What is nothing?;Secondary;Reviews;Books;English

30th April 1999 at 01:00
Key Shakespeare 1: Teaching Shakespeare to 10-14-year-olds. Key Shakespeare 2: Teaching Shakespeare to 14-16-year-olds. By Judith Ackroyd, Jonothan Neelands, Michael Supple and Jo Trowsdale. Hodder amp; Stoughton pound;21.99 each.

These two books set out to provide a progressive course of representative activities for introducing students to Shakespeare. The first covers key stages 2 and 3, the second key stage 4.

Each volume is divided into two sections. Just under half the book presents "transferable activities", addressing four learning strands, such as nar-rative and narrative structure (book 1) and dramatic structure (book 2), which the teacher can adapt for any Shakespeare play, and the rest provides lesson sequences exploring thematic avenues of particular plays.

Some resources offer a com-plete teaching package, leaving the teacher as a resource man-ager with little need for indivi-dual initiatives. Key Shake-speare is not that kind of prod-uct. The teacher is expected to be an active collaborator, trans-ferring, expanding or adapting the scheme to suit different plays and needs. Using it effectively will entail hard work. Indifferent design and stodgy prose do not make things easier.

The obstacles can be extreme. The teaching framework on Macbeth in book 2 has a section on Macbeth's soliloquy beginning "This supernatural soliciting" and ending "nothing is but what is not", which is the most difficult speech in the play. A task for students asks: "What is nothing and what is not?" This is a question to perplex philosophers, let alone key stage 4 students. In King Lear it taxed Shakespeare himself.

Most of the work is more accessible than that, but never a teacher's joyride. But the books are full of imaginative ideas, with clear and worthwhile aims. Teachers with the stamina and creativity to use them as a springboard will find much to stimulate their students.

Peter Hollindale is a reader in English and educational studies at the University of York

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