How should we study and teach Shakespeare's plays? From the earliest days of my career, this question has echoed in my mind. Yet despite my drama certification, I allowed myself to be influenced by prevailing pedagogy and for years eschewed what I knew in my heart, soul, and mind: Plays are meant to be performed. This is how actors study a play, by blocking and close oral reading of lines.
Not until I studied with the Folger Shakespeare library did I return to my roots. Thus, this unit showcases my pedagogical philosophy that performance pedagogy represents best practices for teaching Shakespeare in ELA classrooms.
Lesson 1 for The Taming of the Shrew
A note on the text: I use the Folger Shakespeare Library edition of The Taming of the Shrew; consequently, all textual references correspond to that text. It's available online as a digital edition (free) from the Folger Shakespeare Library.
*A Character list helps students keep track of the many players in TTotS.
I introduce students to to Shakespeare with Living Iambic Pentameter, a physical activity designed to give students a sense of Shakespeare's language. Knowing iambic pentameter contributes to student understanding of the play and gives them a sense of accomplishment, as the accompanying tutorial from the Folger Shakespeare Library shows.
Before the tutorial, a few reasons iambic pentameter matters:
As is the video, I have the Living Iambic Pentameter.docxprepared and ask for student volunteers.
Students vocalize the Ta/Tum sounds in order to replicate iambic pentameter.
Additionally, I gave students notesIambic Pentameter: Teacher Notes & Student Work. I simplify the notes by breaking the term into parts and by showing students the symbolization for unaccented and accented syllables.
Finally, we talk about why understanding iambic pentameter matters in terms of class, status, power, etc. Students take Iambic Pentameter: Notes on importance.
This fun activity tells students they're in for a good time studying Shakespeare, and it shows them that Shakespeare's language isn't as difficult as they imagined it would be.
Since The Taming of the Shrew is one of the three plays Shakespeare wrote that has a play within the play, I explain this to students. I also tell them that often the "Induction" scene is omitted from staged performances but that it is so important to understanding the play that we need to read it, too.
I put Teacher Notes: The Play within the Play to show the structure of "Shrew."
Before reading I want students to have experience playing with Shakespeare's language and becoming familiar with the play, so we play a line tossing activity.
The video shows students having fun with the line tossing.
After the line tossing, we engage in a processing discussion. I ask students to stand in a circle, and we each share
Students typically say things such as,
It's important that all students share. I start and rotate to my left. I give prompts as we take turns and someone gets stumped.
After line tossing, students stand in a circle for theInteractive summary.doc An interactive summary is a written summary of the play with numbering so that students can insert their numbered lines into the summary as the teacher reads it. An interactive summary accomplishes several things:
If time, discuss what the students observe and learn about the play from the summary. This we'll do next as the period was almost over by the time we finished the summary.