Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Teaching Shakespeare to Low Level Readers

Teaching special needs students made me realize how much learning that general education students take for granted. I ached for my students who wanted to be like the general education students and learn the same things they did so I was always trying to bring the general education curriculum in to my classroom. I felt that many of my students could in fact learn the same things and I just needed to adapt the materials, concepts, and activities in a way that my students could understand and learn them. One of the things that my students mentioned every year was that they wanted to learn Shakespeare. They heard their peers moan and groan about it at lunch and in the hallways so they wanted to know what was so awful about Shakespeare. My students wanted to be able to moan and groan with them but also wanted to join in the conversations. When my students studied a Shakespeare play, they would always love when their peers looked shocked if they made a comment about something specific from Shakespeare. Many of their peers had teased them about being in a “dummies” class. This begins to change the perception they have of my students and makes my students feel proud of themselves.

I always love to teach Romeo and Juliet because the teenage angst doesn’t change over time. I also can turn it into a history, science, and writing lesson as well as a English and reading lesson. I don’t like to see a single lesson taught in a single minded way when I can incorporate so much more together in one lesson. I think this makes the lessons more meaningful and relevant to the students.

First I introduce Shakespeare the author to the class. I feel it is important to know about the Elizabethan era, the fashions, and a little information about the author.


Next we talk about the language in the plays and why they are written like that. We talk about the language the students use today and how different it will be in the future, just like the sixties language was different than today’s language. This usually is a lively discussion as we list phrases in a brainstorming session.


I usually use a comic book version of Romeo and Juliet. My students loved to play different parts and we read it aloud. I also share important quotes from the play that may not be given in the comic book version as we read it. I always am amazed at the insightfulness of my students during our discussions once they get over the fear of reading Shakespeare. Once they can grasp the concepts and get into the story, they can’t seem to contain their excitement so I have students share their feelings and ideas in writing. I ask the students to share at least 2 of these each week so others can discuss what they have written. This can be done in partners or in small groups. After we are done reading the entire story, I usually show the movie Romeo and Juliet to see if the movie is anything like they imagined in their minds.


I also love to show the movie West Side Story after we are done with Romeo and Juliet and have them compare the two. Of course many of my boys roll their eyes when they hear we will watch a musical but then they really get into the movie. I usually have them write an essay comparing and contrasting the two. For lower level students, I may have them work in partners or draw pictures of scenes that relate from both stories.


This unit usually takes a month to complete but the students really get into this lesson and it is pretty successful.


1 comment:

Betty said...

I love the idea of using West Side Story at the end of the unit. Your students probably learned more than the regular ed kids. It sounds like a month of meaningful experiences.