9 Writing Activities to use with any Shakespeare Play
Teaching Shakespeare can be dreamy, or it can be a slog. As with so many texts, our passion for it as teachers is an important first step to engagement, but it's not enough! Many students really struggle with the bard. A lot depends on whether or not they can find ways to connect to the characters and the true drama (of the drama!).
In this post, I offer you nine fun ways to help students connect to Shakespeare through writing.
Add a Character to a Scene
Wherever you are in the play, invite students to imagine a character who is not part of the scene walks in with his or her own motivations. Invite them to rewrite the scene with this new character and then share their results with a partner or two. Their new dialogue does NOT need to be in iambic pentameter!
The Newest Take-Off
Ask students to imagine they are going to put on the play with a theme. What would it be? Would they go futuristic? 80s? Musical? Soap opera-esque? Have them write about what theme they would choose, including specific arguments about WHY they have chosen this particular type of spinoff and how it will help bring out important themes and ideas from the play.
Especially if you've already taught students a little unit on e-mail etiquette, having them write an exchange of e-mails between two characters can be a fun way to process the reading and do some creative writing. Have them choose any two characters that might be secretly corresponding, and write a series of four short e-mails back and forth, marking at what point in the play each e-mail is sent. Be clear that the e-mails should be closely related to the action in the play, though they can of course include further details and some imagined elements.
Give students just five minutes to write ten different arguments they could make about the play you are reading. Then give them thirty seconds to circle the best five. Match them with partners to choose the best three, then have each partnership put two favorites on the board. Finally, the class chooses the top three lightning theses. Prizes wouldn't hurt anything! Neither would a storm soundtrack in the background.
If there's one thing you don't get a lot of in a play, it's interior monologue. Though many a character waxes lyrical with a soliloquy, surely plenty of other characters are thinking interesting thoughts during just about every scene. Invite students to choose a compelling scene and write one character's interior monologue. Remind them that their writing should reflect what they know about the character, revealing that character's opinions, motivations, or emotions in some way.
Ask students to imagine a Netflix director is calling for proposals for a new television series called Shakespearean Mashup. The premise for the show must involve elements from two different Shakespeare plays. For example, the characters from one show wind up in the location of the other. Or characters from both plays wind up on the same reality show. Or...
Have students write the proposal for a director, on their own, in pairs, or groups. Stress that part of the point of the series is to introduce more people to Shakespeare, so while they have a lot of artistic freedom with their proposals, they should be true to the plays they are drawing from.
Characters Texting in their Pockets
Ask students to imagine two characters in a scene are pulling the old pocket text conversation trick. As the scene progresses, they are sending a secret dialogue back and forth via text. Photocopy the scene you want students to work with, then have them write the texts in the margins when the characters would send them. Have students share in partners and then talk as a class about what the text conversations reveal about what's going on inside characters' heads during the scene.
Mini-Memoir: Invent an Element of a Character's Backstory
Invite students to choose the character they find most interesting in the play. Then ask them to write a short memoir piece for that character, somehow revealing an important moment, relationship, or event from their past that could explain their behavior in the play. Stress that the memoir can be creative and full of new details, but that it should clearly link to the character Shakespeare has portrayed. Then invite students to present their work in small groups, defending their choices based on the text.
Character Motivation Statements
Actors must always know their character's motivations. In every scene, an actor should be aware of what their character wants. Invite students to work in partners and write an "I want" statement for every character in the scene you have just read. Ask them to write three or four sentences, explaining what they want and why. List the characters on the board and have the class share their "I want" statements for them, jotting down what the class says so everyone can see the lists of wants and desires. This can be a nice springboard activity for then acting out the scene, reminding the actors to keep those "I want" statements at the front of their minds as they read their dialogue.
About the Author
Betsy Potash, teacher-blogger-podcaster, is currently most excited about ONE PAGERS. Find out the secret to one pager success (even if your students don't like art!) and get four free templates to launch this engaging activity right here.