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Sell Students on Shakespeare in the Digital Classroom

Inspire students to embrace Shakespeare with these five activities.

Christine Furnia | April 18, 2016

Are middle school students too young to read and understand Shakespeare? Absolutely not! By taking time to cultivate an appreciation for Shakespeare’s time period, topics, language, and acting techniques, students will soon be engaged in the plot and begging for parts in the play! Read on for five ways to sell students on Shakespeare.

1. Access prior knowledge with Padlet.

Creating a strong foundation on which to build knowledge is key to student success. This is why I love Padlet! Use Padlet as a discussion starter for what students already know and think about Shakespeare. Consider using the prompt, “Write as many things as you can that you associate with Shakespeare.”

After students have responded to the prompt, project the Padlet so students can see each other's responses. Seeing everyone's reactions can start or enhance discussions by clearing up misconceptions (no, it's not really Old English) and exposing students to plays and quotes they may have heard of but didn't know Shakespeare wrote. I also like to address the opinions students have -- "It's boring!" or "It's hard!" -- and discuss the reasons they may feel this way, show them they're not alone in their thinking, and encourage them by saying it's not as hard as they think.

2. Teach Shakespeare's history using Nearpod.

Nearpod lessons are interactive slide shows that can be created based on any content and allows teachers to control what students see and do in real time on their devices. These abilities make Nearpod a great tool to teach the history of Shakespeare.

First, I show students a picture of Shakespeare with the dates of his birth and death and then ask them to figure out how many years ago Shakespeare died. Then, we discuss what living in Shakespeare's time meant in terms of modern conveniences (no flushing toilets!). Nearpod has recently added a virtual field trip feature, so I include the Globe Theater as one of the slides. When students click on it, they can explore a 360-degree view of the area just outside the restored theater. A great follow-up question is, "How do you think this scene was different in the 1500s?"

3. Play with language using Triventy.

Triventy is an easy-to-use, collaborative quiz game that taps into students' competitive nature by displaying the quickest responders and whether they responded correctly. This has become a great tool to use as my class answers the question, "What's so great about Shakespeare?"

So, what is so great about Shakespeare? Well, I like to show students the impact his writing has had on our language. During a Triventy game of "Shakespeare or Not," students guess if a given word was coined by Shakespeare. For example, did you know we say "fashionable," "eyeball," and "puppy-dog" because of Shakespeare? In addition to teaching about Shakespeare's contributions to the English language, this activity is a great way to discuss how language evolves and how words make their way into our common vocabulary.

4. Predict or summarize with word clouds.

Once students understand the basics of Shakespearean English, it's time to start analyzing sentences and blocks of text. Using a word-cloud maker such as Wordle or Tagxedo, students can copy a large block of text from an earlier scene of the play, or one that's about to be read, to make predictions or summarize events based on the words that are featured. Try a variation of this activity by assigning a different scene to each student, and then try to predict the plot of the whole play as a class.

5. Create a virtual performance using StoryboardThat.

Engaging students in preproduction activities helps bring Shakespearean texts to life -- and after students have explored Shakespeare's history and language, they'll be excited to try their hand at set and costume design. Using StoryboardThat, have students create storyboards with a variety of backgrounds and characters that are appropriately costumed and blocked. Encourage students to use speech bubbles that contain key phrases or dialogue from the text to capture the main idea of the scene.

By the time students have completed these activities, they're so excited to see a play in action -- so excited, in fact, they're willing to spring for the price of a ticket: a penny!