Creative Practices

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Creative Practices’s Docs Brush Up Your Shakespeare

Lesson plan for several days (listed as 3 here, but it can be adapted to be much longer, very easily).

Covers Sonnets, analyzing, decoding, writing their own, studying Hamlet, rehearsing a scene from it, and designing a major component in a pretend production of Hamlet (Set, costumes, or PR)

For 5th-6th grade, because I think its important to expose kids early on to Shakespeare, but this lesson could be adapted for upwards through high school. Read all of Hamlet. Do the whole scene. Read a comedy to compare to a tragedy. Actually do Hamlet, a staged reading or a full scale production. The possibilities are really endless with Shakespeare.





1.Titles: “Brush up Your Shakespeare” by Maria Taylor

2.Curriculum area:  Literacy, Reading, Language Arts, Writing, Arts: Theatre

3.Grade level: 5-6

4.Purpose (Goals/Objectives):

  • To introduce students to the canon, language, and history of William Shakespeare.
  • The students will be familiarized with Sonnets, similes, metaphor, alliteration, and will write a sonnet of their own using iambic pentameter.
  • Students will analyze, decode, and rewrite in order to make meaning of the Old English language style.
  • Students will use proper grammar and writing mechanics in a variety of writing assignments.
  • Students will communicate effectively and use problem-solving strategies as they work in their group committees to complete cooperative tasks.
  • Students will hear, speak, write, and enact the words of Shakespeare, incorporating use of multiple intelligences. Using the actor’s tool box (the body, the voice, the imagination) to explore the classic texts of Shakespeare.
  • Students will become familiar with the story of Hamlet, know the characters, the parts of a story, and the major plot points.

5.Description of activities: (what teacher does is in italics and what students do is not)

Day 1:

The teacher will lead the class in a discussion of what we already know about Shakespeare and write it on board. (Identify prior knowledge and any misconceptions).

Then the teacher will ask students what they’d like to know. First, the teacher reviews the two basic types of questions (factual and inferential) and asks the group for examples of each. By voting for the best questions, the students will identify 6 factual questions and 4 inferential questions to answer during this exploration.

To the whole class, the teacher will read aloud a youth version of Hamlet called Hamlet for Kids by Lois Burdett. The teacher will facilitate a post-reading discussion to gauge students’ absorption and understanding. Teacher will elicit from students the characters and plot- Identify parts of a story. On the board, the teacher will write the student’s impression of the characters’ relationships through identifying and webbing.

Students will watch an 8 minute video entitled “DIY Hamlet for Kids” by Anya Rose.

Discuss the video; then discuss Hamlet in comparison to Disney’s The Lion King. See if the students are able to make the connections. Who is Simba? (Hamlet), who is Nala (Ophelia), who is Scar (Claudius), who are Timon and Pumba (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern)?

Use the “Gingerbread man” diagram to break down several different characters. On the belly, write what the character wants. On each appendage, write what emotions the character may feel during the course of the play. Outside, write what the other characters in the play think about that character. Explain it by modeling one example on the board, for Gertrude perhaps, having the class help the teacher fill in the blanks. Then the students can individually draw their own Gingerbread man, the fill in the blanks for a different character from the play.

Teacher can pair students up, and everyone is given the same short scene, an excerpt from Act I, Scene V in Hamlet, the scene where Hamlet speaks to his father’s Ghost. The students choose roles and practice the scene. Teacher instructs all the students to enunciate each word, chew the words, and enjoy the feeling of the words as students say them. Allow the feelings the words create to inform the emotion in the scene. Once we’re ready, we all share with each other. Students are reminded what good audience skills are, as audiences are respectful, listening, watching, and applauding when they like something.

End of Day 1, Teacher will hand out Sonnets, ask students to read them over as homework. And also ask them to pick a favorite one, and to try to come to the next class with two lines memorized, or “off book” so that we can do an activity on our feet without a script in hand.

Day 2:

Teacher will read one sonnet from the handout aloud. The class will discuss how many lines, how many beats or syllables, iambic pentameter and the rhyme scheme. Then everyone will identify similes, metaphors, and alliteration.  Everyone reads over the Sonnets sheet to choose one to interpret. They may choose the same sonnet as they did for the memorization homework, but they can also chose a different one too.

Each student will rewrite his/her chosen sonnet in modern English. Encourage them to use the Lexicon for definitions of unfamiliar words. These rewritten sonnets do not have to rhyme, nor do they have to fit the typical meter. These are rewrites to make Shakespeare’s meaning clear and accessible. Pick a few to share with the class. Discuss with students how they came to their interpretations.

“Gallop” activity across the floor. Teacher will demonstrate, but then everyone does their own lines from their own sonnet, galloping the rhythm across the floor one at a time. Each line has ten beats or syllables. The beats go: “How HEA-vy DO i JOUR-ney ON the WAY, when WHAT i SEEK, my WEA-ry TRA-vel’s end,” It is helpful to have at least two lines memorized for this activity, if the teacher thinks her students are able to do this. Otherwise, the papers can be held in their hands, it just might impede keeping a solid rhythm whilst speaking.

Students will work individually to write their own sonnet using the same format as Shakespeare. These do have to rhyme, they have to fit 10 beats-per-line, and have 14 lines total. These sonnets will be scored using a rubric, which is explained before the assignment.

Day 3:

Let’s pretend we’re going to do a production of Hamlet.

The teacher will break the class into teams to design the show (set, costumes, and marketing and publicity). Teacher has students identify what they think their responsibilities might include. Once each committee has agreed on a list of goals, they can begin to design a way to present all their ideas to the class. The costume team might have costume designs for each character, the set design team would come up with a design of stage platforms, stairs, flats, exits, furniture, and anything else that might be necessary for the setting of the play, and the publicity committee will design posters to advertise the production to the community and also develop a fun insert for the program of activities for the audience attending the performance. Once all the projects have been completed, they are shared out with the entire class. We discuss each committee’s contributions to the production as a whole, how well everyone worked within their groups, individual feedback on how the activity went and how it could be improved next time, and congratulate the company on a successful opening night!


6.Tools, Resources (Materials):

  • Hamlet for Kids (Shakespeare Can Be Fun Series) by Lois Burdett
  • Lexicon
  • Shakespeare Invented Words information sheet;
  • Video clip of “DIY Hamlet for Kids” by Anya Rose on YouTube;
  • Popular Phrases Still in Use Today information sheet;
  • Hamlet Scene V (Hamlet and Ghost, edited);
  • Sonnets (III, L, CXXX, and CXVI);
  • Paper, pencil, crayons or markers

















Sonnet CXVI

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.


Sonnet CXXX

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare


Sonnet L

How heavy do I journey on the way,
When what I seek, my weary travel’s end,
Doth teach that ease and that repose to say
‘Thus far the miles are measured from thy friend!’
The beast that bears me, tired with my woe,
Plods dully on, to bear that weight in me,
As if by some instinct the wretch did know
His rider loved not speed, being made from thee:
The bloody spur cannot provoke him on
That sometimes anger thrusts into his hide;
Which heavily he answers with a groan,
More sharp to me than spurring to his side;
For that same groan doth put this in my mind;
My grief lies onward and my joy behind.


Sonnet III

Look in thy glass, and tell the face thou viewest
Now is the time that face should form another;
Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,
Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother.
For where is she so fair whose unear’d womb
Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?
Or who is he so fond will be the tomb
Of his self-love, to stop posterity?
Thou art thy mother’s glass, and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime:
So thou through windows of thine age shall see
Despite of wrinkles this thy golden time.
But if thou live, remember’d not to be,
Die single, and thine image dies with thee.




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