English teacher James Tickle, TES Author jamestickle86, tells us how his scheme of work uses historical context to provide a creative, relevant introduction to Shakespeare
Give us a quick summary of your chosen resource.
I have chosen my scheme of work, designed for Year 7, which introduces pupils to Shakespeare. I decided to work on two plays so that they can be comparatively studied: A Midsummer Night's Dream, from Shakespeare’s early career, and The Tempest, from later on in his career. This choice allows us to talk about how Shakespeare developed as a playwright, as well as setting the texts in their historical context. The aim of the resource is to give pupils ownership of Shakespeare, through creative writing and performance.
You created this scheme in light of the new curriculum. How has this altered the way you explored the content?
All the new specifications have an increased focus on older literature so there is a need to look at context more than we might have in the past. I teach this scheme to my Year 7 students after looking at Roald Dahl, and as they switch from one era of literature to another, they need to be guided by context.
You also have to take into account that pupils already have an awareness of Shakespeare. Teachers need to find out what learners already know about him, whether it’s factual or not, and build upon their contextual knowledge from there.
How do you cover historical context in a way that is relevant to your students?
I choose to start the SoW with historical context, which might seem like an unusual choice as it isn’t necessarily the most obvious way of engaging pupils. However, I think it’s actually the perfect approach for studying the plays because it addresses the fact that Shakespeare’s time is so different from ours.
For example, I introduce my class to the chain of being, which is actually quite a complex idea, but it is brilliant for grabbing pupils’ attention and can be applied to more tangible things. We look at the different theatre audiences, from the groundlings in the pit to the gentleman’s rooms, and relate it back to the chain of being, as well as looking at what is happening in the plays. For me, it’s not just about teaching context for context’s sake, but to explore these historical ideas in a way that supports students' understanding of the plays.
Which activity works best in the classroom and why?
My "whoosh" lesson encourages pupils to perform the play before they start studying it. Getting the class to read out the speech of different characters means they quickly understand the plot, so that when we revisit it, we can focus more on the language. I teach this in the middle of my scheme, which means that learners are really comfortable with each other and willing to throw themselves into it.
I also like to use activities that allow students to take ownership of Shakespeare, for example, by creating their own version of Puck or describing the magical forest. These creative writing exercises are really important for students' comprehension, as well as being fun.
What are the challenges of teaching Shakespeare?
I find that I have to dispel a lot of preconceptions. My pupils' first thoughts, like many adults, are of the Received Pronunciation of great Shakespearean actors, which can make the plays seem distant and irrelevant for modern life.
From the outset, we talk about what the theatre was like in Shakespeare’s time: how taboo it was, how it sat outside the city limits and how the Puritans wanted to shut it down. We talk about how people would choose between watching plays, or bear-baiting, or cock-fighting. Pupils are quite shocked by this and naturally, it grabs their attention. Shakespeare is often thought as high art, but he was actually quite bawdy, funny and lively. Resources like this help to cut through all the myth-making that has happened around Shakespeare and get stuck into the plays.
Introduction to Shakespeare: Full scheme and resources
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