Thursday, January 13, 2011

Shakespeare with Kids

The highlight of my days lately has been reading Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice with my fifth graders.

Shakespeare is often introduced to students in high school in a literature class, and by then they have heard things about Shakespeare's plays, that they are difficult to read and boring. I'm trying to head that off and give them an early introduction with video, acting out, and reading of different texts.

For instance, I prepare summaries with pictures of the characters. Then we read the Streamlined Shakespeare edition of the play, scene by scene. These are adaptations of Shakespeare for the fourth grade reading level that preserve some of Shakespeare's language. We compare these to selections I give them from Shakespeare, so they are acquainted with the iambic pentameter and the poetry. Then they get up and act the scenes out. Finally, as we work through the play, we also watch video of performances of Shakespeare's text. Read, discuss, watch, do.

With Merchant, we will watch scenes from the Michael Radford film with Al Pacino as Shylock.

But we haven't gotten there yet. These fifth graders are too busy reading, and asking me shocked questions about the Venetian geto, the treatment of Jews, and bigotry. We've also talked about male friendship a bit, whether Bassanio's intentions are pure, and what it must be like for Portia, not getting to choose her husband. And we have only just begun.

Oh, and they are reading. Nearly all of them are English-learners, and they are actually eager to read and read and read and practice their English.


Adam said...

What a wonderful approach. Merchant was the first of Shakespeare's works that I was able to really get into, and I think it was in the 6th grade or so that that happened. Before then, I could never really connect with any of the stories.

Oddly enough, we were never presented with any context whatsoever when reading the story. Jews were mostly considered bad people or a deragatory word in my school and community, the reasons for which I never had a clue. Sad to say, but as a youth I just went with it. As far as I was ever concerned, Jews were slaves in Egypt, freed by Moses, then there was the Holocaust, and then they ran Hollywod, and you didn't want to be one of them.

Bit of a tangent there, but I suppose I never really took time to reflect on that part of my childhood before...

Kelly said...

Good for you for starting them early!!

I've never been a big fan of Shakespeare. I only read what I had to in school (beginning in junior high).