Well versed in matters of morality

15th August 2014 at 01:00
Use Shakespeare to introduce the complex concepts of right and wrong to young children

The topic of right and wrong is tricky for young children to understand. These terms are complex, multifaceted constructs that can be influenced by a number of factors: cultural, historical, social and situational. It can be a minefield for adults, let alone seven-year-olds attempting to navigate the school day.

Hence, when discussing right and wrong in primary schools, we attempt to simplify matters and reframe the discussion by using phrases such as "making choices". This is underpinned by the idea of right and wrong, but choice gives more ownership and responsibility to the child and enables them to construct their own understanding of these terms.

You can hold these conversations in a number of ways, but one approach we have found particularly successful was introduced in a Globe Education programme. The Children as Storytellers project, supported by the Nomura Charitable Trust, includes CPD and has enabled our teachers to feel confident using Shakespeare's stories as tools to encourage children to explore and make their own decisions about what right and wrong mean. It has allowed us to formulate a best-practice approach to this topic, which involves the following:


Discuss what you mean by right and wrong or making choices. What is the children's understanding of it and can they think of an example of what these choices would look like in the classroom? This gives both adults and children a clear starting point and creates a shared understanding of these terms.

Use of story

One of the most effective ways of examining what is right and wrong is through the use of stories. Shakespeare's plays offer a range of themes and moral dilemmas to explore, even for the youngest children. In Children as Storytellers, Globe Education practitioners work alongside teachers and teaching assistants with pupils aged 4 to 7. They use A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest to discuss key themes - choices, feelings, friendship and family - and allow the students to develop their social and collaborative skills in a safe environment.

With support from the practitioners, I decided to use King Lear with my five-year-olds to discuss right and wrong. Elements of the story encouraged the children to reflect on characters' choices and to consider the impact of those decisions on themselves and others.

Role play

Imaginative play encourages children to see the world from new perspectives, exploring different scenarios and possibilities. This encourages them to think about the choices that could be made. The pupils enjoy taking on the roles of characters from Shakespeare's plays - such as Prospero or Ariel from The Tempest - and then discussing these people's decisions and the advice they would give to them.


These can create or comment on a scenario and can be used by either the teacher or a child, offering lots of possibilities. Hand puppets were provided by Globe Education for the characters in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and with a Puck puppet we explored his decision to play tricks on other characters. This encouraged lots of discussion about why the character made the choices he did and whether they were right.


Playing games is a fun way for children to develop their understanding of right and wrong. Games can be linked with literary texts to support understanding of a story or as a stimulus for developing wider social skills.


Using drama as a resource across the curriculum facilitates understanding of texts, aids comprehension of ideas and can support children in considering right and wrong.

Teachers, too, can take on roles and play characters with high or low status, encouraging children to take the lead in decision-making. Hot-seating (where the teacher or a child answers questions as a character) can also be used effectively to explore our choices.

Drama, whether utilised as a game, with puppetry or through compelling stories like Shakespeare's, takes you out of your skin and into someone else's - even if it is just for a moment. This active approach to learning enables children to enjoy and experience another person's perspective, as well as considering and developing their own understanding.

Karen Kelleher teaches at John Donne Primary School in Peckham, South London

What else?

Dive into this extensive collection of Shakespearean resources.


Give students the short, rather than the long of it.


Exploring the world through the themes of Shakespeare's plays.


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