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Teaching Shakespeare in a Flipped Classroom

Scaffold strategically and flip thoughtfully with these five tips.

Sara Johnson | April 4, 2016

Shakespeare. No name is as divisive in an English classroom. On one side are those, often the teacher and a smattering of students, who swoon in a state of literary nirvana upon reading the Bard's work. On the other side are those who moan in despair and capitulate with heads on desks, which is the vast majority of the class. Our question becomes, how do we bring Shakespeare to all students? Maybe it's time we "flip" our approach to teaching the Bard.

When flipping my classroom, I try to think about how students need their peers and what they can do independently at home. Due to the complexity of the work, we must scaffold Shakespeare strategically and flip thoughtfully. Here are five ways to flip Shakespeare without losing your students in the process.

1. Online Flash Cards

Throw out the lectures over literary terms and Shakespearean terminology. Online flash card programs such as Quizlet provide students with the need-to-know definitions they can apply later in class. Start the app before you begin the play and layer on vocabulary for upcoming acts. In a 1-to-1 class, offer them as warm-ups, or flip it and make them at-home activities to be applied the next day in class.

2. Wordplay Shakespeare

Shakespeare never designed his plays to be read coldly from a book. He meant for people to enjoy them by watching a performance. Wordplay puts both platforms in the hands of students -- on the left-hand side of the screen is the original text, and on the right-hand side are actors who perform every word for students to enjoy. The videos can be paused, rewound, and fast-forwarded, and students can utilize a variety of additional resources, such as a modern translation button, annotated notes, scene-by-scene synopses, a dictionary, flash cards, and character descriptions.

With Wordplay, students can approach the work in a variety of ways. In my case, iPads in hand, students act out certain scenes for the whole class, work in small groups on others, and try independent practice in the class and flipped at home. 

3. Close-Reading Annotation Tools

Using an app such as Skitch, students can break down a certain soliloquy or monologue with notes, but I prefer at-home annotations being a collaborative effort. Use screen-casting software and flip the modeling for home use and reference.

To make it work in your classroom, create collaborative groups and provide a Google Doc with only the passage or speech you'd like them to explore. Model how students can use the commenting features to make notes and discuss -- and be sure they know that commenting is an expectation. Students should also be encouraged to use color-coding and highlighting to make connections. When the students have become experts in a Shakespearean passage, have them present it to the class, create their own quizzes, or jigsaw around the classroom. 

4. Discussion Boards 

To make sure students move beyond the comprehension level and are analyzing thematically, I like to assign the reading groups a thematic topic as a lens with which to view the play. In example, for A Midsummer Night's Dream, each group is assigned a different thematic topic: love, obedience, pride, selfishness, class, power, or doubling/foiling. Each night, students participate in discussion boards as they review the scene taught in class that day and explore how the topic influences the actions of the characters and creates or solves problems. At the end of the play, these discussions become the basis of a presentation to the class.

5. Video-Annotation Tools 

One of the most fascinating things to see is how different directors and actors interpret the work of Shakespeare. A tool such as EDpuzzle lets me ask students to examine several versions of the same scene or work. I can include a variety of questions on the videos, including multiple-choice questions that have a particular answer or an open-ended question that lets students express their opinions and inferences.

Even though Shakespeare "shuffle[d] off this mortal coil" 400 years ago, you can see that today's technology offers new ways to connect with the latest incarnations of his timeless works!