What are some essential classroom practices?

Folger Education Fundamentals

Over the years, we at Folger Education realized that there are certain essential activities for teaching a play. In house we refer to these strategies as "Folger Fundamentals." The following list serves as a glossary or lexicon so that we all speak the same language. You will see these terms throughout the material that will live in this community, but herein are their explanations.

2-line scenes. Every student is handed a card with a different easy-to-say Shakespeare line on it. These can be from any play or the play that they are about to read. Students connect with a partner and perform their lines—a two-line scene—for the rest of the class. They can do it cold, or they can have a few minutes to rehearse first. Why? This pre-reading activity eases students into the language, diminishes fear, and gets them thinking about meaning without the teacher ever mentioning it. These scenes are always hilarious, and each should be applauded wildly.

3-D Shakespeare. This essential activity involves students getting a scene on its feet with a few simple directions from the teacher. Students do a few initial readings in the round, and after each one, the teacher asks very simple, guiding questions: “Who are these guys?” “How do you know?” “Show me in the text to support your answer.” Ultimately, students direct their classmates in that scene. Why? When students go through these steps, they realize that together, with very little input from the teacher, they can fully understand an unfamiliar scene. This results in a great deal of pride and a sense of accomplishment!

Acting Companies. The teacher designates performance groups as acting companies and each group comes up with a name to give it an identity. Each company works on a scene by editing it, rehearsing it, and performing it at the class Festival. Why? Working together creates camaraderie, collaboration, and just plain fun.

Choral reading. Everyone reads the passage out loud together in unison. With the teacher’s direction, they might read it loudly, quickly, slowly, or in a whisper, and they should read it together several times. Why? This is a safe way for students of all reading abilities to approach an unfamiliar text together. The repetition gets the rhythm and sound humming in their brains without the fear of being unable to read unfamiliar words easily.

Close Reading. Students read and re-read a passage carefully and with purpose. Some wonderful ways to do this with a Shakespeare text is to get students to edit a passage, get on their feet doing a choral reading or getting a scene on its feet with 3-D Shakespeare. Why? When reading closely, students focus on what the words mean and what the structure of the text tells them.

Dumb Show or Silent Scene. This begins when students are given a handout of the dumb show in Hamlet 3.2. They get in groups and read it through several times to determine how they will perform it. Then one student reads the passage aloud as the rest mime it out. As a follow-up, the teacher can create original narratives of a scene or the students can create one to close read a particular scene. Why? Because students must be able to know what the passage is about before they can mime it, they are reading the passage closely and then physicalizing it.

Editing/cutting lines. Students are given a passage or a scene and working in groups, they must eliminate half of the lines. This is a terrific way to get kids to read closely, and with a purpose. Why? They must understand what they’re reading in order to decide what to cut. In addition, cutting not only gives students great power over the lines, but puts them on the same playing field with scholars and directors who have been cutting Shakespeare practically since he wrote the plays.

Festival. When groups of students rehearse scenes and perform them for their classmates, we call that a festival. Festivals should never be a competition, but rather a celebration of all the players. The students help edit, direct, and craft a piece, then perform in front of an audience of their peers. Why? This demonstrates learning, and serves as a celebration of Shakespeare's language, his plays, and the students' achievements mastering his work.

Folger Digital Texts. Our free, high-quality digital texts of Shakespeare's plays have been meticulously edited based on current scholarship. Why? Teachers and their students can copy and distribute these texts in so many ways simply by downloading the entire play as a Word doc or copying and pasting specific passages or scenes for classroom activities.

Plot Map. Using an infographic to visually introduce the characters and plot of a play can be a good pre-reading activity. A variation can have the students work in groups to create their own plot maps for acts or scenes. Why? Most people in an Elizabethan audience would know the plot and characters in the play before seeing it, because Shakespeare used familiar stories and plots in almost all of his plays. Plot maps helps students get even up with Shakespeare’s own audience. It gives the them a handy guide that helps them understand who's who and what's happening in the play as they read.

Primary Sources. We have the world's largest collection of materials relating to Shakespeare and his works, from the 16th century to the present day, as well as a world-renowned collection of books, manuscripts, and prints from early modern Europe. Much of these resources have been digitized and available in the Digital Image Collection. Why? Teachers and students can search and use these primary sources that connect them to Shakespeare's era and can help them make inferences into the plays.

Promptbook. A prompt book is a copy of a play’s script that has been cut and annotated by the director. Having students take a passage or scene and think like a director by making choices about cuts, movement, tone, pauses, and perhaps even sound, lighting, and costuming is another form of close reading. This can be a group activity or a solo one. Why? Making these annotations gives the students ownership of the text. Since there are no right or wrong choices, it is a safe and engaging activity.

Pronunciation. The way one says a word or the way in which a language is usually spoken is what we call pronunciation. But we encourage teachers to allow their students to pronounce words, especially characters’ names, however they want to and we discourage correcting them. Why? Since we have no Podcasts or Audio Editions of the 17th Century productions at the Globe, we tell teachers and their students that no one knows for sure how these words were pronounced We have found that correcting pronunciation only discourages students.

Rounds. At the end of an activity, the teacher asks the students to go in a circle and each start a sentence with a key phrase such as “I noticed,” “I learned,” “I wish,” “I discovered,” etc. Why? This assessment tool gives students and teachers a chance to reflect and to provide immediate feedback to one another.

Sequential Reading. Students in a circle read a passage, monologue, or scene sequentially around the circle—one-line-after-another. They can change readers at all end punctuation points: a period, a question mark, exclamation point, colon, semi-colon. Or, in a particular speech, at the end of the poetic line. Or after each character’s speech. Then the next reader jumps in. Why? With this method, everyone gets to read, but no one student has to read too much. Especially after choral reading, reading this way solidifies meaning for teachers and students.

Stress. Changing the loudness of a single word or words when speaking a line which can totally change its meaning. For example, have students speak the line, “I didn’t say he killed the king,” each time stressing a different word. Why? Experimenting with different stressed words when reading a line helps students see that there is no "correct" way of speaking a line.

Tableau Vivant or Living Pictures. Students in groups get a line or a passage, and work together to form a frozen picture or a mannequin statue. Then one student from the group reads the text as the rest form tableaus. Why? This close-reading activity physicalizes the text and gets students to interpret it with their bodies and facial expressions.

Tone. Be it formal, angry, serious, comic, sarcastic, sad, or cheerful, tone is the speaker’s attitude toward his subject. For example, have students speak this sentence, “I shall obey you, Madam” a variety of ways to see how the meaning changes. Why? Having students take a line and read it with a variety of tones helps them see that there is no “correct” way of speaking a line. It’s liberating.

Tossing Lines. The class forms a circle; each student is given a line on a card. These lines can be from a random play Then, taking turns, they speak their line and toss a beanbag, ball, a pair of socks, or some other object to a fellow student until everyone has said his or her line. Why? This gets Shakespeare’s words into the mouths of students and acquaints the class with lines they are about to read and eases them into the language. Also, when the class reads the scene, each student will recognize his/her own line.

Tossing Words. The class forms a circle; each student is given a word on a card. Then, taking turns, they say their word and toss a beanbag, ball, a pair of socks, or some other object to a fellow student until everyone has said his or her word. Why? This gets Shakespeare’s words into the mouths of students and acquaints the class with the text they are about to read and eases them into the language. Also, when the class reads the play, each student will recognize his/her own word.

Tracing a Word. Using a Word Frequency list from a concordance (available at the Folger Digital Text’s API feature, see Concordance from Macbeth for example.) each student is assigned a significant word. They look up all of its meanings and variations in a good dictionary (if they have access to the Oxford English Dictionary, even better) and follow its use throughout the play. They note which character says it, when and to whom is it said, and to what effect, etc. This can culminate in a well-supported essay. Why? This encourages discovery as the student determines which characters use that word the most and explores how the word is used. It gives students an opportunity to focus directly on the text.