Teaching Shakespeare to High School Students

A Shakespeare Festival for a high school can be a richly rewarding and enjoyable cultural experience for junior high or high school students. You can involve many students in this event and teach them much more than they intend to learn. An event like this requires a good bit of preparation, so allow yourself plenty of time.

After you have prepared your shortened version of your Shakespeare play, (see yesterday’s blog entry) you must select your cast and crew. In addition to actors, you will need someone for the curtains, someone to organize and run props, someone to control sound effects/music/microphones etc., a publicity crew, photographer, and a historian. You will also need some students to distribute playbills, set up chairs, serve refreshments (if offered) and work on costumes and the set. Depending upon how many students you involve, some will likely be multitasking. You, the teacher, certainly will be!

A Shakespare production or festival can be a wonderful experience for secondary gifted students. It is a perfect opportunity for them to utilize their creativity, and believe me, they can and will surprise you.

Teaching Romeo and Juliet to High School Students

When I taught gifted reading at Lee Junior High in Monroe, I discovered a means to teach Romeo and Juliet to students quickly and efficiently (and I also used this technique with other Shakespeare plays). When I taught there, we held our own Shakespeare Festival, and the production went over well with students, teachers, and parents. The North Monroe community noticed the event, and we received good press on it. At Lee, my gifted classes did a 30-40 minute production of Julius Caesar (a tragedy that my junior high thespians turned into a comedy!) and Midsummer Night’s Dream, which turned out exceptionally well.

My two freshman honors classes have just started Romeo and Juliet, and they are excited and already know the play. I personally think every educated person should know this greatest of love stories, and I wanted to share a means of teaching it that has worked well for me. Here’s all it requires:
1. Buy enough of the Dover Classic editions of Romeo and Juliet for all of your students. Windows: A Bookshop here in Monroe gives me a 20% discounts if I order 20 copies or more of a book. Here is a link to Windows Bookshop site: http://www.windowsabookshop.com/ As I’m sure you know, Dover Publications is the closest company (at least that I know of) to those who used to produce the dime novels. You can build, or help your children to have a collection of almost all the great classics of literature for just a few bucks. Each book costs only one or two dollars. Find out more about Dover here: http://store.doverpublications.com/

2. Equip each student with a highlighter. The teacher will then direct the students to highlight “only” what he/she reads aloud. To end up with a thirty or forty minute play requires a good deal of cutting. The trick is to cut lines and dialogues, compacting the play to its essence, but to do so without losing the story. As the teacher goes through the text, he or she can teach vocabulary, explain in summary what is being left out and why it is left out, and help the students with pronunciation. (Those of us who were raised on the King James Bible definitely have an advantage when studying Shakespeare). In this phase, the students only hear the teacher read. A small digression here: This is really good classroom work to help develop “skim and scan” technique, a skill they will need on (ugh) standardized tests. A little aside here. I heard a good thought yesterday: The only children left behind with the No Child Left Behind Act are the gifted ones.

3. After the editing process is complete, you can have some read alouds, first to time the play. The reading time needs of course to be less than the time alloted for the play, for you must allow time for scene changes, action, etc. After the read alouds, you can audition students for the parts. Warning: Competition will be fierce for Juliet! I’d require memorization for anyone auditioning for Juliet’s role. This weeds out the ones who just want the role. Juliet suffered, so must they if they want to be her.

4. I allowed my students to memorize their parts using their Dover book. You may want to type out the script, or have a student or all of them type out their own script. This is a great way to introduce students to the world of theatre. In another post, I’ll talk about what else is necessary for a high school production of Shakespeare.

Mobile, Alabama

I’ve been doing more research on Mobile, Alabama. It seemed like such a romantic city that it inspired me to write this song-poem. It’s hard for me to write songs: I don’t know whether to write the melody or the lyrics first. In this case, the lyrics came first. Here they are.

A full moon tonight in Mobile Bay,

Second Night of Battlefield Louisiana

Tonight was the second night in the series I’m facilatating for the Louisiana Endowments for the Arts and the Winnsboro, Louisiana library. The book we reviewed and discussed was The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Military Experience During the Civil War. The discussion was lively and interesting. (These adults pay so much better attention than my high school students, and they’ve actually read the book!) The library fed us a great meal and we had a bigger crowd than even last week, which was a record crowd. After my presentation, I had a brief visit with my friend and international fighting champion, Bob Allan, who has a Karate studio in Winnsboro.

Driving home, I was in one of the sad and introspective moods writers can get into, and what do I do? I make it worse by listening to an Evanescence song–over and over. I’m a writer, so I’ve a right to be sad once in a while, even though I know I don’t have a reason to. I’ve had some email requests to post some more of their lyrics. So, here are some. These lyrics came from http://endor.org/evanescence/lyrics.asp?Submit=View+Lyrics&AlbumID=4&SongID=31, the unofficial site of Evanescence.

My Immortal

i’m so tired of being here
suppressed by all of my childish fears
and if you have to leave
i wish that you would just leave
because your presence still lingers here
and it won’t leave me alone

these wounds won’t seem to heal
this pain is just too real
there’s just too much that time cannot erase

when you cried i’d wipe away all of your tears
when you’d scream i’d fight away all of your fears
and i’ve held your hand through all of these years
but you still have all of me

you used to captivate me
by your resonating light
but now i’m bound by the life you left behind
your face it haunts my once pleasant dreams
your voice it chased away all the sanity in me

these wounds won’t seem to heal
this pain is just too real
there’s just too much that time cannot erase

when you cried i’d wipe away all of your tears
when you’d scream i’d fight away all of your fears
and i’ve held your hand through all of these years
but you still have all of me

i’ve tried so hard to tell myself that you’re gone
and though you’re still with me
i’ve been alone all along