Shakespeare. The single name, alone, elicits so many different reactions, ranging from disgust to love. Even today, I can trace my own passion for Shakespeare back to my senior year in high school with a teacher I'll just refer to as "Mr. T." While I had read Romeo and Juliet during my freshman year (and, for what I can remember, I didn't hate it), it was in my twelfth grade English class, during our class reading of Hamlet, that the spark of "the bard" was first ignited. I was, and still am, impressed by the complex characters, intertwined conflicts, and unexpected plot twists that come with reading Shakespeare's great tragedies. In college, my enjoyment spread to his comedies. I still (and I say this with disappointment and hesitation) have not fully embraced the histories, but am hoping that changes when I teach Richard III during a future semester of the high school Shakespeare elective I teach.
I find that many of the things that I use in my own teaching of Shakespeare are very similar or have been inspired by the before-mentioned Mr. T. when we studied Hamlet. One of my can't-do-without tools is the Hamlet Reading Log. The log assignment provides seven response options, ranging from summary to line analysis, and students are required to choose two of the seven options after each reading assignment (whether independent, done as a class, or a combination of both). I saved a copy of that handout from when I was in high school (I am sure you can think of something that you use that was saved from your own high school years). While I still use that original list of seven options for the regular curriculum plays I teach (most years that means Romeo and Juliet in 9th grade and Macbeth for my 10th grade classes), I knew I needed something fresh for me and for my students in the Shakespeare elective course I recently resurrected at the high school in which I teach. The result was this new Shakespeare Reading Log with seven new and differing options that encourage student readers to engage with any Shakespearean play, while allowing for student choice, which all teachers know is beneficial for a number of different reasons. As an additional positive aspect, student log responses often spur discussion and debate.
While the use of the reading log is certainly my favorite (and most versatile) tool, I also make use of quote quizzes during the reading of any Shakespearean play. I will be the first person to argue against traditional memorization of plot events in a work of literature, defending the use of open-text assessments, as I believe ELA teachers are given the task of teaching reading, writing, and higher-level thinking, rather than memorizing what has happened in a story or play. Despite that being the case, I make an exception for Shakespeare quote quizzes. The format I use involves providing students with 8-9 important sections of lines from the recent acts read/assigned (I call this the Quote Quiz Preparation Packet). When given these quotes (as well as the act, scene, and line numbers to locate them), students are required to record down who said the lines, to whom the lines were spoken, to provide a modern-language "translation" of the lines, and an explanation of the significance of those lines. After students do so, we review things as a class and come to agreement regarding some of the "debatable" explanations of significance which they sometimes suggest. In approaching things this way, students basically have an answer key provided to them off of which to study. Then, on the day of the quiz, students are provided with five randomly-selected quotes, from the original nine for which they prepared. These quotes look identical to the preparation packet, including the act/scene/line numbers, but not in sequential/plot order. In addition, I have adapted quizzes for modification, including a version that is partially filled-out (one item provided for each of the five quotes), and a version that has all nine quotes, in random order, which allows the student to choose the five quotes with which they are most comfortable and supply the necessary information. In grading the quizzes, I use the same slideshow that we created/modified as a class in our discussion after the preparation packet. In doing so, there are no "secrets" or surprises regarding acceptable answers.
I have quote quiz packs that include the following plays available, if you are, or will be, reading any of the following plays with your students:
-Hamlet (Acts 1&2)
-Julius Caesar (2 Quizzes - Acts 1-3 and Acts 4&5)
-Macbeth (Acts 1&2)
-Romeo and Juliet (Acts 1&2)
-The Taming of the Shrew (Acts 1-3)
I there is also a Quote Quiz Bundle which includes all of the quizzes for each of the five plays listed above, and I will be adding a quote quiz pack with two different quizzes for Much Ado About Nothing within the next couple of weeks.
While the reading log and quote quizzes are the two mainstays of my Shakespeare instruction, I have also had success with other play-specific items. For example, I would feel a classroom reading of Hamlet to be incomplete without doing the Hamlet Discussion Quiz. Likewise, teaching The Taming of the Shrew without giving students the multiple project options available HERE would be missing something, as well.
I hope that you find some of these ideas and pre-made products helpful as you work with your students on whichever Shakespearean masterpiece you are or will be experiencing. Please share your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions with me, as I'm always looking for feedback and new insights.
Until next time, keep teaching your students with all the passion that I know you bring to each and every day in the classroom!
-A Teacher's Teacher