GCSE English – Stand up for Shakespeare

I have to admit that, in the past, I was rather prone to keeping my students sitting down in class. Especially when teaching drama texts. This may be because my attempts at using drama in the classroom usually ended up resembling a scene from ‘Lord of the Flies’; it may be because I am a control freak; or it may be that I just hadn’t been trained in how to teach drama. However, a couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to receive some training on active approaches to teaching Shakespeare. It was brilliant! It provided me with simple ways to use drama to complement the teaching of English but in the controlled and focussed way I had always failed to do before.

This year I want to get my GCSE students standing up for Shakespeare.  They will be studying the theme of Love For the ‘Shakespeare and Literary Heritage Controlled Assessment’, focussing on ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and a selection of poetry.  With the on-going pressures on students from controlled assessments, I want to make this unit as interactive as possible- they have and will have to spend enough time sitting down and writing about it in silence afterwards! Here are two of the techniques I plan to use.

1 – Firstly I have decided to look at ‘Last Words’. This involves each student in the class taking it in turns to read out the last word in a line from a section of the play. Once everyone has had a go, they do it again but add actions. This is a very simple but effective way of focussing the students on language choices and of spotting patterns in imagery, rhyme and rhythm.

2 – The second technique is ‘Walking the punctuation’. Students are given an extract from the play and have to walk around the classroom whilst reading the extract out loud. The trick is that when they reach a full-stop, question mark or exclamation mark they stop and turn 180 degrees before walking again, whereas if they reach a comma, colon or semi-colon they just make a brief turn and carry on walking, without stopping. This is a great way of helping students to consider the pace and rhythm of speeches and dialogues, which they can then develop by linking to the content and the mood of the characters.

Both of these techniques will need to be developed by more traditional text marking and annotation to help students fully analyse the language. But they are excellent ways in to the text and that is so important. Shakespeare often seems mind-boggling for students but if they can stand up, pull it apart and interact with it, hopefully it will become that bit more accessible before they sit down again and write about it.

Naomi Hursthouse
Advance Skills Teacher
Steyning Grammar School

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