We are a low-income school at which 97% of students participate in our free/reduced lunch program. As a special education teacher, each of my students has a disability that not only brings diverse strengths to my classroom, but that also highlights the challenges they face on a day to day basis.
My students are a colorful Rubiks Cube of energetic, complex thinkers who are hungry for new challenges and joyful learning experiences.
My goal is to deliver a Shakespeare unit that is equally as fun as it is rigorous. As such, I have planned activities to allow students to experience and experiment with the complexities of Shakespearean language through a two-pronged approach: (1) using props to support in-class acting opportunities, and (2) using word games and hands-on projects to encourage experimentation with Shakespeare's language in a low-pressure setting.
Something dramatic happens when you add togas, daggers, and laurels to a unit on Julius Caesar. Something sinister comes alive when you give students a cauldron to circle around while reading Macbeth. Something magical springs up when students see themselves as flower-bearing fairies in the enchanted forest of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Suddenly, the work of tackling Shakespeare's confusing word order, layers of meaning, and challenging vocabulary becomes secondary to what drew his original audience in--the vibrant characters and the fascinating stories they tell. Props bring joy to the forefront of any Shakespeare unit.
Students' first interactions with Shakespeare are formative, and will determine whether they will reject this challenging literature with fear and loathing or embrace the rigor of it with real enthusiasm.
In addition to the use of props and acting techniques, I believe in exposing students to low-pressure ways of interacting with Shakespeare's language as well. Playing word games is a great way to do that. The Shakespeare Brain Box challenges students to memorize small bits of text, which prepares them for the speech memorization project they complete during my unit (for which they will need the headphones). The decks of cards (one focused on Shakespearean insults and the other on character deaths) are wildly fun and silly ways to get students laughing and enjoying the absurdity of Shakespeare's language and plots. The paper replica of The Globe Theatre is for hands-on learners to construct as they prepare presentations on Shakespeare's England. Lastly, the variety of kid-friendly books are an engaging way to introduce famous characters and language conventions to my students in a visually- or musically-stimulating way.
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