5 Top Tips for Teaching Shakespeare

Posted on 20th April 2022

Posted by CENTURY

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Most people can recall their first experience with Shakespeare in the classroom – as one of the most popular playwrights of all time, his work is still one of the key elements of the English curriculum today. Studying a Shakespeare play can be an extremely enriching experience for a student, but it can also be a challenging one.  

For teachers whose students may be approaching Shakespeare for the first time, the English Curriculum team at CENTURY has compiled some top tips to help maximise student engagement from day one.

1. Explore how Shakespeare has shaped the English language today

Many words and phrases we use today were coined by Shakespeare himself. As an English teacher, there’s no doubt you already know this, but how can they be used to boost engagement?

Exploring some of the language introduced by Shakespeare as a starter activity can be a great way to kickstart a Shakespeare unit.  It can make the plays feel more accessible and relevant to students and is a task which can be differentiated. The activity itself can also prompt meaningful conversations on the origins of his words.

Here are a couple of ideas from plays commonly studied in schools to get you started:

  • ‘Macbeth’ (Act 2, Scene 3) – ‘Knock, knock! Who’s there…?’ 
    Although it was not used to evoke humour in this scene, the famous ‘Knock, knock! Who’s there…?’ can be found in Shakespeare’s play, ‘Macbeth’.
  • ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (Act 2, Scene 4) – ‘Wild-goose chase’
    While we currently associate this idiom with meaning to hopelessly pursue something, in the context of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘wild-goose chase’ had equestrian connotations.  

2. Organise for your students to watch a production of a Shakespeare play

The spring and summer terms can be a great time to organise a viewing of a Shakespeare production for your students. If you are unable to arrange a theatre visit, Shakespeare’s Globe generously offers free streaming on a select number of Shakespeare plays each year.  

Alternatively, if budgets allow, a theatre company can also bring the entertainment to you. Many companies have superb productions designed for all key stages so you can select the most suitable one in keeping with your scheme of work. Often, they are also able to provide thought-provoking and engaging workshops.  

3. Encourage your students to use knowledge organisers

Knowledge organisers can be a clear, concise and creative way for students to collate all the key information from the play. It also gives them an opportunity to be inventive with their design. 

Knowledge organisers often include the key characters, themes and quotations, making it easier for the students to comprehend and revise.

4. Analyse key quotations as a class and independently use quotation bursts and/or explosions

Commonly referred to as ‘quotation bursts’ or ‘quotation explosions’, these tools help guide your students through in-depth analysis of key quotations. We also suggest using a breakdown of the assessment objectives as cues for  language analysis, for example:  

  • What does this quotation mean?
  • Which key themes can be identified?
  • What language devices has Shakespeare used?
  • Which contextual factors can be linked here?  E.g. patriarchal society, role of women, religion.

5. Recreate a key scene in your classroom

Consider turning one of the key scenes from the play you’re teaching into a “crime scene”.  Use caution tape and props to create an exciting investigation that the class can explore together before they delve into the text. What do your students predict has happened? Who do they think is to blame? What evidence or language can they extract from previous scenes to support their views?

Some key scenes which work well for this include:

  • Romeo and Juliet: Act 5, Scene 3  – Juliet’s deathbed 
  • Macbeth: Act 2, Scene 3 – King Duncan’s murder scene

Shakespeare on CENTURY

We currently offer four Shakespeare courses: Macbeth (GCSE), A Midsummer Night's Dream (Key Stage 3), Much Ado About Nothing (GCSE) and Romeo and Juliet (GCSE). 

The courses – all created by experienced former English teachers – provide an opportunity for students to explore the plot, characters, themes, contexts and ideas within each play. All of the GCSE-level courses are focused on the assessment objectives used in examinations across exam boards. 

Learn more about how CENTURY can support your English lessons.