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Shakespeare Week 2020 – Cross-curricular activities for KS1 and KS2

Exploring Shakespeare’s stories in cross-curricular ways provides children with fabulous first experiences of the world’s best known writer, says Sally Gray...

  • Shakespeare Week 2020 – Cross-curricular activities for KS1 and KS2

Create a Shakespeare portrait

As part of our art and design theme for Shakespeare Week 2020, we’re working with some of the nation’s best-loved children’s illustrators to contribute a portrait of William Shakespeare.

You can see their artworks in a fabulous online exhibition complete with videos and notes about their style and thought processes when creating their portraits at shakespeareweek.org.uk/resources.

Explore the exhibition with the children and talk about the different styles. Invite children to imagine their own William Shakespeare.

Is he brightly coloured and zany like Korky Paul’s version, or perhaps he looks rich and beautiful as in Dawn Cooper’s depiction? Let them plan and decide how they would like to represent him.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Make oak gall ink and create a pen and ink Shakespeare using the kind of ink he would have used to write with. To make oak gall ink you need to collect a couple of good handfuls of oak galls and crush using a pestle and mortar. Place in a pan and cover with water, pop in a piece of iron such as an old horseshoe. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes until the tannins are released and it is a nice brown colour. Strain and allow to cool. You can see artist Jane Porter’s oak gall ink Shakespeare in the online exhibition. (You can also cheat by buying replica oak gall ink online!)
  • Create a colourful collage of Shakespeare following Marcia Williams’ or Petr Horacek’s top tips.
  • Make an abstract Shakespeare. Draw a sketch of Shakespeare and then use a tablet to take photographs of the portrait. Use an app such as ‘Face swap’ to add funny effects. Create a selection of images that show a range of thoughts and emotions.
  • Why not hold your own online or physical exhibition of Shakespeare portraits?

Children can enter their Shakespeare portraits in a fabulous competition to win the chance to have their work exhibited alongside the children’s artists at The Lowry during Shakespeare Week.

They will also receive an art workshop for their class from either Korky Paul or Marcia Williams. You have until 31 January to enter. Full details are here.

Re-create Shakespeare’s home town

Some of the buildings that Shakespeare would have walked past and indeed lived in are still standing in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Why not plan a visit to Shakespeare’s Birthplace and the four other properties linked to his immediate family shakespeare.org.uk for an enriching learning experience?

But if you can’t make it along then you can recreate your own miniature Stratford-upon-Avon in a simple art activity created for Shakespeare Week by artist Jennie Maizels.

You can follow her step-by-step video and use the downloadable resources free on the website (in the Art and Craft section). It is a simple but effective tracing and copying activity, exploring watercolour and fineline pen painting and drawing techniques.

Sail to the isle of noises

Use air-drying clay to create the isle of noises from The Tempest.

Add characters from the play or specific landmarks such as a shelter for Caliban. Place the island in a water tray. Make rafts to sail to the isle of noises using recycled corks, elastic bands, cocktail sticks and card for the flags.

Why not then create your own soundscape of sounds and sweet airs to bring the isle of noises to life? Here’s how:

  • Invite the children to stand in a large circle and explain that they are going to create a soundscape. A soundscape is made by creating an immersive environment using body percussion and voices to set a scene.
  • Talk about the noises that might be heard on the magical isle, such as birds tweeting, waves lapping, sand crunching, trees blowing gently in the breeze, creatures calling and so on.
  • Try out each suggested sound and 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 making the sounds quieter, louder, stopping the sounds, bringing sounds in and so on. ‘Conduct’ the orchestra to create your soundscape. Ask for volunteers to take turns to conduct.

Immerse yourself

Work with the children to design a ‘narrative environment’ or ‘storyworld’ in your classroom or school library that picks out a key or magical moment from one of Shakespeare’s stories and offers an immersive place for children to delve deeply into the story.

Using top tips from The Story Museum in Oxford here are some ways to create A Midsummer Night’s Dream storyworld:

  • The scene: The story lends itself to a beautiful story space through its setting in the woods at night. Use woodland coloured drapes and bring in some branches to attach to the display boards. You could also bring in large pot plants as additional foliage. The children can add magical elements such as decorated pebbles and pine cones, fairy figures (home-made or bought).
  • The objects: All of Shakespeare’s plays have evocative objects in them, and in A Midsummer Night’s Dream the characters have some intriguing accoutrements about their person too! Has one of Titania’s fairies, such as Mustardseed dropped her scented wings? Has Puck hidden his Love-in-Idleness concoction somewhere?
  • The senses: Add some twinkling fairy lights and make a recording of the children performing a ‘dream soundscape’ for a forest soundtrack.

3 more ways to have fun with Shakespeare

There are hundreds of resources on the Shakespeare Week website including:

  • The Big Shakespeare Assembly – a step-by-step guide with PowerPoint slides for a fabulous celebratory assembly.
  • Snappy Shakespeare scripts – 10-minute versions of several of Shakespeare’s plays for children to perform using Shakespeare’s original language.
  • Video resources – a range of cross-curricular ways to explore Shakespeare including introductions to lessons, step-by-step art classes and retellings of Shakespeare plays.

About Shakespeare week

Shakespeare Week is the annual national celebration of Shakespeare in primary schools, organised by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Since its launch in 2014, over eight million primary school children have had fun, first experiences of the world’s greatest writer.

This year, Shakespeare Week runs from 16-22 March and has a theme of art and design. It’s free to register and to access the hundreds of resources on the Shakespeare Week website – developed by experts and based on the work and collections at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. The cross-curricular resources include assembly plans, videos, short versions of Shakespeare’s plays, poetry, storytelling, grammar, debate, art and much more.

New for 2020

New resources include:

  • Shakespeare Sketchbooks – three fabulous sketching and drawing activities in appealing booklets for the children to complete as a souvenir of Shakespeare Week.
  • Kids’ Zone – a new art and design challenge for the children to try out. The activities are free and accessible at the click of a button!

Sign up for free at shakespeareweek.org.uk.


Sally Gray is the Shakespeare Week education officer at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Shakespeare Week on Twitter at @shakespeareweek.

Main image credit: Ricky Martin (CBBC’s Art Ninja)

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