What, Me Teach?

Ok, so, ready for the followup from this story about meeting my 2nd grader’s teacher?

It appears that I get to put my money where my mouth is.  My daughter came home last week with a report that I am to email her teacher and let her know when I can come in, and how much time I need.  Apparently I get up to an hour to talk on the subject of Shakespeare.  Details to be worked out.

So….HELP!? I know I’ve got folks in the audience that have done this (or similar), and I’m looking for tips.  I know that I can easily (easily!) speak for an hour on my favorite subject, to any age group.  What I want to do, though, is to get some structure onto it so that it’s a repeatable experience. I want to go in knowing what I hope to talk about, and why, and they see how it goes.

Here’s what I figure so far, from my own experience with my kids, and going into their classrooms:

1) At least some time on biographic stuff.  Who was Shakespeare, when did he live, and so on. They need context, and I think the whole “400 years ago” thing is important for setting the stage.

2) If there’s a play to focus on, it’ll be Midsummer.  While I have my own fondness for The Tempest, I’ve been convinced that Midsummer remains the best introduction to kids who have likely never experienced this stuff before.

3) I very desperately want an excuse to get them out of their seats and reciting/acting some stuff.  They won’t get it (nor will they sit still!) listening to me talk for an hour, no matter how fascinating I am. 😉

I would love to walk in with scripts all prepared (rewritten and toned down to their level, of course), push back the desks, assign roles and start walking through the play.  I’d love that like you wouldn’t believe.  Like, I’ve dreamed about doing that since I first had kids. But if this is a one shot deal and I’ve got an hour, I don’t think we’ll get very far.  We’d be lucky to get through one walk through.

Option 2 is for me to play narrator and describe 3/4 of the play, stopping periodically to have a couple of the kids act out a particular scene.  This right now for me is the most likely, if I can find the balance of which scenes to act out.

Another option is to do more of a “medley” of Shakespeare’s greatest hits, and let the kids take turns reciting from a whole variety of scenes – the balcony scene, the Yorick scene, and so on.  I fear that might be too confusing because they wouldn’t get to settle in on the plot and character of a single story.

What have you got for me?

(It’s worth mentioning that later in the year I may be called upon to do this same thing with my 4th grader’s class, in which case I would have a bit more options due to their more advanced reading/listening/comprehension skills).

P.S. – 2nd grader in this case means 7 years old, roughly.  4th grader is 9 years old.  I often forget that my audience extends outside the US, and I was asked to clarify over the weekend.

8 thoughts on “What, Me Teach?

  1. Think a little bit about their prior knowledge before you start planning the big day. They already know some of the Bard's greatest hits thanks to Gnomeo & Juliet and The Lion King. That might get them into the mindset that these are very accessible stories and give you a jumping off point. Good luck; don't forget to enjoy the experience yourself.

  2. Romeo and Juliet! I did this with 3rd grade summer camp. 1. They already know Gnomeo&Juliet.
    2. Girls LOVE the live story, even at that age.
    3. Boys like the fight scene.
    Works for everyone.

    Have then sit on the floor around you, literally like it's story time. It gets them out of their seat and already seems fun. Talk about gnome and Juliet and the characters. Bring props-even small simple things-a cape a pastic sword or a crown. Give them to different kids.
    -tell the story as a narrator. In your amount of time reading will take too long. While story is being told a t out parts. Fight scene, balcony, etc.
    -r&j is controversial for kids. End it by saying Romeo and Juliet made a lot of mistakes…what could have beendone for them to be better? Suicide-didn't help anyone; fighting caused more problems. For fun, have them write their own endings in a happier way!

  3. You might think about using Pyramus and Thisbe — you could narrate the broad shape of the story, but give them a few key lines out of it to deliver, that wouldn't be too difficult (and they'd probably enjoy the sheer silliness of it). P&T also uses props, which is always fun, so if you can assemble a little kit — sword, mantle, something to represent Lion, something for Wall, something for Moon, etc — that would be great. Not the greatest poetry there, sure, but they'll come away with the idea that Shakespeare is fun rather than dreary.

  4. The Whoosh! technique came up on Twitter – anybody familiar? How do you use that with 7yr olds who are only just now being introduced to the story?

  5. Go with your first instinct…
    Dream has the fantasy that will
    instantly appeal to kids this
    young.Don't be tempted to pitch
    too high for this first hour…
    that means minimal actual quotes
    and maximal plot and character.
    Don't assume anything like the
    prior ability/interest of your
    own young kids!

    Talk with the kids and tie-in
    their favourite TV/Films with
    themes in Dream..and other plays.
    Lion King's Hamlet influence etc

    Costumes and props as Nicole
    advised are sure to get the kids
    interested…Ass' ears and fairy

    Good Luck.I'm sure your enthusiasm will rub-off.

  6. When I was young I really disliked learning Shakespare, there were two things which helped me really appreciate his plays. First, how prevelant his plays are in contemporarie culture, Shakespeare's plots appear everywhere in society from movies, to books, to video games. Second, I had to see the plays acted. Reading the plays does not do them justice, they were meant to be performed on stage, and I feel that it is impossible to fully appreciate the plays without seeing them acted.

  7. I teach English to older children.

    I would suggest doing Bottom being given an ass' head and everyone runs away.
    Even more awesome with a prop.

  8. Don't feel compelled to cover an entire play. If you choose just one scene, it will take a lot of the pressure off of you. This may be their first experience with Shakespeare, so having fun is a lot more important than coverage.

    Start with a quick introduction. Who was Shakespeare? Why is he your favorite writer? We've never met, but I'm sure you're infectious when you talk about Shakespeare. Make it clear that Shakespeare wrote 400 years ago, when people spoke English a little differently than they speak it now. Tell them that "Double, double, toil and trouble/ Fire burn, and cauldron bubble" line is from Shakespeare, and ask if they've ever heard of it.

    Now here's an activity I got from a book, which I'm 99% sure came from either Folger's Shakespeare Set Free or the Cambridge School Series edition of Midsummer. And I've done this one so many times by now that I don't know how much of this is from the book and how much of it is my adaptation.

    Have a student volunteer to be the "director" and sculpt two fellow student models into a still image of "a happy couple." This is Demetrius and Helena. Have another director sculpt another happy couple. This is Lysander and Hermia.

    Now have a third director change the image to show what it would look like if Demetrius all of a sudden decided that he was not in love with Helena, but that he was in love with Hermia instead. If the result is superficial, other class members can contribute ideas. How does Demetrius change? How does Hermia change? How does Lysander change? How does Helena change?

    You can then add Hermia's father who demands she marry Demetrius. Let the students know that they live in a society where she is compelled to obey her father. The Duke says that if she doesn't, she has to become a nun or be put to death. What can she do?

    You can brainstorm a list of her options. She can marry Demetrius. She can become a nun. She can die. She can run away. One student suggested she kill Demetrius.

    At this point, you can have students act out the scene. Handing out scripts may be tricky, if the reading skills aren't there. But after you have them improvise around the plot of the first scene, you can ask them if they'd like to hear the original language the way Shakespeare wrote it. Then you can read them Helena's last speech in the first scene. Ask them how she feels. How do they know?

    Obviously, this is just one way you can go. But your goal shouldn't be for them to fully understand a play. It should be to get them to come away feeling like Shakespeare is fun. They have plenty of time to get the rest. Maybe they'll even get some of it from you, since your children are likely to retain their same classmates throughout their schooling.


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