Shakespeare in school

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By Mel CampbellGuest Editor and Year 6 teacher

Mel Campbell sets the stage for some creative activities in your classroom using the work of the world’s most famous playwright

Romeo and Juliet

While Shakespeare is not commonly a focus for literacy until Key Stage 3, the recent DCSF publication Shakespeare for all ages and stages (2008) encourages teachers to introduce his works into the classroom from as early as the Foundation Stage through to Key Stages 1 and 2. While this may strike fear into the heart of many a primary teacher, I genuinely believe in the value of sharing Shakespeare with younger children, and was introduced to it myself during my primary school years. Most of the suggested activities within the DCSF publication focus on accessing Shakespeare through dramatic conventions. I saw this as a golden opportunity to experiment with drama, oral storytelling and writing within the classroom, so I put together a unit of work to see how a group of Year 6 children of varying abilities would respond to studying Romeo and Juliet.

Introducing the story

I began by asking the children to research William Shakespeare, and we had a very productive chat about everything they had found out. The children used the correct terminology, such as ‘playwright’, ‘sonnet’ and ‘tragedy’ and seemed genuinely interested in the discussions. We then moved on to oral storytelling. I showed the children a basic ‘family tree’ of the Montagues and Capulets, and then told the story of Romeo and Juliet in my own words, stopping every now and then to get the children to recount the events to me. Afterwards, we discussed why they thought Romeo and Juliet was classed as a tragedy. One child replied: ‘Because it took the deaths of their children to stop them from fighting.’ Not bad for a first session.

Shakespeare in other media

I then showed the children an amusing cartoon that involves two guinea pigs reenacting Romeo and Juliet. (View it at www.musearts.com and see if your class can spot the mistake!) We then read the story of Romeo and Juliet itself. Many of the children were keen to read the Shakespearian parts, and considering they had never encountered such language before, coped very well. (The Shakespeare Comic Book series is brilliant for engaging younger children. As well as using the original Shakespearian language, it also gives a modern-day interpretation. See www.shakespearecomics.com) At the beginning of each session, I would ask the children to recount the story’s past events, encouraging them to engage in their own oral storytelling. I was impressed by how much they had taken in, how perceptive their responses were to questions, and how keen they were to move on to the next part of the story.

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