Sport - Theatre in the round

5th April 2013 at 01:00
A ball game brings home the passion of Romeo and Juliet

"Why do we have to study Shakespeare?" is a familiar refrain, and one I heard repeatedly in the summer of 2009. My 13- and 14-year-old students had spent a week finding out about Shakespeare's life and times and the plight of Romeo and Juliet, but they clearly did not share my passion.

So I decided to introduce an element of competition and swap the classroom for the playing field. We would play a game that I felt would revolutionise the way students discovered the Bard: Shakespearean rounders.

For preparation, I taught only a few Shakespearean facts and quotes, instead directing students towards conducting their own research. I borrowed the bats, balls and helmets we needed from the PE department. I split the class into two teams, giving the role of "team captain" to gifted and talented students.

As we marched towards the field, the students were buzzing with anticipation and the captains began topping up their teams' knowledge of Shakespearean quotes. Meanwhile, the team members were devising a plan worthy of the sly Tybalt to work out who should bat first and last.

The rules were basically the same as rounders. But the student who was about to bat had to answer a question before the bowler could pitch. If the batter answered incorrectly, they would be "out". If they got the answer right, they could play on.

"What does 'star-crossed lovers' mean?" I called from across the pitch.

"A doomed relationship," the batsman shouted back.

He hit the ball high and ran around the pitch to cheers from his team. The next student stepped forward, bat at the ready.

"Who says: 'For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring'?" I yelled.

"Benvolio!" responded the new batsman. After another successful run, it was time to raise the stakes with questions that would test their understanding of Shakespearean language.

"John, what does Benvolio mean when he says 'these hot days is the mad blood stirring'?" There was a pause; silence fell.

"It's hot outside ..." John ventured. ("Go on, think of the weather," called one of his teammates in support.) "... and this is making everyone hot and angry and ready for a fight?"

John had made it.

Tackling Shakespeare in this way showed that students could remember and understand a topic that they had earlier thought was not for them. They began to associate movement with recall, and Shakespeare with teamwork and winning. So as long as the weather is in our favour, a game of rounders will always be my preferred choice of assessment.

Kirby Elliott teaches English at Charles Darwin School in Biggin Hill, Kent


Learn the basics of teaching rounders and activities for batting, throwing and catching using a guide from AndSJ.


Find out about life - and sport - in the time of Shakespeare with a PowerPoint resource and scheme of work from TESEnglish.


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