I love Shakespeare.
I also believe Shakespeare is one of the best tools (maybe the best tool) to use in the classroom. While this has been met with skepticism:
“They’re not really learning Shakespeare”
“That’s not how Shakespeare is meant to be experienced”
'“It’s going to be too hard”
“If you use a translation, it doesn’t count”.
play after play, I have found student success and engagement when reading and acting out one of Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare’s plays have lasted throughout time because of their use of universal themes. Love, hate, greed, power, reality, and fate are all relatable topics no matter what language you speak or what country you come from.
Reading Romeo and Juliet? Discuss the #Metoo movement. Othello? Talk about Black Lives Matter. Interested in Macbeth? Read articles about our current political climate. The list goes on.
Romeo and Juliet is one of my favorite plays to teach because its’ continued relevance for high school students. Filled with teenage angst and emotion, the play explores romantic and family relationships, friendships, and revenge.
Let’s take a look at some examples of how Shakespeare can be used in the classroom to support language acquisition and development for newcomers. The current post is based on my work at the English Language Learners Internationals Support Preparatory Academy (ELLIS) in the Bronx, New York. ELLIS is an Internationals Public High School serving older adolescent immigrants and refugees of all academic backgrounds. A typical class included students from over 10 countries, and anywhere from 15-20 languages spoken, and varying academic exposure and abilities. Each class included at least one or more SLIFE, and therefore instruction was created so that SLIFE could participate in the content alongside their peers.
Before starting the play, we spent time discussing the dating practices and experiencing weddings from the various cultures in the classroom. After exploring the various cultures in the classroom, students work through the anticipation guide together.
Anticipation guides give students a glimpse at the themes they will come across throughout the unit, and dive into discussion surrounding those themes, as well as make connections to their own lives and cultures. These anticipation guides allow students to use speaking, reading, and writing, giving them many access points of language use. Since Shakespeare deals with universal themes, anticipation guides inspire robust discussion related to student culture.
Using newspaper articles related to the themes of Shakespeare plays gives students the opportunity to read non-fiction text, make text- to -text connections, as well as text - to -self connections. Each article is differentiated to the reading level appropriate for the student taking into account language and schooling.
These articles allow SLIFE to discuss non fiction text with their peers and engage in classroom discussion. Teachers must create pathways for SLIFE to engage in grade level ideas and texts and to participate in the classroom with their peers.
The following picture is an example of how teachers can take an article and break it down together as a class as well as engage students by taking a poll before and after the article:
The text of Shakespeare used is extremely important when working with English learns and in particular SLIFE. Students need materials they can access, that support language development, and challenge their thinking.
The following is an example of the Romeo and Juliet text used. With three versions of the text created, every student engages with Romeo and Juliet, discusses the themes in groups, and works together as a class to understand Shakespeare’s text.
Units must be created in order to support SLIFE in the classroom with their peers and challenges their critical thinking. When materials do this, our students can prosper. The following picture is of a student identified as SLIFE, who came to ELLIS illiterate in Spanish, his native language, as well as English. By the end of the unit, he was writing paragraphs and essays in English, presenting his work, and engaging in discussion about Romeo and Juliet. When we create access points for SLIFE, and set our standards high, our students thrive.
The Romeo and Juliet unit you see above can be found at Teachers Pay Teachers here: Stories of SLIFE TPT