Do you want to teach your kids Shakespeare? Do you want to them to carry a love for The Bard in their hearts, and remember passages from the most famous plays ever written?

Maybe your answer is YES!

BUT …

Shakespeare seems overwhelming. And adding it feels stressful.

So today, RAR Community Director Kortney Garrison and I are breaking down how to teach Shakespeare in a simple, low-pressure way that your kids will actually enjoy and look back on fondly.

In this episode, you’ll hear:
  • a million ways to teach Shakespeare (and maybe only one you want to avoid)
  • how to start with your goals when creating a Shakespeare teaching plan
  • what Kortney and I actually do
Click the play button below or scroll down to keep reading.

A Million Ways to Teach Shakespeare

Kortney is currently teaching The Tempest in her homeschool co-op. Even though they have a deep devotion to Shakespeare at her house, this is actually the first time that she’s teaching it formally.

She feels like she’s learning things that could only be learned right in the thick of teaching, which brings up our first point:

There are a million ways to teach Shakespeare. There’s not a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it.

Well … There might be ONE wrong way to do it (ahem) – I’ll talk about that soon.

But what we want to do today is help you think about your goals here so you can figure out the best way to move forward.

Determine Your Goals

What’s your goal in teaching Shakespeare to your kids?

Kortney’s goal is that this reading of The Tempest will not be the last Shakespeare play they they read.

(Isn’t that a good one!?)

She wants them to find Shakespeare approachable, and maybe learn a few tools for making the next play easier.

“Most of all I want them to fall in love with Shakespeare,” she says. “Once I knew what my goal was, I could tailor our work to support our goals.”

teach shakespeare 1

Why does your goal matter?

There is a big reason why our goal really matters here:

It’s easy to fall into the trap of “covering” Shakespeare – doing it so that you’ve done it. Doing it with a goal of getting through lots of plays or “covering” Shakespeare.

Oof. I have issues with the word “covering” as it relates to learning, but we’ll circle back to talk about that in the future.

Charlotte Mason said:

“At the end of our education the question isn’t how much we know, but how much we care.”

My own oldest daughter, Audrey, is 20. She just wrapped up her sophomore year in college. As an English major, she’s definitely reading Shakespeare at college.

She always seemed to enjoy Shakespeare when we were homeschooling. But then she went to university, and she took a Shakespeare class that she did not love.

Why? I have my theories. Too many plays, too fast. Too much “covering.” Too much in general.

When she finished her last paper, she texted me, “That is the last time I have to read Shakespeare. Ever.”

My reaction:

Of course, enjoying Shakespeare was probably not her university professor’s goal (harrumph).

All that to say, it’s worth considering our goal because it doesn’t matter if they’ve read all of Shakespeare’s works or if they know the premise of all the plays if they never want to read or watch Shakespeare again.

What’s the point?

How We Teach Shakespeare

Sarah’s Approach:

For the most part, my own way of engaging my kids with Shakespeare is very simple.

I typically do one Shakespeare play per year.

Remember how we talked about our goal? My goal is not to get my kids through all of Shakespeare!

My goal is to give them a taste—an introduction—so they want to get more. So that they realize there are riches here that they can revisit time and time again.

I pick one play per year, (almost always a comedy) and we study it through:

  • Reading adaptations – usually picture books or graphic novel versions. 
  • Listening to the play dramatized on audio (sometimes while following along in the Folger Guide – more on these below!)
  • Memorizing some lines

We usually memorize one new passage of Shakespeare at any given time. They take us a while, so we don’t have a boatload memorized, but my 16-year-old still can recite what he learned to memorize 6 years ago!

My favorite resource for this is How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare.

Kortney’s Approach:

  • The first step is reading adaptations.

(It’s SO HELPFUL to get familiar with the story before trying to read the original Shakespeare. Picture books and graphic novels come in handy here – we’re sharing favorites below.)

teach shakespeare 2

Folger Guides 101

Why Folger Guides? Ken Ludwig came to RAR and taught us about these.

They are inexpensive, easy to find. and they have a page of facing text. All of the text of the play is on the right-hand side, and on the left-hand side are definitions of obscure or archaic words. That makes it really easy to follow along and to not have to be flipping somewhere else.

They also have the full name of the character printed out which is super helpful.

Audio productions

For audio versions, Kortney likes the Arkangel audio productions. You can probably find them at your library. Like the best audiobooks, there are a few sound effects and a little music, plus different accents that help you understand who’s who.

Drawn Notes

Each week, Kortney’s crew reviews the previous Act by looking closely at four or five quotes.

Then the kids choose a quote to illustrate while they listen to the next act. This practice is called “Drawn Notes” and it was developed by Kortney’s mom who taught Romeo and Juliet to 7th graders for 35 years!

From Kortney: “The kids in the co-op are doing deeply interpretive work. They select passages that have some sort of heat or attraction for them and respond creatively.

Tomie dePaola once said that he thinks of his illustrations as illuminations. Connecting it back to an ancient practice, but also shining a new light on the text. And I’m finding that’s true of even the youngest kids in our class. Their work is helping us see The Tempest better.”

Examples from Kortney’s co-op class:

Avoiding Potential Pitfalls

Like we said earlier, there are a million ways to teach Shakespeare, but if Shakespeare starts to feel like a slog at your house, maybe see if one of these obstacles is getting in the way of your enjoyment:

  • Trying to do too many plays
  • Trying to go too fast
  • Trying to squeeze all the juice from each play and “not miss anything”
  • Forgetting this is just the FIRST encounter, and if we’re successful, it won’t be the last
  • Focusing on the reading to the detriment of watching – remember that Shakespeare wrote plays; he meant for them to be performed and watched, not read in a book!

Don’t Forget Your Goal

We shared a lot of ideas and resources in this episode, but keep in mind that the basis here is very, very simple:

  • Start with just one play (don’t make a plan to “cover” them all)
  • Read some adaptations first to get familiar with the characters and the plot
  • Try listening to some or all of the dramatization (older kids can follow along in a Folger Guide)
  • Memorize or copy a passage or two and add an illustration
  • Watch the play, if you’re able (heads up: preview before watching a movie or local production with your kids! Not all Shakespeare productions are particularly appropriate for kids)

Favorite Resources:

We’re sharing our favorite books below, and also recommend:

P.S. It’s a good idea to preview anything Shakespeare before watching with your kids!

Books mentioned in the show

All the World’s a Stage
William Shakespeare and the Globe
Tales from Shakespeare
The Young Reader’s Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Bard of Avon: The Story of William Shakespeare
Leon Garfield’s Shakespeare Stories (New York Review Books Children’s Collection)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Folger Shakespeare Library)
Hamlet ( Folger Library Shakespeare)
Complete Shakespeare (Usborne)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare Stories)
Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk
Shakespeare’s Storybook: Folk Tales That Inspired the Bard

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