MACBETH: Unpacking Characters & Central Ideas - Day Three

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SWBAT demonstrate understanding of characterization and central ideas in MACBETH through project-based learning and collaborative discussion.

Big Idea

"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power." Abraham Lincoln

Lesson Overview and Note to Teachers

My classes are held in 100-minute block sessions every other day.   The activities for Unpacking Characters and Central Ideas take four lessons to complete.  This lesson is for Day Three of activities, but I have included my narrative from Day One when students started the activity (Assignment: Unpacking Characters) to provide some context for you (Narration: Day One - Unpacking Characters and Central Ideas). 

In the lesson outlined below, students make presentations on their assigned characters or the Macbeth Marriage and begin discussion on central ideas in Macbeth.  


Warm-Up and Debrief

14 minutes

At the beginning of class, I already have student desks arranged for group work.  I have given each group a laptop and a printout of their presentation.  Students have two tasks to complete in preparation for today's activities:

  1. Students debrief in their groups to review the text from Act I, Scene i through Act IV, Scene i by writing a five-bullet summary of the text so far.  Each group has to determine the five most significant events in the play through Act IV, Scene i and write a bulleted summary of these events in chronological order.  I notice that students go back to the text for clarification; talk about why plot events are important; fill comprehension gaps by discussing the text; and engage in discourse and questioning about their predictions (egs. Do you think Malcolm is coming back from England? How do you think Macbeth and Macduff will interact?).  I circulate to monitor group progress and find out what events they believe are important for the summaries.
  2. Students review their presentations and confirm group member roles (egs. spokesperson, driver to advance presentation at my computer).

Before transitioning to presentations, group five shares their summary of the text through Act IV, Scene i (Student Work: Warm-Up):

  • The witches tell Banquo and Macbeth their future and fate.
  • Lady Macbeth has influence on Macbeth in killing Duncan.
  • Macbeth kills Duncan and gains the throne.
  • The three murderers kill Banquo and Fleance escapes.
  • Macbeth goes back to the witches and sees the line of kings that will follow Banquo.

Group Presentations and Reflections

49 minutes

Each group presents (1) a Keynote/PowerPoint/Prezi that shows how Shakespeare uses language to develop the character; the presentation must include five citations from the text with a rationale for each choice (2)  their character video(s) (five, six-second Vine videos or one 30 second Animoto) that portrays their character.  Between presentations, I ask students to write down what they learn from the presentation. They will use this to evaluate their knowledge for the Ticket Out.

Group One presents on Macbeth's character development (Student Work: Group One - Macbeth Slideshow).  The presenter refers back to specific areas of and events in the text where Shakespeare uses language to develop Macbeth's character.  During the slideshow presentation, I ask clarification questions based upon content and comments made by the presenter:

  • When Macbeth meets the witches, he is satisfied with the current state of his life. After I ask, "How do you know from the text Macbeth is satisfied with his life, and the presenter gives his interpretation, I pose the question to the class, who identifies this as an uncertainty in the text.
  • Duncan didn't crown Macbeth king. I clarify by asking, "Who does Duncan designate as his heir?". A volunteer clarifies Duncan designates his eldest son Malcolm as his heir.


Group One presents their five Vines, providing their depiction of Macbeth. I've included one Vine relating to Duncan's murder (Student Work: Group One - Macbeth Vine) in this section.  The presenter explains the plot context for each Vine.

Group Two presents on Banquo's character development with a Prezi (Student Work: Group Two - Banquo Slideshow). The presenter states that the presentation explores Banquo's evolution from Macbeth's ally to his enemy.  Group Two presents an Animoto (Student Work: Group Two - Banquo Animoto) on Banquo's evolution. 

Between each group presentation, students write a short reflection of what they learn (Student Work: Group Presentation Reflections).

Group Three presents on Lady Macbeth's character development (Student Work: Group Three - Lady Macbeth Slideshow).  The presenter provides the following interpretations on Lady Macbeth:

  • She is consumed by power and ambition.
  • She portrays a loyal facade to Duncan and in front of thanes after his murder.
  • She is manipulative and a good liar.
  • Lady Macbeth is a cold-blooded killer; she exhibits the predominant trait of a sociopath since she shows no remorse about Duncan's murder.
  • After Duncan's murder, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth begin to switch roles - Macbeth becomes dominant while Lady Macbeth begins to reflect on Macbeth's murderous act.

During the presentation, I pose several questions to the class for clarification:

  • Who kills Duncan? Macbeth
  • Whose murder plot is it? Lady Macbeth
  • Do you think Lady Macbeth would be able to let go and get past Duncan's murder if she had been the one to kill Duncan? Yes, she is someone who has no remorse.

To show their portrayal of Lady Macbeth, Group Three presents an Animoto on her character.

Group Four presents a slideshow on The Witches (Student Work - Group Four - The Witches Slideshow).  The presenter provides the following interpretations on The Witches:

  • The Witches are good to Macbeth at first because they tell him his future (after I question this student on how the witches are good to Macbeth, the class concedes that this is open to interpretation)
  • The First Witch discusses her power over nature because she plans to curse a sailor after his wife's affront to her; the other witches discuss how they will use natural elements to aid her.
  • In the first scene of the play; their meeting with Banquo and Macbeth; their sinister spells out of loyalty to Hecate; and the apparitions they show Macbeth, the Witches demonstrate their power over nature and their influence in plot events.  

I ask students, "How would the Witches behave toward Macbeth without Hecate's intervention?" The presenter states that without Hecate's admonishment and enlightenment about Macbeth's true nature, the Witches may have continued to treat Macbeth with spiritual favor, not tricking him to his downfall. Even though I point out to students that some experts believe Hecate's scene berating the Witches for talking to Macbeth without her consent was added to the play later, students maintain that Hecate's intervention is necessary to Macbeth's downfall. 

Group Four presents their Animoto on the Witches, using YouTube footage of the apparition scene from the Royal Shakespeare Company's film of Macbeth (PBS, 2010) with Katy Perry's "Dark Horse" in the background.  They wanted to highlight the Witches' sinister nature and the eerie tone of the scene.

Group Five presents their slideshow on the Macbeth Marriage (Student Work: Group Five Macbeth Marriage Slideshow).  After the presenter discusses quote four in the slideshow, I interject that the presentation shows the marriage is almost its own entity in the play, and the marriage seems to drive action in the plot.  I point out that this is just my interpretation as a reader.

At the end of the slideshow, to explore author's purpose, I ask students for help on something that I discussed with a teacher on my team who has also taught Macbeth multiple times: "Macbeth sees Banquo's ghost at the banquet. Macbeth is haunted by Banquo's ghost when he doesn't murder Banquo with his own hands, but Macbeth is not haunted by Duncan's ghost when he actually murders Duncan. Why do you think Shakespeare has Macbeth haunted by Banquo's ghost but not by Duncan's?" One student responds that perhaps it is because Duncan has no idea who murders him since he is asleep, whereas Banquo has suspicions about Macbeth's deeds and realizes Macbeth is responsible for his murder while he is being murdered.

Group Five presents an Animoto on the Macbeth Marriage. They organize the Animoto by these central ideas: Power, Ambition, and Fate.  When I ask the group why they do so, they state that power, ambition, and fate are the main characteristics that shape the evolution of the marriage.

Between presentations students write their reflections on what they learn (Student Work: Group Presentation Reflections).  I give students a few minutes to discuss what they learn with their groups because I want them to see the value of first processing a presentation, reflecting upon it, and sharing interpretations, which is an effective study strategy for college and career readiness.

Collaborative Discussion: Central Ideas

27 minutes

Each group owns its character, with group five acting as the Macbeth Marriage Counselor, and participate in a discussion about central ideas in the play, using discussion questions they created on Day One and evaluated for effectiveness on Day Two.  Then each group reexamines the questions, discussing their answers as their assigned characters. They also determine how much the character knows about what's happening in their surroundings and note whether or not they can fully answer the questions as the character.  

Each group must record its responses in a double-entry journal: in the left column they respond as readers, and in the right column they respond as their assigned character.  Please see the resource in this section that includes the discussion questions and double-entry journal template. 

I notice a few things happening in the small groups during just this first part of the activity:

  1. Students approach the activity in a serious manner, even though it is highly complex.
  2. Students revisit the plot, discussing events in retrospect but also considering their character's motivation.
  3. Students are eager to find out the perspectives of other groups next class.
  4. Group #3 - Lady Macbeth: this group discusses the definition of fate vs. destiny - I read the dictionary definitions to them, but then we discuss which one may have a more positive connotation. 
  5. Group #5 - Macbeth Marriage Counselor: I encourage them to be thorough in answering the questions for the right column.  Since the Macbeth Marriage Counselor is not a character in the play, they have to determine how much the counselor knows about the marriage to answer the questions.  I ask them to consider this question: "How much would Macbeth and Lady Macbeth even reveal to a marriage counselor based upon their characters?"
  6. I have to force myself to circulate among groups so that students focus on talking to each other and not to me in an attempt to seek my approval for their interpretations.

We only have enough time for students to complete the first three questions and debrief on the Macbeth group's answers. However, I have added each group's first three entries as a resource in this section (Student Work: Double-Entry Journal - Collaborative Discussion). 

We will continue this activity and debrief next class.

Ticket Out: Twitter - What Did You Learn?

10 minutes

Since we are running out of time and I want to get student feedback on the lesson, I ask students to reply to my tweet: What did you learn from today's activities?

The overarching theme from all student tweets is that different characters have their own perspectives, but some students cite that they finally realized the importance of the Macbeth marriage and its impact on the play.