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7 Ways to Bring the Bard to Life in Primary for William Shakespeare Week

Shakespeare Week takes place between 18-24 March – Sally Gray has some tips on how to celebrate...

  • 7 Ways to Bring the Bard to Life in Primary for William Shakespeare Week

1 | Explore his language

About a thousand words that we use today are first recorded in Shakespeare’s poems and plays. Often he was simply the first to write them down, but he also invented words to express the meaning he had in his head.

Some of the words first found in Shakespeare include ‘fairyland’ (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), ‘amazing’ (Richard II) and ‘squander’ (The Merchant of Venice).

Language is constantly changing and children can learn a lot from discovering how Shakespeare used words creatively.

Some of Shakespeare’s devices for making new words included adding a prefix such as ‘un-’, meaning ‘not’, as in ‘uncomfortable’. He also added suffixes such as ‘-less’, meaning ‘without’, as in ‘noiseless’.

Challenge pupils to use a prefix or suffix in new ways to create words. For example, which words could they create if someone took away their bike (‘unbiked’ or ‘bikeless’)?

Children can become Will’s Word Warriors by completing a booklet full of language and grammar activities, linked to Shakespeare’s language. The booklet was written by expert linguist Professor David Crystal and is free to download on the Shakespeare Week website. 

2 | Take a virtual tour

Register for free on the Shakespeare Week website to have access to a virtual video tour of Shakespeare’s Birthplace.

In the video, mini Tudor guides escort pupils on a tour of the house that Shakespeare grew up in, explaining what life was like for a Tudor child.

As they journey through the house, pupils will find out the answers to intriguing questions such as why Shakespeare’s garden was smelly, why there was a bed in the parlour and what a horse was doing in the house!

3 | Pounce a portrait

Nowadays if we want to make a copy of something we can simply photocopy or scan it. In Tudor times, the technique for reproducing a picture was called ‘pouncing’ and can easily be recreated by children to good effect.

Find a simple image of William Shakespeare (find a portrait in the Shakespeare Week resources) and place a sheet of tracing paper underneath the image, secured with paper clips.

Rest the image and tracing paper on a piece of foam then prick through the lines of the image with a tapestry needle or awl. Place the pricked tracing paper onto a clean sheet of paper and rub charcoal through the holes.

Remove the tracing paper and blow away the excess charcoal to create a dot-to-dot image which you can join up to make an outline. Add colour with chalk pastels or paints.

4 | Create a soundscape

Invite pupils to stand in a large circle and explain that they are going to create a soundscape using body percussion and their voices. Pick a theme from a Shakespeare play, such as the storm from The Tempest.

Ask the children what sounds they might hear, such as waves crashing, sails tearing and sailors howling.

Try out each suggested sound then, while remaining in the circle, divide the children into small groups, giving each group a sound. Explain that you will be a conductor and agree on signals for stopping and starting the sounds and making them quieter and louder.

‘Conduct’ the orchestra to create your soundscape then ask for volunteers to take turns to conduct.

5 | Write a poem

After creating your soundscape (see idea 4), use the sounds and emotions explored as the starting point for a simple three-line poem. For example, using The Tempest storm as an example, start with a sound (the sailors howling) then add some description, eg ‘The terrified sailors, horribly howling.’

Next, ask the children where the action is taking place (on the deck). Describe this location (salt-soaked). Line one now reads, ‘The terrified sailors, howling horribly on the salt-soaked deck’.

Repeat this process to add two more lines. Find a poetry kit for exploring Shakespeare’s works on the Shakespeare Week website.

6 | Champion a forgotten word

For Shakespeare Week 2019 we’ve compiled a list of 154 words that were used by Shakespeare that are not in common use today. Many of them have disappeared from the dictionary. This rich vocabulary is fun to explore and can lead to wonderful discussions about language change, etymology and grammar.

Find the list on our website then choose a word and explore its meaning and origins. Provide children with a choice of three definitions – Can they guess the correct one? Can they use the word in a sentence of their own?

As a class, ‘adopt’ one of the words. You might choose ‘bibble-babble’ (idle chatter) ‘rubious’ (red-coloured) or ‘tricksy’ (full of tricks). There are endless ways to have fun with Shakespeare’s words while at the same time developing children’s curiosity for language and increasing their vocabulary.

7 | Cook a Tudor dish

Sweet frumenty was a popular winter dish in Tudor times. It tastes like a fruity porridge. Follow this simple recipe from Mistress Sarah at Mary Arden’s Farm – home of Shakespeare’s mother, to make your own delicious dish:

Ingredients (makes four bowls):

  • 150g pearl barley
  • 500ml single cream
  • Two tbsp clear honey
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg

Boil the barley in a large saucepan of water until firm but cooked. Leave to drain. Add all the other ingredients to the saucepan and heat gently to a simmer. Add the drained, cooked barley and heat together, stirring thoroughly. Serve hot.

More free resources

  • The Big Shakespeare Assembly – a step-by-step guide with PowerPoint slides
  • Snappy Shakespeare Scripts – 10-minute versions of six of Shakespeare’s plays for children to perform using the original language
  • Videos – a range of cross-curricular ways to explore Shakespeare, including step-by-step art classes and retellings of Shakespeare plays
  • Kids’ Zone – free activities and challenges
  • Children’s Shakespeare Debate – this online programme, hosted by Michael Rosen, will be broadcast during Shakespeare Week
  • Debating Kit – hold your own Shakespeare debate with your class

Find them all at shakespeareweek.org.uk.

What is Shakespeare Week?

Shakespeare Week is an annual national celebration of Shakespeare in primary schools, organised by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Since its launch in 2014, over 12,000 primary schools have signed up. This year’s theme is language and literacy.

It’s free to register and you’ll receive access to hundreds of resources, all developed by experts and based on the collections at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Sign up for free at shakespeareweek.org.uk

Sally Gray is the Shakespeare Week education officer at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Find out more about Shakespeare Week at shakespeareweek.org.uk or on Twitter at @shakespeareweek.

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