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Teaching Shakespeare: A Practical Approach

Teaching Shakespeare: A Practical Approach 

 This module offers a nine week teaching programme exploring practical theatre methods that help to unlock the language in a Shakespeare play and through this, to discover meaning. Balancing practical work, creative exercises, independent research and reflection, seminar discussion (including discussion of early modern treatises on the education of children), and work on pedagogy (looking, for example, at the Elizabethan schools’ curriculum and at Shakespeare’s place on today’s syllabus), Teaching Shakespeare will begin to position students as confident apprentice teachers, equipping them to take Shakespeare into the classrooms of the 21st century by developing with them a repertoire of activities, both textual and physical, to engage today’s secondary students in enactive learning. The module is taught in nine 3-hour seminars, on Thursdays, 1.00 – 4.00, in the CAPITAL Centre Studio. In some weeks, the entire session will be devoted to workshop activity. In others, the first hour will be spent in a chalk-and-talk exchange, thinking about the history and theory of Shakespeare pedagogy. Over the course of the nine week term, Teaching Shakespeare: A Practical Approach will aim to provide the following:  

  • An understanding of the value and use of vocal and physical imagination and how this can aid inhabiting the world of a Shakespeare play.

  • Ways of understanding the language and its meaning through physical connection to the text.

  • A framework that encourages confident debate on text and enables ownership.

  • An insight into the working process of the actor and director.

  • A practical case study on Measure for Measure that develops a repertoire of pedagogic activities appropriate to secondary education.

  • Practical exercises that are transferable into other areas of teaching practice.

The practical programme is divided into four key areas of investigation. These are:
  • Introductions and warm-up (2 sessions). This work encourages imagination, curiosity and trust in the text. It will cover an awareness of movement and voice and aim to open a door to the text that provides a deep and connected understanding of the value of play.

  • Voice into text (2 sessions). This work will introduce the students to the muscularity of Shakespeare’s language and how meaning can be discovered through sound-play in the words.

  • Scene work (1 session). During this session the group will be encouraged to think as actors and directors. They will work intensely on a scene and explore through practical methods and discussion the choices that may be available to them in interpretation.

  • Case Study (4 sessions). The case study will be an extension of the ground covered in the scene work. These four sessions will focus on a single play.They will be task-oriented, and students will present their findings to the whole seminar in the final session.

Teaching Shakespeare: A Practical Approach

Programme Content

Week One: Introduction and Warm-up (3 hours)

· The first session will concentrate on methods used to establish an active and creative working environment to begin work on a Shakespeare text.

· The session is designed to break down barriers and grow student confidence which will further lively discussion and practical enquiry as the course progresses.

· Students will participate in a series of exercises which illustrate how to begin a practical session and bring the group together in a cohesive fashion so that all members feel that they can contribute.

· The focus for the session will be game playing. This is designed to complement not substitute for more traditional methods of investigation.

· Students will understand the pedagogic theory underpinning this activity. to equip them, as teachers, to employ these methods in the classroom.

 Week Two: Shakespeare on the Syllabus 2008 (1 hour)

· A discussion led by an expert in drama education that will give students an understanding of Shakespeare’s place on the secondary schools curriculum, focusing on how Shakespeare is taught and examined at GCSE and A-level and including an analysis of government education policies and targets.

Introduction and Warm-up (2 hours)

· Having established in the first session how to begin working practically, the workshop component of the second session will concentrate on physical and vocal awareness.

· Students will gain an understanding of how to make best use of their vocal and physical self.

· Technical exercises will develop observation and listening skills and the application of detail in storytelling.

· Students will understand the pedagogic theory underpinning this activity to equip them, as teachers, to employ these methods in the classroom.

 Week Three: Early Modern Pedagogic Theory (1 hour)

· What ideas about the education of children were current during Shakespeare’s lifetime? What expectations framed the various discourses articulating these ideas? This session will look at three essays by Desiderius Erasmus and think about Elizabethan apprenticeship as a common experience of education.

Voice into Text (2 hours)

· Session three will develop expressive but controlled use of voice.

· Through formal theatre voice exercises students will discover how to connect with the sounds in words and how sound makes sense in language.

· The session will pay attention to the value of a word and build a confidence which enables the student to relish language and begin to speak it nimbly.

· Students will learn how to transfer the vocal skills they are learning to the secondary classroom.

Week Four: What did Shakespeare Learn? How did Shakespeare Learn? (1 Hour)

· This session will survey the grammar school curriculum circa 1570 and the range of classroom exercises used to teach schoolboys facility in reading, writing, and speaking Latin, concentrating on one of those exercises, ethopoeia, by simulating its activity as a learning experience.

Voice into Text (2 Hours)

· This session will introduce the group to a Shakespeare sonnet and the story within.

· It will investigate the structure of the piece, its poetic shape, its rhythms, how to express the emotion behind the words and how to speak it aloud and communicate its meaning.

· This session will be led by John Barton/Cicely Berry who will work with the group as they would with actors in the rehearsal room.

· Attention will be paid to pedagogy: how the skills learned in this session can be used in the classroom.

Week Five: Shakespeare Goes to University (1 hour)

· This session looks at the making of the university English syllabus, the invention of Shakespeare as ‘course material’ and examinations subject, and his transportation from stage to classroom.

Scene Study (2 hours)

· Following on from the sonnet work in Week 4, session five will concentrate on the exploration of a scene.

· The group will be encouraged to think and work as actors and directors and mine the scene for meanings – textual, visual, acoustic and physical.

· They will explore techniques which help them to reveal the detail of the scene; where it takes place, when it is happening, what is happening, to whom it is happening.

· They will be encouraged to take ownership of the scene and make it work as a piece of theatre.

· Attention will be paid to pedagogy: how the skills learned in this session can be used in the classroom.

Week Six [Reading Week]

Weeks Seven – Nine: Case Study: Measure for Measure

· The three sessions, all of them conducted as 3-hour workshops, will offer a practical case study of how a play if taken off the page and brought to life in performance.

· The group will be given sections of the play to work on and they will be set a series of tasks which will involve them in making choices about the piece. This will include setting/location, stagecraft and editing.

· Session seven will offer a masterclass led by a director who will take aspects of the play and share how to make them accessible.

· Session eight will be led by an actor and provide an insight into how a performer embarks on the process of learning about a play.

· Session nine will concentrate on presentation and how to make the play connect to an audience, with attention to pedagogy, classroom practice and the workshop methodology.

· Students will understand the pedagogic theory underpinning this activity to equip them, as teachers, to employ these methods in the classroom.

Week Ten: Sharing

· The group will structure the session which will include introduction, warm-up, storytelling and scene study.

· They will present their case study work.

· Students will understand the pedagogic theory underpinning this activity to equip them, as teachers, to transfer the skills they have learned into the classroom.


Assessment on this module is 50% coursework; 50% examination.

The coursework requirement will be fulfilled by students compiling an Elizabethan-style commonplace book (or working journal, in modern parlance) focused on Measure for Measure: a loose-leaf binder (to facilitate reorganisation of pages) collecting materials relevant to their thinking on the play and how they see themselves teaching it in the secondary classroom. These materials may include writing, drawing, headlines or clippings from newspapers, postcards, quotations, images, words, games, maps, advertisements, website references, designs for clothing or built environments. As an assessment, the commonplace book will demonstrate how the student has engaged thoughtfully and creatively with the subject matter of the module.

The examination requirement will be fulfilled by a practical demonstration: each student will plan and deliver a half hour teaching demonstration. The practical will be observed by three members of the academic staff and will be video recorded for external assessment. Members of the seminar will ‘play’ the parts of classroom students. Supporting this demonstration, and as part of the examination, students will write a 1500-word reflective essay analysing and assessing the experience of planning and delivering their teaching exercise. Examination on this module will be conducted in the second week of the summer term in the CAPITAL Centre. Reflective essays (two copies, word processed) must be submitted to the CAPITAL Centre office within 24 hours of the practical.

Some things to do before the module begins:

Acquire your ring binder and begin compiling materials (including notes reflecting on any of the following):

Listen to jazz

Watch team sports

Go to an art gallery

Watch stand-up comedy

Watch a foreign language film

Write a short story/poem about your first encounter with Shakespeare

Read Measure for Measure


Taylor, Gary, Reinventing Shakespeare: A Cultural History from the Restoration to the Present (London, 1991)

Dickens, Charles, Hard Times, edited with an introduction by David Craig (Harmondsworth, 1969)

Teaching Shakespeare

Ackroyd, Judith, Jonothan Neelands, Michael Supple, and Jo Trowsdale.

Key Shakespeare 1 Teaching Shakespeare to 10-14 year olds;

Key Stage Shakespeare 2: Teaching Shakespeare to 14-16 Year-olds (
London, 1998)  

Gibson, Rex. Teaching Shakespeare (Cambridge, 1998)

Reynolds, Peter. Practical Approaches to Teaching Shakespeare (Oxford, 1991)

Stredder, James. The North Face of Shakespeare: Activities for Teaching the Plays (Stratford-upon-Avon, 2004)

Teaching Drama

Johnston, Chris. House of Games: Making Theatre from Everyday Life, 2nd ed. (London, 2005)

Winston, Joe and Miles Tandy. Beginning Drama 4 – 1, 2nd ed. (London, 2001)  

Kempe, Andy. The GCSE Drama Coursebook, 3rd ed. (Cheltenham, 2002)

Mackey, Sally, ed. Practical Theatre – A Post-16 Approach (Cheltenham, 1997)  

Drama and Theatre Studies for Use with all Drama and Theatre Studies A and AS Specifications,
ed. With Simon Cooper (Cheltenham, 2000)  

Neelands, Jonothan. Beginning Drama 11-1, 2nd ed. (London, 2004)

Learning Through Imagined Experience (London, 1992) 

Structuring Drama Work (with Tony Goode) (Cambridge, 2000)

Theatre Practice Barton, John. Playing Shakespeare (Cambridge, 1984)

Berry, Cecily. The Actor and the Text, rev. ed. (London, 1993)  Boal, Augusto.

Games for Actors and Non-actors, translated by Adrian Jackson, 2nd ed. (London, 2002)

Callow, Simon, Being and Actor (London, 1984)

Henry IV Part 1 (Actors on Shakespeare) (London, 2002)

Donnellan, Declan. The Actor and the Target (London, 2002)

Hall, Peter. Shakespeare’s Advice to the Player (London, 2003)

Sher, Antony, The Year of the King: An Actor’s Diary and Sketchbook (London, 1985)

Walter, Harriett. Macbeth (Actors on Shakespeare) (London, 2002)

Other People’s Shoes: Thoughts on Acting (London, 1999)