Student Well-Being Opinion

Accessing Shakespeare One to Two Scenes at a Time

By Starr Sackstein — May 16, 2017 3 min read
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It just wasn’t working the way I planned.

Macbeth wasn’t going to teach itself and students were having a hard time accessing the language and meaning of the text.

(And my being absent due to a family emergency didn’t help any.)

Putting my creative hat on, I decided to go back to an assignment I used to do with Hamlet, but modify it for the students I am working with now and for the objectives outlined in the curriculum.

Rather than have the whole class read the whole play together doing different tasks along the way, students will only be responsible for a few scenes and then their interpretations will be taught to the class in a language the class can understand. They will make a comic strip showing what happened in their section and then I will make a graphic novel out of the student comics.

When I pitched the idea to the students today, one said allowed, “Wow! That’s actually pretty cool.”

Like anything, looking at something that is too big can be overwhelming and can often shut students down. Giving them manageable, yet meaningful, chunks of the text offers an entry point that gives them the exposure to the play they need as well an opportunity to toil with a section, make meaning and then synthesize what they learned for their classmates in a creative way.

So the expectation is as follows:

  • Students paired meaningful based on reading level (one stronger reader, one stronger creative thinker), read their scene or scenes together. They send me a summary as well any questions regarding the text in order to determine importance. The students receive feedback on this initial step to ensure they are headed in the right direction.
  • After the students are sure they understand their text, they start to take parts that must be conveyed while teaching to the class for the actual comic strip. Once they understand what is most important and must be shared, they are able to then start outlining their comic in modern English their classmates will understand.
  • They will then transfer that knowledge to a comic strip using StoryboardThat.com or by drawing a comic strip on chart paper to be shared with the class.
  • Students will write independent reflections about their learning that is aligned with standards.
  • Each group will present their scene or scenes to the class.
  • All students will listen, taken notes and ask questions about the scenes being presented.
  • Student work will then be turned into a graphic representation of the play that all students will get a copy of.
  • After the presentations are complete, students will be given a written assessment that allows them to share their analytical skills in class using their notes from the presentations. They will be allowed to use the text so they can practice showing their ability to use text evidence to support their analysis of the theme they select.
  • Mastery is determined based on the individual standards being addressed (and provided with the assignment) and a model assignment for another text will be provided, so they see what they are shooting for.

In the grand scheme of things, reading Shakespeare is still worthwhile, but we must find a way to help all students access it. When working with students who are reading below grade level and may not have a high interest in reading, we must try different kinds of projects that can get them excited about texts they wouldn’t select on their own. What they will hopefully find is that Shakespeare is actually a badass. Macbeth is exciting and gory and it gets to the very nature of how power can corrupt people. The universal themes shown throughout the play are easily connected with students’ lives and can continue to resonate with them as they connect the play to other learning.

How do you make classic literature accessible for all of your students? Please share

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.