I love Shakespeare. When my oldest was five she memorized Macbeth’s “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” soliloquy just from hearing me quote it so often. But loving it and trying to teach it to kids… well, those are two separate beasts!
I knew that before the kids could truly appreciate the Bard, they needed to know about his life. Luckily for me, and unluckily for my monthly book budget, I happened upon a friend selling Usborne books and bought some great ones about Shakespeare. The very next day we had a long drive, and one hour into it the kids had read all four new Shakespeare books. My daughter asked if I knew Shakespeare was the author of Romeo & Juliet. No, really?
What fascinated them the most wasn’t his life because let’s face it, we don’t know much. He lived in Stratford-upon-Avon, got married, had kids, left his family for London, wrote plays, acted in plays, died, and left his wife his second-best bed (okay, that’s pretty interesting. I mean, that’s like master-class passive-aggressiveness). What fascinated them — and what helped shape my direction in teaching Shakespeare — was the summaries of his tragedies.
Specifically, Macbeth and Hamlet.
Apparently, kids like murder and ghosts.
To reinforce the study of Shakespeare’s life I created an eight-page mini-book for students that includes summaries of his greatest works. It’s a great resource for the kids to hang onto throughout their Shakespeare studies. You just print it, cut out, and staple.
The next step was to actually read a play. A couple years ago we read the actual text of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. And while the kids actually listened, I’m not sure they really appreciated it. So this time around, I found a version of Macbeth that worked wonders: “William Shakespeare’s Macbeth” by Bruce Coville. The pictures are engaging and the text is understandable but not dumbed-down. I highly recommend it for anyone looking to introduce Shakespeare.
Finally, because I did want the kids to learn WHY Shakespeare is considered one of the greatest playwrights of all time, I created an analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116. It’s an easy-to-use guided analysis that helps decipher and unlock the beauty and meaning of Sonnet 116. It’s 18 pages and includes worksheets on poem vocabulary, structure and format; worksheets on poem interpretation and literary devices; teacher keys for all worksheets; and poetry form & literary devices primers.
So if you’ve been meaning to teach Shakespeare but haven’t known where to start, this will help you. your students will learn all about WHO he was, and they’ll get a great introduction to understanding WHAT he wrote!
Other good Shakespeare resources:
“See Inside the World of Shakespeare,” by Rob Lloyd Jones
“World of Shakespeare Picture Book,” by R. Dickins
“Who Was William Shakespeare?” by Celeste Mannis