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Volume IV: Shakespeare


What Will’s Words Paint for Us: Characters and Their Relationships in Romeo and Juliet
A Middle-School Unit
Kipp Dawson
Colfax Spanish Academy

Through a study of Romeo and Juliet, the unit that follows introduces middle-school students to Shakespeare as a writer of material meant to be acted, watched, listened to, laughed with and at, and thought about and discussed. This unit focuses on the development of relationships between and among characters to introduce and develop an appreciation for Shakespeare’s rich and varied use of language, his development of theme and tone, and his use of drama as a poetic medium.

The unit is designed to be taught to students in grade 7 or 8, as an intensive 6-week course, but it can be adapted for other uses. Lessons are presented to fit into 45 to 50-minute periods, although some would work best in double-period blocks. The number and length of lessons can be adapted to meet varying needs.


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An Examination of Tragedy Through William Shakespeare's Macbeth
Kristen Kurzawski
John A. Brashear High School

This unit teaches the well-known William Shakespeare tragedy Macbeth. It has been created for a twelfth grade English class that meets five days a week with 40 to 45 minute instructional periods each day, and it will take approximately one month to complete. We will begin our examination of tragedy by discussing a series of definitions of tragedy before reading the play. We will use these definitions throughout our reading to identify tragic elements of the play. Students will also follow several image and language clusters throughout the play to help unlock the complexity of the language and help them examine the themes of play. Finally students will act scenes out in front of the class. Each scene will be performed twice to give us two different versions of each scene to discuss. This will allow the students to see how the staging of a play and performance of an actor can produce different interpretations of a scene. These three basic elements of the unit will make Shakespearean tragedy more accessible to the students and elevate their ability to analyze literature.


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Hamlet for High School
David Mathews
Westinghouse High School

Of the thirty-seven plays William Shakespeare is credited with writing none has enjoyed more popularity than Hamlet. Hamlet has been performed on stage more than any other play, more film adaptations have been made of Hamlet and you could fill libraries with the number of articles and criticisms written about Hamlet. Just like the title role is the crowning glory in the careers of many actors, many believe that Hamlet is the crowning glory of the career of the man responsible for some of the best drama written in the English language. Hamlet also remains a staple in high school and college curriculums and has been read in classrooms around the world.

In this unit, which is designed for use in a general English classroom, students will learn to appreciate Shakespeare’s life and career along with his gift for language and his ability to identify the soul of man, while entertaining audiences for over four hundred years. Students will also be able to identify and analyze Shakespeare’s use of literary devices and be able to respond both orally and in writing to the play that they have read.

The unit will discuss the reasons why we still teach Shakespeare using some of the ideas in Rex Gibson’s Teaching Shakespeare. The unit will also cover some of the literary devices seen in Hamlet, including an at length discussion of how Shakespeare uses imagery to depict theme and tone. For this, I will use W.H. Clemen’s article “Imagery in Hamlet Reveals Character and Theme.” The unit will also examine issues of time and space as they are somewhat confusing to the reader. Harley Granville-Barker’s esay “Place and Time in Hamlet” is excellent source material for explaining why Shakespeare seems to ignore time and space in the play. In the unit, we will look at what makes a tragedy and a tragic hero and show, using Oscar Mandel’s A Definition of Tragedy to show how Hamlet and Hamlet are examples.

And, finally, we will explore the question that seems to be most in the minds of students as we study Hamlet, which is the reason for his delay in carrying out his vengeance against Claudius. There are many possibilities why Hamlet delays. I think A.C. Bradley’s chapter from Readings on the Tragedies of William Shakespeare provides a good explanation for the delay while giving some credit to other possibilities.

All of this will be accomplished through close in-class reading and discussion of the play along with the use of several film adaptations and student-created performances of particular scenes. Students will also be asked to maintain a log of scenes they have read that will require them to dig a little deeper than a mere understanding of the plot to get a better understanding of what makes this play so special. Along the way students may see some of themselves and people they know in the characters of Hamlet, which will help them make a better connection to the play, its characters and William Shakespeare himself.


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Changing Gender Roles in Macbeth
Susan J Monroe
Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts

This Macbeth unit will be a several-week unit taught at a creative and performing arts high school to mainstream seniors. One focus of the unit is to discuss whether Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are ruled by “the evil within” or if they are both acting out the only role they can in their culture and era: Macbeth as a brave soldier who has been taught the necessity of violence, and Lady Macbeth as the helpmate who is doing all she can to support her husband’s desire to win the throne. But another focus will also be on the changes apparent in both Macbeth, who begins the play as a brave soldier, becomes weak in his wife’s presence, but then hardens again after the banquet scene; and Lady Macbeth, who begins the play as a vicious plotter and unravels to her suicide.


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Caesar in the Hood
Janelle A. Price
David B. Oliver High School

“This is so boring! Why do we have to read it?”

“I don’t understand this! Why can’t it be written in regular English?”

These are the comments I heard daily during my first foray into teaching one of William Shakespeare’s plays to my tenth grade high school students. My heart was broken. Not only had Shakespeare’s words failed to capture them, so too, the traditional method of teaching the work. Adding to my dilemma was that I needed to teach the same students another of Shakespeare’s plays, Julius Caesar. There was no doubt in my mind; I had to drastically alter my strategy and methods. Lucky for me, and hopefully you, too, this unit’s work came along. While this unit is geared to teaching Julius Caesar to high school students, many of the activities such as lazy sonnets, writing death notices, postcards home, electric vocabulary, and student-generated video and WebQuests can readily be adapted to younger students.


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William Shakespeare
Literacy Lessons for Middle School Students/Read 180
Marlene Story
Pittsburgh Classical Academy

There have been many great poets, dramatists, and actors who speak to each of us. One important poet that we all know some information about is William Shakespeare. Many students in the middle schools have no idea who Shakespeare was and why he is so important to our world today. This unit will focus on 6th, 7th, and 8th graders in the Communications classroom. I will give the students more knowledge and understanding of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, teach them who Shakespeare was as a person, and prepare them for the literature on William Shakespeare in high school.

In my curriculum, I will be focusing on the life of William Shakespeare and teaching the students who he was and what he accomplished in his life. As part of this curriculum we will focus on the play Macbeth. The students will learn about the genre tragedy and also be introduced to four major genres. Current critics have identified these genres as: tragedy, history, comedy, and romance. The students will read the middle school version of Macbeth which is in the Scope Magazine and the high school version found in the book Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The students will be comparing and contrasting the two plays. The students will explore plot, setting, conflict, and character motivation. The students will learn more about the literary devices imagery, metaphor, personification, and symbolism. The students will find all of these skills using the Elements of Literature Book and the play Macbeth.


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Romeo and Juliet: the Comedy
Renee C. Tolliver
David B. Oliver High School

This unit, Romeo and Juliet: the Comedy, is designed for a ninth grade gifted English class, but it may easily be adapted for other grade and ability levels. During this unit, students will approach Romeo and Juliet through a study of genre, specifically comedy and tragedy. They will learn new information about Shakespeare and his plays through a series of activities that will include internet research, interactive activities such as acting out brief scenes and playing word games, and completing various writing assignments. As they work their way through the play, students will understand how the characteristics of comedy and tragedy differ, and they will also investigate a variety of elements such as character, plot and theme.


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Twelfth Night
Diane Wright
Rogers CAPA

“The written text of a piece of dramatic literature is just a script. It does not become a play until it is performed” -Dr. John C. Carr (1929-1999)

This unit on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was designed for a secondary (grades 7-12) English or equivalent class that might deal with Shakespeare’s plays. It would also be suitable for an after-school drama or Shakespeare club/activity. In addition, it can be modified for a shorter unit by omitting some but not all of the play reading and advancing more quickly to the activities on the selected scenes and monologues.

To begin this unit, students need to explore the Elizabethan Age and develop an understanding of the context in which Shakespeare’s plays were created. Students will briefly explore Shakespeare, the man, the actor, and the playwright, The Globe Theatre and how his plays might have been staged in 1600. Next students will be introduced to how Shakespeare uses sounds and words to create the world of the play. This would include lessons on the key elements of dramatic writing, poetic and figurative language, and meter and iambic pentameter, in addition to the uses of music and movement which Shakespeare employs to engage our senses. A short activity on genre gets us ready to look at individual plays. In addition, since no stage directions are given in Shakespeare’s plays, students will learn how to analyze the text to identify clues that Shakespeare gives us on how to use movement and blocking.

After this background material has been studied, students are ready to begin looking at the play chosen for a performance workshop approach. When I talk about performance, I am not speaking of a formal theatrical performance, rather an “in the classroom” performance. The culminating activity of this unit is having students present the selected scenes and monologues at an informal presentation for invited guests. The guests can range from simply the other members of the class to a slightly more sophisticated gathering of parents, other students, and/or teachers.

In order to insure student success, I have students read a play synopsis and then quickly discuss key literary elements such as plot, setting, and characters. There are numerous sources for play synopsis that can be used. After making sure students have a grasp of the plot, characters and setting, we begin to read and discuss the play aloud, scene by scene. While reading through the play, students will be keeping a journal regarding selected discussion questions, character studies, and reflections.

The final aspect of this unit is the selection of scenes and monologues for classroom performance. Each student will be part of “an acting company” which will work on these scenes. We want students to experience Shakespeare from the perspective of an actor, who takes the text from the page breathing life into complex characters. Using the play’s dialogue and visual images, students will create meaning as they internalize and synthesize the text, creating a variety of projects to demonstrate understanding of not only the play, but also the entire Shakespearean experience. As students work through this part of the unit, they will use the Stanislavski acting technique to create their characters, find characters’ intentions, motivations, obstacles, and subtext, and block their scenes for presentation. Although costuming is not a mandatory aspect of this unit, students do enjoy using costume pieces and props when they present their final scenes. These props and costume pieces should only include materials that are readily available from the student’s home and should not incur costs from the student, parent, or teacher.


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Chatham University
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IMGALTTAG Pittsburgh Teachers Institute
Jointly sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
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