July 8, 2024

How to Support Students With Reading Shakespeare's Plays

It can be a challenge to make modern day connections with Shakespeare's 400 year old plays.⁠ Here's how I support students with reading these dramas.

When I taught high school, I always ended the year with one of Shakespeare's plays, Romeo & Juliet for ninth grade and Julius Caesar for tenth.⁠ Students loved getting into character and acting out scenes from the plays. But it can be a challenge to make modern day connections with a text written over 400 years ago.⁠ Here's how I supported students with reading one of Shakespeare's plays.⁠

Give Students Options For Reading

I paired the original text with a modern translation. Students could choose which version to read or utilize both. No Fear Shakespeare is available online at a cost (and now has audio) or you can purchase a class set of the books for in class support. I frequently see copies in thrift stores, so another option would be to snag one or two copies and then make copies for just the students who need the support. There are also graphic novel versions of many classics, which could be paired with the original text.⁠

Focus On The Play Highlights

All of our reading was done in class, so to pick up the pace, I focused in on key scenes, about two per act, and summarized the rest for students. Reading every scene would have dragged for students.⁠ 

Shorten The Scenes

Similar to cutting down the scenes we read, I also cut down the lines in each scene we did read. This takes some careful thinking about which characters and interactions you want to focus on in each scene.⁠ I found that cutting a scene down to one sheet of paper, front and back was the perfect length and made it easier for students to hold as the acted out scenes.

Read It More Than Once

Repeated readings help build students' comfort level with Shakespeare's language and read arounds are the perfect way to do that. On our first go round, we counted off the lines in a scene, with each student reading the numbered lines that corresponded with their number. On our second go round, we counted off the speaking parts in a scene, with each student reading the numbered parts that corresponded with their number. On our third go round, students could volunteer to read a part of their choosing.⁠

Don't Wait To Watch

Many of us tend to save watching a film version or theater production for the end of reading a play or book, but watching it throughout reading can help students better visualize the scenes and hear the personalities of the characters.⁠ You might also decide to use the recorded performance as your primary "text" and then focus on certain scenes and passages to analyze in print. If you have any theaters in your area, check their schedules to see if any might be performing the play that you are reading.

Dress Up Your Acting

Bring in props to help the play come alive. Items such as fake swords, capes, wigs, and crowns can be used for a variety of Shakespeare's plays. You can shop your local thrift stores or ask students to bring in their own costumes and accessories.

You can find all of my resources for teaching Shakespeare here.

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