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According to scientists, simply reading Shakespeare’s words can boost our brainpower – so why not make use of that in every subject?
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KS3 English Lesson Plan – Use John Agard’s Poem ‘Checking Out Me History’ to Debate Identity
There’s no better time to use Shakespeare for cross-curricular work in your school. As well as the recent 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, scientists have proven that reading Shakespeare can produce ‘rocket-boosters’ to the brain. This means that when we encounter the playwright’s memorable lines or phrases it can light up our brains and set off significant electrical activity.
Bringing the Bard into your classroom doesn’t require you raid the costume cupboard for Elizabethan costumes or even put on your best thespian voice when reading his poetry – although your students would probably love it if you did! You can keep it much more simple. Use a starter activity to let learners engage with Shakespeare’s verse. Just one line from the Bard’s works could enrich a whole lesson and spark creative literacy games and activities.
Here are some ideas to get your students tapping their feet to iambic pentameter, reciting poetry, playing vocabulary games or competing in teams as word detectives.
Often we use phrases that Shakespeare coined and do not even realise it! Put your pupils into teams and have fun testing their knowledge of the Bard with phrases like:
The team with the most points wins!
Ramp up your students’ team spirit with the game ‘Shout in Shakespeare’. On a PowerPoint, create 20 to 30 statements related to a topic, theme or concept you have covered with your class.
The aim of the game is to identify if these statements are true or false. But instead of each team saying “true” or “false”, they must use a Shakespearean quote. So if a statement is true, pupils could shout:
If a statement is false, pupils could shout:
Give students a handful of quotes. Ask them to vote for the wisest one:
Get students to learn the wisest quote off by heart for the following lesson. Pupils can record themselves reading it aloud on their mobile phone. They can then play it back to help them memorise the line.
Tell your students that they are going to be word sleuths. Put them with partners and give each pair a list of Shakespeare’s words. The purpose of this quick activity is for students to figure out what each word means and discuss the modern English equivalent.
Many of Shakespeare’s plays have gory assassinations and executions. Probably one of the most shocking is Macbeth’s stabbing of King Duncan in Macbeth. Make your students forensic experts for a lesson with the aim of solving a crime. Explain that King Duncan has been murdered and the person responsible needs to be caught. Build lots of anticipation and engagement by creating a crime scene in your classroom:
Ask students what clues they would look for: Fingerprints? Footprints? Hair, blood and fibre traces for testing? Get your class to write a forensic report.
If maths is a study of patterns then why not use a Shakespearean sonnet for a lesson? Show pupils two Shakespeare sonnets, like, “My mistress eyes are nothing like the sun” or, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” and ask them to read the poems aloud to detect any patterns.
This will open up a discussion on the form of a sonnet as a 14-line poem which has a strict rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. Introduce iambic pentameter and get your pupils to tap their feet to the heartbeat rhythm.
In the Elizabethan era only men could act and so often boys played women as their voices had not yet broken. In more recent times actresses have taken on roles of men in Shakespeare’s plays. Give your boys a speech from one of Shakespeare’s female protagonists and give your female pupils a speech from one of Shakespeare’s male protagonists. Get pupils to practice this monologue like an actor would. How will they perform their speech in a persuasive and authentic way?
Sophie Holdforth is senior teaching and learning/literacy consultant at the Hackney Learning Trust. Sophie has written a cross-curricular teaching resource for the National Literacy Trust, packed full of creative ways to teach Shakespeare to KS3 & 4 pupils: tinyurl.com/crosscurriculumshakespeare
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