Introducing Shakespeare to High School Students

I love teaching Shakespeare. The language. The universal themes. The million and one cultural references born from his plays. However, introducing Shakespeare to high school students can prove challenging.

Below are four engaging techniques for introducing Shakespeare.

Tackling the Time Period

The first thing I do anytime I teach a Shakespeare play (or really any work from that time period) is introduce the students to the English Renaissance. We touch on the monarchs, explorations, achievements, religious turmoil, and writing styles. I created a Prezi (which I LOVE) presentation for this and had students complete guided notes.

I also introduce students to Shakespeare himself. Many have heard of them, but rarely know much about him. I used to just show a PowerPoint presentation with some guided notes but realized that wasn’t exactly the most exciting. One engaging way to remedy this is through virtual field trips. This virtual field trip explores Stratford-upon-Avon, Anne Hawthaway’s cottage, and the Globe Theatre.

Working with Words

I love the way that Shakespeare’s English sounds. My students? Not so much.

They take one look at it and declare that there’s no way it’s English. That is until I show them examples of Old and Middle English (and even read a little Canterbury Tales to them). Suddenly Shakespeare doesn’t seem so bad.

I’ve had great success in introducing them to the language through texts they may already be familiar with. And what better medium than songs?

My two go-to activities are another Prezi (I’m telling ya, fantastic) and a book called Pop Sonnets.

With the Prezi, I work through the first few slides as a class, and then have the students see how many they can guess on their own. While some of the songs may be older, I’ve been surprised by the number of students who’ve been able to figure them out.

From there, I introduce them to the wonderfulness that is Pop Sonnets. A Tumblr turned book, Pop Sonnets takes 100 pop songs and rewrites them as Shakespearean sonnets. Everything from Green Day to Bon Jovi to Miley Cyrus to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song. I break my students into groups, give them five or six examples, and have them compete to see which group figures out the most.

There you have it. My tips for introducing Shakespeare to high school students. What’s your favorite method? Leave a comment below.

Interested in the Shakespeare Virtual Field Trip shown above?

Teaching Romeo and Juliet? Have low-level readers (or just looking for an easier way to teach the play)? Check out 3 Engaging Romeo and Juliet Lessons for Low-Level Readers. 

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