Although our quest to learn about William Shakespeare and his plays didn’t come off at a good start, we’ve gotten a hang of the bard’s word and works. You can read all about our struggles with Shakespeare and how we managed to save him (or ourselves) in the process.
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Learn about Shakespeare
We have amassed a number of resources Shakespeare. Some of them are readily available online, such as teaching helps and podcast episodes, can be found in my previous post. But not all of them are created equally. If I could boil down to the top three books about the life of Shakespeare, I would choose the following biographies:
- Bard of Avon: The Story of William Shakespeare by Diane Stanley and Peter Vennema
- William Shakeapeare & the Globe written and illustrated by Aliki
- Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk by Jane Sutcliffe
Follow a Shakespeare Guide
AmblesideOnline offers a Shakespeare guide on which plays to tackle for each academic year. If you are following their curriculum, you’d be able to find community with families who are discussing the same plays as you are. Shakespeare’s more popular plays are being repeated in AO’s rotation every five or six years:
- Henry V
- The Merchant of Venice
- Twelfth Night
- Measure for Measure
- As You Like It
- The Taming of the Shrew
- Midsummer Night’s Dream
- Hamlet Prince of Denmark
- Much Ado About Nothing
It would be good to start from any of these plays if you’re not quite sure which one to pick or which play to begin with. While it may not be on the list, we started with The Tempest.
Read Shakespeare Retellings
It is not entirely easy to follow an original Shakespeare play. Some of us simply didn’t grow up being acquainted with Old English. While it may not be advisable to jump into the original work especially when you are teaching younger children, reading from retellings or summaries might be a good venue to get into the heart of a play.
Early elementary students (Grades 1-3) may be able to follow along the following:
- Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare by Edith Nesbit
- Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb
- A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories by Angela McAllister [Illustrated]
- The Usborne Complete Shakespeare: Stories from All the Plays illustrated by Maria Surducan [Illustrated]
Older elementary children (Grades 4-7) will appreciate some of these retellings:
- Stories from Shakespeare by Margarette Chute
- Shakespeare Stories by Leon Garfield
I trust that students in the eighth grade and above will be able to handle the original plays when they are sufficiently exposed to retellings in their younger years. Suffice to say, if you haven’t any exposure to Shakespeare (even adults like me!), retellings are the gateway into the gist of each play. An excellent narration by the famed Jim Weiss is also available if you prefer to listen.
Memorize Shakespeare Lines
I’ve been a big fan of How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig. In fact, we started learning Shakespeare by memorizing some of the lines he suggested in his excellent guide book. Another compilation that I’ve recently enjoyed is the Poetry for Kids: William Shakespeare by Margueritte Tasse. It includes wonderful illustrations that complement lines from the plays. It could do well as a basket time read in your homeschool days.
Use Some Dramatis Personae (Print Out Characters)
One of the resources I’ve discovered recently are the drawings created by Good Tickle Brain. The site is full of dramatis personae (Latin for “masks of the dramas”) and it features stick figure drawings for each character in the play. Shakespeare plays are notorious for having many characters. So if your children need a little more support or some scaffolding, having a visual guide that they could point to as they listen or narrate will sure be helpful for memory.
Here’s a sample for Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, and Twelfth Night.
While it pose some difficulty of searching from the said site directly, you can simply Google or search the following text “dramatis personae + [Shakespeare play title]“, and it could get you the very same result. It may churn out other more colorful resources, too.
Rachel Kiwi Designs has a couple of printables on her Etsy shop. While it may not be FREE, it might be a good resource if you want a little more customization and character (pun intended). Plus, it would make a fun idea to get your child/ren more involved with the making of the characters!
Although some retellings aren’t exactly the best, illustrated versions could also provide a cast of characters before delving into the story.