This is a question your children may ask when they are faced with a play written in English, they struggle to understand. Yes, it will require effort to read Shakespeare’s plays – and poetry – but it is a very rewarding experience.
Shakespeare was a master storyteller, and that alone is a good reason to read his plays. This is why there are so many modern retellings of his stories.
He also covers universal themes that touch everyone’s lives – love and jealousy, hunger for power, loyalty, guilt, etc. Although the plays were written 400 years ago, these are topics teens can identify with.
So many books and movies draw their inspiration from Shakespeare, and knowing the original plays helps us enjoy a richer experience as we read books influenced by him.
Your children may never know how many common phrases originate from Shakespeare! “All the glitters isn’t gold” (Merchant of Venice), “green-eyed monster (Othello), “wild goose chase” (Romeo and Juliet), and “you’ve got to be cruel to be kind” (Hamlet) are just a few. You can find more here.
If you are now convinced you should be adding Shakespeare to what your teens are reading, here are 7 tips on how to enjoy Shakespeare with your teen and unlock those benefits.
Provide context for the time Shakespeare lived
To understand Shakespeare’s plays, students need to understand the time Shakespeare lived, how the theatre was performed then (only male actors, for instance), and who went to the theater.
A fun way to do this would be to read a book like The Shakespeare Stealer (aimed at middle school students so it will be a quick read for high schoolers) or watch a movie or documentary (we watched and enjoyed In Search of Shakespeare)
You could also challenge your child to do the research and then create a poster, video or infographic, or slideshow to explain what they have learned.
Provide context for the specific play you will study
Be sure your students understand the type of play it is: tragedy, history, or comedy.
Study the setting and, if relevant, the history that is depicted in the play. If your children understand the background of what they are reading, it will help them understand what is happening in the play.
You can easily find help if you do a quick internet search on whatever you are studying.
Choose a good version of the play
The versions that I think are most helpful have the play on the right-hand side, with notes on the left. You don’t want ones that have the full play in modern English on the left, as students will just be lazy and read modern English instead of the original.
And I find it is easier to just look to the left when you are reading and don’t understand something than to look at the footnotes below.
So, if possible, go into a bookstore and look at the different options.
Read the play aloud
Remember, Shakespeare’s plays were written to be watched and heard. If you have a few children studying Shakespeare together, it is fun to take different parts, but even if it is just two of you, reading it aloud together will help to make sense of the words.
Watch the play performed
If you can select a play that is being performed near you, that would work really well. But if you can’t catch a live performance, at least find the best film version to watch. All the ones with Kenneth Brannagh in them are great!
Be sure you have already read the play BEFORE you watch it. Knowing the basic storyline will mean you and your children can focus on things you may have missed. And, of course, watching the action as well as reading the words will add an extra layer of meaning to the play.
In addition, you could watch a modernized version of the play (eg “West Side Story” when you study Romeo and Juliet) and discuss the differences between the original and the adaptation.
Discuss the themes of the play
There is plenty to discuss in any Shakespeare play. Once you are sure your teen has understood the content of the play, it is time to go a little deeper. I highly recommend Brightest Heaven of Invention by Peter J. Leithart if you are studying any of the 6 plays he analyzes. This book also contains discussion questions.
It would be great to have discussions with a few teens at a time, but even if it is just you and your teen, it will be valuable.
After you have explored various themes together, your high schooler should be ready to tackle a short paper on a theme of their choosing that you didn’t cover in detail.
Play Shakespeare games!
Playing games always helps make learning fun, and there are plenty of options to choose from. Brainbox – Shakespeare will get your children learning quotations from Shakespeare, The Play’s the Thing will get students more familiar with 3 of his plays, and Top Trumps Shakespeare’s Plays introduce students to many characters in the plays.
Or you can buy playing cards with Shakespearean quotes or insults on them!
I hope these 7 tips will help make Shakespeare more accessible to your teen and you will have fun studying some of his works.
Contributed by Meryl van der Merwe. She homeschooled her 4 children and during that time started teaching at the local homeschool co-op. She still teaches there – as well as online at FundaFunda Academy. In addition, she coaches homeschool Science Olympiad and Quiz Bowl teams. She believes education should be engaging, relevant and challenging. Meryl hosts the Homeschooling with Technology podcast where she shares tips on how to integrate tech in your homeschool. In her spare time, she loves reading and traveling. Follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram,
Discover Shakespeare at True North Homeschool Academy
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year! Or, is it? Is it really the most wonderful horrible time of the year?
It’s the most wonderful time of the year…No. It’s. Not. Every stinkin’ Christmas a tragedy occurs- every Christmas, thousands of us die. Do we deserve it? No. Do we like it? No. But do we wish for a different way of life? Um…yes. I have often dreamed of being a rock, cold and smooth. Or a book, treasured and kept safe. Even being a jack-in-the-box looks appealing right now!!! But no. Here I am, just bein’ a tree. A pine tree. A Christmastree.
Yes, that’s right. I am one of your precious decorations for a holiday; you chopped down my brother last year, my parents the year before, and my girlfriend the year before that. Ellie…she was hot. No, I mean literally. Someone thought it would be a good idea to put candles on the Christmas tree that year, and when Ellie twitched while trying to hold in a sneeze, she caught on fire. And the guilty party did not even have the DECENCY to send a sympathy card!
The Legend of the Mighty Cliff
Legend has it that the very first North American martyr to Christmas was my great-great-great-great-great…y’know what, this will take forever…my extremely great grandfather. (I don’t know why everybody likes him so much, none of us have ever met the guy. How do they know he was so great??) Anyway, his name was Cliff, and he lived a peaceful life filled with simple pleasures; the chatter of squirrels and songs of birds, the fertile earth and sweet breeze.
But then, one day, a wimpy, harmless-looking thing on two spindly legs came and RUINED IT ALL. It used a weird, deceptively tiny INSTRUMENT OF THE DEVIL to chop down my extremely great grandfather Cliff, and after watching him crash to the ground, proceeded to drag him in a very undignified manner through the forest.
They say the angels wept that day. With his dying words, Cliff informed his brethren (via carrier-owl) that the strange little creature had propped his broken body up in its abode, and wrapped him ‘round with impaled little corn-children on a string. The creature hung paper from his branches and crowned him with a golden star; crowned like some pagan king prepared for a sacrifice ritual. I shudder simply thinking about it.
A Reign of Terror
When they heard of this atrocity, the Council of Trees got together (and by got together I mean communicated by owl, since, y’know, we’re kinda stuck). They compiled all of the information gleaned from various informants in the International O24U Association and discovered that the inhumane practice of chopping trees was all the rage in Germany. Many plans were conceived to put this reign of terror to an end. However, by the time a solution was settled upon, the barbaric tradition had spread to the point of no revocation (tree councils are not known for their timeliness, owls and all. Maybe we should look into drones). Since then, all conceivable options to rid the world of this savagery have fallen flat. World domination has been discussed, but the lack of opposable thumbs (in addition to legs, brains, and other useful organs) has proved problematic.
So here I sit, just waiting for fate to laugh evilly and point some merciless wood’s-bane of a human my way. Oh. Oh no. Oh, heck no! Are those…footsteps?? Somebody knock on wood! KNOCK ON WOOD!!!
I see a small female break through the foliage. I breathe a sigh of relief; that little sprout is no match for my brawn! But…I tense as she sucks a greedy portion of air into her lungs.
“DADDYYY!! I FOUND THE PERFECT TREE!!”
Oh, root rot, not another one! Another bumbling happiness-killer ambles into my clearing. And. He. Has. An. AXE! Oh, for the love of all that is green, please keep that thing away from me!! He advances like death itself! I’m comin’ Ellie, I’m comin’! Oh, the humanity! -Or rather…oh the forestry!! SWING LOW, SWEET CHARIOT!
“Oh Daddy, not that one.” The disgusting little creature wrinkles her nose. “That one.”
I glance behind me in disbelief and see my shaking neighbor, Steve. Might I add that Steve is the single, most annoying tree I have ever…and I do mean ever, met. And he’s not nearly as robust and amply-chlorophylled as I am. You want…HIM?! I gape as Steve is promptly cut down and hauled away. Too late, I yell after them: “HOW VERY DARE YOU!!! I AM CLEARLY THE SUPERIOR TREE HERE!! YOU JUST GIT YERSELF BACK HERE THIS MINUTE OR I WILL PERSONALLY-
About the Author:Emily Wilford is a sixteen-year-old homeschool student. She lives in Iowa, which is always either really hot or really stinkin’ cold. She really likes a lot of stuff, so trust me, I’m sparing you by only listing writing, mythology, Tae Kwon Do, horses, procrastinating, theater, and gazebos. You can usually find her reading a book while hiding in her natural habitat (aka under a blanket), and if not there, she’s probably trying to wrangle her five siblings (it never works, btw). She loves to sketch and listen to music, too; it’s truly amazing she ever gets anything done! Also, she finds it really weird to write about herself in the third person. Emily is part of the True North Homeschool Academy Writing Club and has written previous articles for us, including Creative Writing for Awesome People!
Stories Shape Culture. I have been influenced by stories my whole life so I know this is true. As I started having children and reading to them, I discovered that I loved finding good books that would influence the way they saw the world. My goal is that they will grow a heart of compassion, gratitude, contentment, and wisdom – all of the good things that make up a good life. I was asked to share some of these books with you, and it is my pleasure to pass on a few of the treasures I’ve come across over the years. Since Christmas has just passed, these special books have been on my mind!
Everyday Acts of Kindness
Papa Panov’s Special Day is a classic folk tale adapted by Leo Tolstoy. The version I love is retold by Mig Holder with illustrations by Julie Downing.
This book was gifted to me by my big sister, she remembered it being read to us kids and wanted this classic to be passed on to our children. I don’t know if I’ve ever read this story out loud and not had tears streaming down my face at the end.
It’s a story of an old shoemaker in a small Russian village who was alone during the holidays that year, and while reading his Bible he thought about how if baby Jesus were to come to his place he wouldn’t have anything to give him. Then he remembered a tiny pair of red baby shoes, the best shoes he’d ever made. He thought he could give him those. As he dozed off reading the nativity story, He heard a voice, it was Jesus telling him “ you wished that you had seen Me, that I had come to your little shop and that you could give me a gift. Look out into the street from dawn to dusk tomorrow and I will come. Be sure to recognize me, for I shall not say who I am.”
The next day which was Christmas Day, he spends the day looking for Jesus. In the process, he sees many needs and helps people through small acts of kindness. In anticipation of missing his visitation from Jesus, he tells the story to each of the recipients of his kindness. They thought he was strange for expecting a visit from Jesus but wished him well for being so kind to them.
Over and over, he was worried that while visiting with the others that he had possibly missed the One he was hoping to meet. At the end of the day, His heart was heavy and he wondered if it was only a dream after all. “ I wanted to believe it so much. I wanted Him to come” And at once it seemed like someone was in the room, through his tears he saw a long line of people passing across the little shop, all the people he had seen and spoken to that day. As they passed, they whispered one by one, “Didn’t you see me? Didn’t you see me Papa Panov?”.
“Who are you?” he asked. And he heard the same voice as the night before…” I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me water, I was cold and you took me in. These people you have helped today-all the time you were helping them, you were helping me!”… So He came after all. I’ll remember that whenever I read the Christmas story. The gospel story is so beautiful. I cry almost every time.
An Extraordinary Gift
Ordinary Baby, Extraordinary Gift by Gloria Gather and illustrated by Barbara Hranilovich is a simple summary of the whole gospel story; from the promise God made to fix the mess we made in the garden through the promise that he would come to us. This book focuses on our relationship with God and His plan to redeem what was lost. My favorite quote from this book is: “ who would have ever guessed it! God thought of the best way to have his friends back. He would be an ordinary baby. That’s the way He planned it, maybe, so that we would come to him and not be afraid.”
The first part of the book is that summary and the last part of the book is a poem, which is actually a song. The book originally came with a CD, but we lost it before actually listening to it and we don’t have a CD player anyway. It’s worth typing out- I think it’s beautiful!
He was just an ordinary baby. That’s the way he planned it, maybe, anything but common would have kept him apart from the children that he came to rescue. Limited to some elite few, when he was the only child who asked to be born, And now he came to us with eyes wide open, knowing how we’re hurt and broken, choosing to partake of all our joy and pain,
He was just an ordinary baby: that’s the way he planned it, maybe, so that we would come to him and not be afraid.
He was ordinary with the exception of miraculous conception; Both His birth and death he planned from the start.
But between his entrance and his exit was a life that has affected everyone who’s walked the earth to this very day.
With no airs of condescension, He became God’s pure extension.
Giving you and me the chance to be remade. He was just an ordinary baby; that’s the way he planned it, maybe, so that we could come to him.
So that we would come to him and not be afraid.
Stories Shape Culture Song of the Stars
My newest Christmas book addition is a board book called Song of the Stars-a Christmas Story written by Sally Lloyd-Jones with paintings by Alison Jay.
I love this book! I’m especially fond of good board books both because they are a rare find, and because small children won’t rip the pages. And I love reading to toddlers. This is quick enough for some toddlers but moving enough for any age to appreciate.
The beginning says, “ the world was about to change forever. And it almost went by unnoticed…”
The back of the book has a wonderful summary of this beautiful rendition:
The entire universe is breathless with anticipation… the joyous news spreads out across fields, deserts, oceans—from stars, to trees, to robins, to flowers. Sheep tell their young. Angels sing to shepherds. And together they all join in nature’s great chorus of praise to the newborn King. The long-awaited child has come.
Towards the end of the book after sweet anticipation is built up for the grand finale, “the animals stood around his bed. And the whole earth and all the stars and sky held its breath…the One who made us has come to live with us!…and they gazed in wonder at God’s great gift. Lying on a bed of straw wrapped in rags— a tiny little baby. Heaven’s Son sleeping under the stars that he made.”
A Good Foundation
I’m pretty sure there is no greater task than to share what we know of God to our children, and hopefully, they will build their lives on the foundation that we give them. These types of books are a great start!
I love to share the story of Jesus! To communicate the meaning of the nativity and shape the culture and atmosphere in our home is a joy to me. I encourage you to drop the focus on material things that is typical of the Christmas season and the stress of starting a New Year and pick up a few good books that bring us back to the greatest story of all time: the precious story of Jesus and His plan to redeem the world unto Himself.
If your New Year’s resolutions include adding more reading or more read alouds to your homeschool, I hope you will add one or more of my beloved books to your wishlist. Include them and their joyful message in your holiday celebrations and everyday reading! And remember that we are what we read – stories can shape our culture and our hearts!
Becky Brunz is a homeschool mom of 7 and avid reader of literature! [/author_info] [/author]
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
Apparently teaching English is even more illusive than I thought! Years ago when I ran a large homeschool co-op I would poll parents at the end of each year about courses that they struggled the most with teaching at home, as well as the courses they wanted to see offered at co-op. Inevitably, English was the number one subject area parents felt least prepared to teach and wanted help with. Which is interesting to me for two reasons:
All states require four years of high school credit in English
Colleges want to see four high school credits in English
In other words, the area that homeschoolers dread the most is also the area that has the most unrelenting requirements.
What’s a homeschooler to do? First things first. Let’s define what English includes as a subject.
What is English?
English is a broad catch-all category and has to do with all things related to reading and writing, including but not limited to reading, syllabication, spelling, vocabulary, grammar, literature analysis, recitation, genres, Shakespeare, essay and research writing, poetry, tropes and creative writing, plagiarism and essays and probably more.
Including English on Your Transcript
For High School Transcripts it is generally acceptable to write down English I, II, III, IV, each level indicating a full credits worth of “English.” Or you can differentiate between literary genres, such as American, World, Ancient, British Literature, etc. It is also generally understood that each credit of High school English will include literature and writing instruction. Students in high school should master the essay and be so comfortable with it that they don’t even give it a second thought.
High School English
By high school, most students will have a good handle on spelling (or be adept at using Spell Check) as well keyboarding. Vocabulary should be something that students should be working on consistently throughout their academic careers, through either foreign language study, extensive reading or an excellent vocabulary program like Worldly Wise. Students should also know at least rudimentary diagramming skills. While one is clearly capable of writing well without this knowledge, a bit of grammar will take the elementary writing to the next level and the good writer even farther. In other words, by high school, the mechanics of writing should be well established, including how to write a 7 sentence paragraph and a simple 3 paragraph paper.
Students should also be reading widely by High School. For those who struggle with reading or just don’t like to, graphic novels and books on tape are excellent options and ones we utilize even in our home of willing and excellent readers. Simple narration and rudimentary literary analysis should be at least touched upon before high school. Recitation is a fantastic way to learn a piece of literature and truly understand it.
High School English should break down the skill of writing in a way that allows every student to write shorter and then longer essays well, regardless of ability. English is not rocket science and a good English teacher will be able to give their students the tools and skills of writing well. High School English will also include literature and again, a good English teacher will be able to lead great literary discussions that bring the text to life for the student, as well as impart skills so that the student can begin to discern nuanced meanings within the text on their own.
High School English will include not only the structure of how to write a solid essay but will encourage and impart stylistic techniques as well. Poetry and tropes are easily taught, enjoyed by most everyone and a fantastic way to build English copiousness and skill. Simple writing prompts and assignments based on the literature the students are reading often lead to delightful and humorous writing that quickly and easily pushes the student well beyond any writing they’ve done to date.
Happy Sigh. I love writing and I love teaching writing. Last year I taught Shakespeare and poetry and what delightful fun we had! We would have Shakespeare actors write letters to each other, using alliterations, create poetic puns and practice Iambic Pentameter (Shakespeare’s most used rhyme scheme) while incorporating tropes like similes, alliterations and onomatopoeia’s. Epic writing occurred as well as shared laughter!
Imitable Amber Fonseca and Lisa Nehring will be teaching the writing classes at True North and we are both thrilled to be able to share our love of literature and the joy of writing with you and your students!
Please reach out if you have specific questions about how to teach High school English, or if you have any questions or comments about our English program at True North Homeschool Academy! And don’t forget to join our FaceBook Group, Help Homeschooling High School.