in Shakespeare in young minds.
Another fun way to read Shakespeare is through graphic novels. Graphic Shakespeare includes five of Shakespeare’s plays written in a comic strip fashion. My girls like the fun of reading these graphic novels. The books are written in Shakespeare’s language but include translations as footnotes. This was of particular help to my children who sometimes struggle with the language.
If your kids are into texting, my friend Mary at Mary Hanna Wilson recommends the OMG Shakespeare series. These books translate the plays into text messages. They’re actually quite funny, but parents beware; some have language that is inappropriate for young readers.
Here are some other good choices for books of Shakespeare’s stories:
Step 3: Read about the life and times of Shakespeare
Throughout Shakespeare in Spring, intersperse some history and facts about the author. One of our favorite series is the Who Was? series of books. These historical biographies are great and we use them frequently in our homeschool. We learned quite a bit about the famous author from Who Was William Shakespeare.
Another book we’ve enjoyed is Usborne’s World of Shakespeare Reference Book. This book is best used when spread over several days. It is full of information on the plays, sonnets, life, and times of Shakespeare.
There are several biographies of Shakespeare available that you can choose from. Here are some other recommended choices:
Or if you would rather watch your history in video form, the Biography channel has a mini-biography.
Step 4: Read from the original works of Shakespeare and translate Old English into Modern English
If you have plans to watch a play, then you need to understand the original language. Just reading the plays would be difficult for young children. We’ve found some great books that help us with this problem. No Fear Shakespeare quotes the original play on the left side of the book and then translates it on the right side. This is fantastic for moms who are struggling with what a “rudesby” is. We even use these books when we’re watching the plays to help us during scenes that can be confusing. If you would prefer an online version, the No Fear series is available on Spark Notes.
Another similar series is Shakespeare Made Easy. These books are set up in the same way as the No Fear Shakespeare series.
Step 5: Memorize Shakespeare
How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare is a great resource to help you teach your children famous quotes from Shakespeare. It guides you through the steps to memorizing short passages from some of Shakespeare’s more popular works.
You can also incorporate Shakespeare copywork into your study. Not only will this help with memorization, but with spelling and grammar. It visually puts the image of these beautifully written words into your child’s memory.
Step 6: Have fun with Shakespeare
Having fun is a key element of teaching Shakespeare. Some of our favorite ways to do that are with Shakespeare’s insults. My girls have a blast using the book, Thou Spleeny Swag-Bellied Miscreant, to come up with insulting names to call their older brother. If you don’t want to purchase the book, there is also an online insult generator.
Another fun book is Will’s Words. This book not only gives the background for some of the sayings that we use but does so in a very entertaining way.
For the youngers who like to color, A Shakespeare Coloring Book is a great book full of illustrations from the plays and the time period. My youngest likes to color while I’m reading the plays out loud.
Once you find all those great words that were coined by Shakespeare, use these notebooking pages from The Notebooking Fairy to keep a running list.
Other options similar to these:
Step 7: Watch the play!
If you have the opportunity to see a Shakespeare play performed live, I highly recommend it. Most recently, we saw Romeo & Juliet at the theater. Seeing a play performed as it was intended is truly the best way to understand the spirit of Shakespeare’s works. Jimmie at Jimmie’s Collage gives some great reasons for seeing Shakespeare performed live. You can find performances near you in the Shakespeare Directory.
But if a live performance isn’t an option, then I recommend watching it on film. Some of the plays we’ve enjoyed the most are the comedies. My girls’ favorites are Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night.
But, what if I don’t feel like I can teach Shakespeare?
Well, first of all, you can. Most of my homeschooling has been spent learning right along with my children. Teaching Shakespeare is no different from any other subject. If I don’t already know the information, I learn it while teaching it.
However, sometimes, we need a break from teaching or would like someone else to take on the planning and teaching. In that case, I would recommend these courses to make Shakespeare fun and easy to teach.
The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Shakespeare the Easy Way
After years of studying Shakespeare, I decided it was time to create my own course and aptly named it Shakespeare Online Book Club for Teens ~ 4 Plays by the Bard.
In this online unit study, we read through excerpts of plays by William Shakespeare. As we are reading, we go on rabbit trails of discovery into history, nature, science, art, and more. We learn by experiencing parts of the play through hands-on activities. And at the conclusion of each play, we celebrate the play by watching a theatrical version of the play.
This online literary guide has everything you need to study Shakespeare. This course includes vocabulary, free-write questions, rabbit trails, and a few project ideas. Each play is perfect for a month of middle or high school-level literature, or leave out the Critical Thinking Questions, and it’s perfect for elementary students.
Another fabulous resource is the Study of Shakespeare’s Medieval England by Captivating Compass. When you study England during Shakespeare’s time, you can take deep dives into the culture, ruling classes, the theater, and so much more. There are some awesome ways to add Shakespeare to your homeschool with fun and interesting results.
The course includes:
- An Introduction to Shakespeare
- Shakespeare the Boy
- Shakespeare the Man
- Shakespeare the Businessman
- And, more.
Additional Resources for The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Shakespeare
There are some fantastic posts from other homeschool bloggers on how they brought the works of the Bard into their homeschool. These are some of the ones I would recommend:
I love Poetry Teatime, and I love Shakespeare, so I love this combination by Mary at Notbefore7. This is such a great idea, but only one of Mary’s creative ways to present Shakespeare to her elementary and middle schoolers.
Emily at Table Life Blog reviewed these really cool Shakespeare graphic novels that I’m dying to check out.
Grammar…yuck! Seriously, I’m not a fan. But if I can use something I enjoy doing to teach something I despise, then I’m going to try it. Ginny at Not So Formulaic has a great post on using Shakespeare to teach code-switching and universal grammar.
Party School!! We are the reigning champions of finding ways to incorporate parties into our homeschool. Pam at Homeschool Solutions shows you how to have a Shakespeare party.
[su_spacer size=”10″]Introducing Shakespeare into your homeschool doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Adding small steps over time can spark an interest in your elementary and middle school students that will last a lifetime.
Hi, I’m Dachelle. I’m a homeschooling mom of 3 in the South. I love chocolate and have been known to hide it from my children. I can often be found reading a good book (or even sometimes just an okay book) and enjoying a jar of Nutella — don’t judge. I blog, here, at HideTheChocolate.com when I’m not creating book clubs and making lists…lots and lots of lists (it’s an addiction). Learn more…