Shakespeare: give students the short, rather than the long, of it - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 7 May 2013

To read or not to read: that is the question. Or, more accurately: to read from the beginning or not.

Shakespeare: give students the short, rather than the long, of it

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 7 May 2013

To read or not to read: that is the question. Or, more accurately: to read from the beginning or not.

With students now compelled to study two Shakespeare plays between the ages of 14 and 16, teachers are suggesting that it is better to take inspiration from pop culture and film techniques, rather than reading the plays through from start to finish.

Perchance a dream? Not according to Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. In an article in this week’s TES, she insists that Shakespeare’s plays should be taught in a way that allows students create parallels with soap operas and blockbuster films.

“Don’t start at the beginning,” she writes. “Taking inspiration from film trailers, give novice Shakespeare readers a taste of the most highly dramatic scenes in the play.

Shakespeare sometimes warmed up slowly and beginnings were not always his forte.” Once students have had Shakespeare’s greatness thrust upon them, Dr Bousted says, they will then want to find out what happened, and why.

Such comments, however, have caused inevitable controversy. And so, once more into the breach, dear friends, once more.

Traditionalists insist that the only way to teach Shakespeare’s plays is to start at Act I, scene one, and progress from there. Scenes should be read in the same order in which they are performed, claims Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education.

“It’s the computer-games mentality that you only have what are seen as action and excitement,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “Shakespeare and most dramatists are about far more than that. They’re about character and plot-development and poetry.” But parting from convention can be such sweet sorrow. And Dr Bousted is not the only person to suggest that pop culture may be the food of Shakespearean love.

When the TES Twitter community was asked for suggestions on how to teach Shakespeare to low-ability pupils, several teachers suggested comparing the Bard’s characters to those in soap operas, or illustrating iambic pentameter through the music of rapper Eminem. One teacher uses Katy Perry’s song Hot n Cold to elucidate the fighting-and-flirting relationship between Much Ado About Nothing’s Beatrice and Benedick to her students.

But others still maintain that the play’s the thing. “Performance,” one teacher writes. “Prepare to be amazed at how 10-year-old children handle Shakespearean dialogue on a stage, in front of an audience of parents, teachers and members of the public.”

Questions for discussion or further research:

  • Do you think Shakespeare’s work is still important today? Why/why not?
  • Chris McGovern of the Campaign for Real Education believes schools should teach Shakespeare in a more traditional way. What does a real education mean to you?
  • How would you make Shakespeare relevant and exciting to young people?
  • Shakespeare’s plays are still famous hundreds of years later. What kinds of films, books or songs that we enjoy today might still be around in another 300 years? Who will decide this?

Resources for you

Creative approaches to teaching Shakespeare

  • A crowd-sourced resource from the TES Twitter community suggesting creative approaches to teaching Shakespeare to 11-14-year-olds.

RSC Teaching Ideas: Romeo and Juliet

  • Explore Romeo and Juliet with this resource pack from the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Rallying the troops: Football and Henry V

  • Develop your students’ interest in Henry V’s Harfleur speech with this inventive football comparison.

Much Ado About Nothing: Magazine writing frame

  • A template and writing frame to support your low-ability pupils in reporting on the marriage of Beatrice and Benedick.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

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On this day 20 years ago, the World Wide Web was born. Now the scientists who created it have restored the very first web page as part of a project to preserve the earliest years of web history.

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In the news archive index