My Teaching Debut : A Monkey Wrench!

So, I passed in a draft of what I planned to work with the kids on.  Basically, as I think I mentioned, it’s all the Lysander/Hermia/Demetrius/Helena stuff.  Plus some intro stuff on Shakespeare’s life, sentence structure and vocabulary, and then if there’s time the Insult game.

Here’s what I got back.

* Absolutely no insult game.  Against school bullying policies. Even if the game is in fun you have to assume that kids will take it out onto the playground and hurt feelings will ensue.  Fine, I guess.

* Additionally, some bits in the script that deal with name-calling are also out.  She called out Helena’s “I am your dog, beat me, whip me, treat me as you wish” sequence as something she wouldn’t want.  I’m not sure yet if that means everything.  The scene where Helena calls Hermia short is one of the funniest in the entire play.

* She did like the Shakespeare’s life bits, and the poetry/sentence structure bits.  But I don’t want to do an hour on those.  There’s no performing in those.

I proposed a couple of things.

* First, that I’d bring with me a lengthy list of “backwards” sentences from Shakespeare and we could work with the kids on untangling them so they understand what the sentences mean.  Examples like “I love thee not, so follow me not” is Shakespeare for “I don’t love you, so stop following me.”

* Second, that the teacher and I enact some No Fear style scenes, where we as the two adults perform a bit of the original text, and then we let the kids get up and perform a very modernized version of the exact same sequence.  I am dead set against just having them perform a bunch of crap that I wrote from scratch and calling it Shakespeare.  I might as well have them act out Gnomeo and Juliet if I’m going to do that.


Want to help me?  I need examples for both games.  For the first I need individual sentences from the text (preferably Dream) that mean that “this is backwards from how we’d normally say it” criteria.  It helps if all the words are modern — the “I have of late but wherefore I know not lost all my mirth” example is wonderful, but I have to explain “wherefore” and “mirth” to these kids.

Second, help me pick some snippets for the No Fear game. I need quick little exchanges that two adults could do without getting completely confused.  So for example a Demetrius/Helena exchange. 

If possible I’ll also try to get in the initial rehearsal of Bottom and his crew, but I’m afraid that the teacher will tell me the whole Pyramus and Thisbe thing is just too complicated.

8 thoughts on “My Teaching Debut : A Monkey Wrench!

  1. Not sure how well some of these will fit into your schemes, but here they are:

    For the backwards word order, there's the Helena/Hermia exchange in 1.1 – "I frown upon him, yet he loves me still" &c.

    After you work on some of the Shakespearean sentences, perhaps you can have the kids come up with "forward" sentences and then switch them around to the "backwards" way. Given time, you might even have small groups exchange "forwards" sentences and change them into "backwards" ones. (Given enough time, and energy on the teacher's part, you could almost play telephone with these, having the students change from "forwards" to "backwards" and then have another group try to change the sentence "forwards" again.)

    For quick scenes, or scenes the students could act, what about the times the fairies speak? Little kids LOVE fairies and their exchanges aren't that tough.

    And I am extremely partial to the final performance of Pyramus and Thisbe. Good chance for overacting silliness in front of a young audience.

    Good luck ๐Ÿ™‚ Or should that be "break a leg"?

    -Kim (playsthetart)

  2. I'm really disappointed that the insults game is out – it's a favorite over here! I see why, though, it just stinks.

    I'd be really REALLY disappointed, though, if kids weren't the ones speaking Shakespeare in this class – wasn't that kind of the point?

    One introductory word game to ease them into working with the language is giving a small group of kids an out-moded word like "hurly-burly" or "amerce" from Shakespeare, and based on the context of its line they create a tableaux of what it means for the class ("kicky-wicky" NEVER fails to produce excellent pictures!) Then give it to them in a modern sentence and see if their tableaux changes.

    I'm afraid I can't actually offer any help for either of your requests, though I'm interested in the idea of the first, but good luck!

  3. Anonymous says:

    So, Cgriff turned me onto your blog and asked that I chime in on your teaching debut efforts. I'm gonna have to say – why? Why do NoFear Shakespeare? Why act out the scenes using the language yourself, but not allow the students to perform the text?
    Why use any of the lover's scenes (although pretty funny) if the teacher is against the idea of insults? Why not focus on the mechanicals- who have great scenes that the kids can perform themselves?
    So yes sorry, posing more questions does not give answers. But I think the kids will have a much richer experience if you allow them act out the original text.As a warm up you can even have the entire class add movement and gesture to the Fairy's "Over hill, over dale" speech or Bottom (as Pyramus)"O grim looked night" speech. Afterwards you can discuss as a group what is happening in that speech.
    Not only do they get to explore the language as a group, but they are up on their feet and having fun with it.

    But again allowing them to act out a brief scene too(perhaps breaking into small group to work on a few lines) , as opposed to watching you and the teacher perform may give them more ownership.

  4. As a resident teaching artist, the thing I learned way back on day one is that you can't possibly map out exactly how things will evolve or anticipate every move you'll make. I have several structured syllabi, none of which I've ever followed to the letter. You need enough material, ideas, and structuring to allow for the changing of gears if necessary. Some things won't work out right away, some will. (What didn't work all that well can be left for a future time; although since this is a one shot deal that situation won't present itself. Just be ready to move on.)

    Also, students will, themselves, provide opportunities to instruct. A teacher (especially a visiting one) has to be ready to recognise these opportunities when they present themselves and go with them if necessary, even if it totally changes the direction of what you had planned.

    With students of this age, adaptation is KEY. In addition to adapting to the situation, adapting the material without sacrificing its nature, thereby not sacrificing its power to move, is also key (as was suggested above by Anonymous). In my experience Shakespeare takes care of Shakespeare pretty well.

    The best advice I can give is to be ready to think on your feet. Hedging your bets logistically aids a little in that effort. Ironically, the rest of that ability comes from what's been learned but can't be taught.

  5. J, a question for you. I think you have a good handle on what I wish I could accomplish for the kids. You've got the experience that I don't have. In your honest opinion should I continue to hang onto the idea of getting the kids to perform some original (slightly edited) text, to the point where if I'm not allowed to do that we just don't recite at all, and fall back on various "Shakespeare's Life" stuff?

    Or would you give up this particular battle and let the kids perform a greatly simplified / modernized text?

  6. Sorry, Anon, I missed you in the middle there. The constraint comes directly from the teacher, who feels that even her most advanced readers will have difficulty with the original text (which I read with an implied "and my kids that are already struggling will just be completely lost"). I am all for getting original words to come out of the kids' mouths, trust me.

    Perhaps my mistake was in showing a sample scene from the lovers rather than the mechanicals. My fear was that all the Pyramus and Thisbe stuff would be even more confusing, whereas at least the lovers stuff could be summed up as "He likes her, she doesn't like him, she's chasing him and he wants her to stop…" Know what I mean?

    I'm also working with a time limit, as whatever I'm going to do is going to happen on Thursday the 22nd. So I need to come up with something that is acceptable to the teacher, that I can actually produce materials for.

  7. Duane,
    High school kids have difficulty reading the text! Does it mean they shouldn't try? Read it FOR them, not in whole soliloquies of course; explain what it means. Have them do it and nurse them through it. They'll get it from repetition. ACTUAL Shakespeare is too hard?…bunk! Teachers are afraid of being embarrassed by their students' performance…bunk! The whole idea is that the kids are ACTUALLY speaking Shakespeare, beginning to understand what it means, and vocalizing it on their feet.
    I have kids doing little speeches–1st graders!–the first day. Tell them it seems like it would be hard but it's easier than they think. They'll be proud they're able to emulate what you do, even if it's simple imitation. Self confidence will come with repetition. Walk them through it, word by word if necessary.Emphasize vocalization-that they're making a speech; They're ACTING it. It takes rehearsal! Mistakes are allowed–big time! Tell the teacher THAT. We're not asking them to analyze it for Arden footnotes, Zounds, man! 'Reading comprehension' has little to do with it.
    Just pick some fun stuff and do it. Have fun yourself and no matter what, they will too.

  8. I tried to "like" (as in Facebook) JM's last comment. Which means it's early on a Monday morning, but I heartily agree. Kids can do Shakespeare. The teacher doesn't have anything to lose by them trying with you. I'm sure she'll be a hard sell, but I believe in you!

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