Monday, June 14, 2010

"Shake it up" with Shakespeare and Elementary Kids

Recently we were able to get in touch with a wonderfully gifted AIG teacher from North Carolina, Debra Williamson. She took a few of our plays and did a trio of melodramatic Shakespeare skits with her kids. They performed Midsummer, Romeo & Juliet, and Macbeth. She referred to it as "Shake it up, Shakespeare". Since this was such a wonderful way to approach her elementary children, we asked her to answer a few questions about her experience. Here ya go...

1) Did you find using the Shakespeare for Kids book series by Brendan P. Kelso an easy way to deliver Shakespeare to the kids? Yes.

2) If you were to do it over again, what would you do differently? Not email Brendan Kelso every day? Yes, we had several conversations, which is what made the experience for both us, and Debra, more enjoyable.

3) For teachers that are approaching the subject of teaching Shakespeare for the first time (yes, it can be very intimidating) what advice would you give them?
Sir Ken Robinson's catchline is "If kids don't know, they'll have a go." Teachers should "have a go" at Shakespeare in the elementary school because they are laying the foundation for middle and high school when Shakespeare is part of the core curriculum. Our unit of study was based on the developmental age of students and incorporating creativity into the unit. I looked for resources that made Shakespeare easy for young students to understand and that fit best with my style of teaching. I started the unit by sending my students a letter from Shakespeare from Postcards from Shakespeare by Wendy Conklin and Christi Parker. I copied it on parchment paper and sealed it. After reading the letter, we came up with more questions we had about Shakespeare. I had other resources in the room for them to use to answer their questions...Shakespeare for Kids by Colleen Aagesen and Margie Blumberg, Who Was William Shakespeare by Celeste Davidson Mannis, William Shakespeare and the Globe by Aliki, Tales From Shakespeare by Marcia Williams, and Kids Discover Magazine. I created a project for the students based on multiple intelligences and Marzanno's questioning strategies. After we were pretty well versed on Shakespeare the man, we moved onto the plays. I used the Scholastic Teaching Resources: Shakespeare Mini-Books, the Shakespeare Can Be Fun! series by Lois Burdett and Playing with Plays by Brendan P. Kelso. I tried to find plays for my students to perform that were featured in all three of those resources. I gave it to the kids, and they came up with their own unique interpretations and I basically just sat back at that point and filmed what they created in class.

4) Of the PlayingWithPlays books, which one did your kids perform? Did they enjoy it?
We performed Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. They enjoyed all of it, because they were able to put their own spin on it, and I enjoyed watching fifth graders quote Shakespeare. Their parents loved their performances, so it was a win-win-win! Macbeth was the favorite of the viewing audience, Romeo and Juliet for the performers, and we struggled with a Midsummer Night's Dream...but I think Shakespeare did, too!

5) We truly believe in a creative license with the kid's interpretations of the plays, what would you say is the most memorable creative kid moment during your performance?
The student who played Puck turned him into a superhero. He TOTALLY ditched the costume I had for him, showed up at school in a batman cape, and zoomed around the stage during the performance. Lady Macbeth was pretty funny, wandering around the stage in red gloves. The group that performed Romeo and Juliet incorporated Michael Jackson's Thriller dance into the Capulet ball.

6) If you were to suggest a few lesson plans to incorporate into teaching Shakespeare to students, what would they be and why?
I think I answered that in question #3. They were hooked from the moment they opened up their parchment paper letter from Shakespeare. I had a finger puppet of Shakespeare on the board, with "WHO was (fingerpuppet)? written for the day's lesson. Incorporate as many higher level thinking activities as possible...don't ask kids to make a model of the Globe theater...ask them to design a new and improved Globe theater incorporating a few details from the original and explain why. One of my students watercolored a scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream (Aagesen's book), but painted the faces as large oval circles so that whoever looked at her work could imagine what the characters looked like. I am stealing that idea for next year. The students will paint a water color of a scene, leave part of the scene blank, and pass it on to another student to finish. Then I will have them pair and share about the picture.

7) Did YOU have fun?
I had great fun. The most important aspect of this unit was that the kids had fun learning about Shakespeare, and carried it over into their real lives. They were renting Shakespeare movies (I had to caution parents) and talking about Shakespeare to their relatives.

For more teaching resources for Shakespeare and kids check out