Tips and ideas for teaching high school ELA

6 Ideas for Teaching The Tempest to High School Students

One of my favorite Shakespeare plays is The Tempest. Magic. Romance. Revenge. Part tragedy, part comedy – this play has it all. Add the fact that the entirety of the play’s events takes place in around three hours. Phew. So. Much. Happens. 

As is the case with any Shakespeare play, teaching The Tempest can have its challenges. The fast pace and the parallel plotlines can make it difficult for some students to follow. 

Looking to add The Tempest to your rotation? Keep reading for some ideas and activities. 


background information

I’m a big believer that students need to have at least some background knowledge of the author and the historical context prior to reading any lengthy text. This information is vital in helping students understand the text (and hit those “Author’s Purpose” standards). 

I like to start my Shakespeare units with background on the author himself as well as the English Renaissance. You can read more about my go-to activities here. 

In addition to typical author biography and historical context, this would be a good time to discuss concepts like colonization and cultural attitudes towards women and minorities – perhaps as part of learning stations. 

close reading & analysis

One of my go-to assignments for longer texts (okay, really any text), is close reading. I typically give students specific annotation instructions and provide plenty of margin space for them to not only comment on their annotations but also to make note of anything else they notice. I also provide several guiding questions that can be supported by their annotations. 

What makes this method work is that it forces students to slow down and really dig into the specifics of an excerpt rather than get bogged down in all the details. 

character analysis

Another recurrent activity I use in my own classroom is character analysis. The Tempest has some complex and rich characters, and it’s important for the students to fully understand their connections and motivations. 

One way to accomplish this is through character maps. Students can use design programs such as Canva to design more detailed maps, or good old-fashioned paper and pencil. 

A second option (and my preference) are character analysis graphic organizers. Students can complete an organizer for every character. Or assign each student a specific character to track throughout the course of the play, which works especially well if the students have been assigned parts to read. This also allows students to focus on one specific person instead of trying to analyze all of them. 

Act brochures

If you’re looking to replace traditional question handouts while teaching The Tempest, then think about act brochures. 

There are a couple of benefits to using these instead of a list of questions: 

    1. Less paper – Act brochures can be printed front to back on one sheet of paper. Translation: fewer copies for you and fewer pieces of paper for the students to lose
    2. Focus – Because they’re only one sheet of paper, act brochures force the students to focus on a narrowed list of skills and concepts 
    3. Engagement – As silly as it may seem, even high school students like cutting and folding
    4. Double-duty – If students have their own copies of the text, act brochures can double as bookmarks. 

film and stage adaptations

At the end of the day, The Tempest is meant to be watched. There are several different options. 

First, there’s the 1980 BBC version, which can be found on Amazon. If you’re looking for something a little more recent (“recent” being a relative term),  check out the 2010 film version featuring Helen Mirren & Russell Brand. This interpretation casts Helen Mirren as Prospero – a change that could lead to some interesting conversations. 

Of course, the best option would be to find a recording of a stage version. In lieu of that, the Royal Shakepeare Company has a trailer, production photos, and more on this site

literary lenses

Part of what makes Shakespeare’s texts so ripe for analysis is that they can be studied through a variety of literary lenses. Read Write Think has an in-depth lesson plan for teaching The Tempest through a postcolonial lens. 

Prestwick House has an entire resource detailing various literary lenses through which you can view The Tempest, including psychoanalytic, archetypal, and feminist. You can check out a free sample here. 

There you have it. Six ideas for teaching The Tempest

What’s your favorite go-to activity? Hit “Reply” and let me know.

Until next time, happy teaching 😀


Looking for some low-prep The Tempest resources? Check out my The Tempest Unit Bundle!

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