All The World's A Stage: BYO Props!

Welcome to my very first choose-your-own-adventure blog post!  Here you have three options:

1. Click the image below to donate to my current Donors Choose project! 
2. Continue reading for an in-depth overview on how I plan to use each resource I've applied for in my Donors Choose project!
3. Just read my blog and steal the amazing resources as you see fit!

The choice is yours... Let the adventure begin! :)

I am a planner. My life is a series of checkboxes and sticky notes curated within a personally-designed bullet journal with digital calendars and cell phone alarms and reminders thrown in to keep it interesting. And though I only teach Shakespeare for 10 weeks each year, I never, ever stop thinking about it. This is primarily because I am never, ever happy with how my units turn out.

In my infinite planning loop, I recently realized that I am not teaching Shakespeare to 7th graders in a developmentally-appropriate way. What's worse--I actually suspect I am making it so overly rigorous that they end up really disliking Shakespeare. Then, when I teach them the next year as 8th graders, it is not lost on me that they politely bite their tongues as our Shakespeare unit begins. Sure, they're being kind about it because they like me and they know how much I love teaching that unit, but I've already failed if they feel like they have to fake their enthusiasm. I mean, really?

Unacceptable. It's time for a seventh grade reboot.

I scrapped months of work and decided to start from scratch (I do this a lot). I came up with the following goals for the 7th graders during their first real exposure to Shakespeare:

1. Know the basics about Shakespearean plays (the structure, the genres, etc.).
2. Become comfortable with the features of a dramatic text (stage directions, line numbers, etc.).
3. Decode Shakespeare's flowery writing style (ev'ry thou an' thine).
4. Enjoy playing with language, plots, and characters.
5. Do some groundling-level analysis of themes and conflicts (Ah yes, the standards never die).

In my heart of hearts, I would make the 7th grade unit a "survey" of Shakespeare, in which I expose them to multiple genres, plays, characters, themes, and conflicts through acting and guided analysis. However, I am a special education co-teacher, and my general education counterpart loves Julius Caesar. So, Julius Caesar will be our core text. See my previous post for my true feelings on this.

Regardless of core text, I think I can amp up the enjoyment factor during 7th grade and reap the benefits of this work during their 8th grade year.  Here's an in-depth break down what I'll need:

In Julius Caesar, the togas make the man. At least, in a classroom they do. I've selected these easily-adjustable toga costumes which should fit a variety of my students. And when things get stabby (as they do in Act 3), these retractable daggers should make for an unforgettable moment on our classroom stage. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, no one gets a bigger laugh than Bottom when he enters the action completely unaware of his donkey head. Yes, I selected the creepiest donkey head I could find. I also thought this flowered crown would be a good way to set Titania apart from the rest. I also found a cauldron for students to use, because I am taking them to see Macbeth on stage next year, and this will serve us well as we prepare to see that performance.

I found a couple of games that will require my students to interact with Shakespeare's language, thus removing the barrier of fear and unfamiliarity, that look super fun and engaging! When playing Brain Box, for example, students test their memory by studying a card (which includes a picture from an important Shakespearean scene, a quote, the name, act, and scene number of the play, etc.) and then recall as many details from it as possible. This deck of Shakespearean Insult Cards can be used in more ways than I can imagine! We will use them to stage an Insult-Off, in which students form two lines on either side of the room and practice delivering their insults in the most "biting" tones they can muster. Hilarity ensues, and students don't even realize how difficult the language they're using actually is. Likewise, the Great Shakespearean Deaths Card Game can be played like a game of War, but the introduction to the terrible ways Shakespeare ends his tales is sure to draw in the most skeptical scholar.

I'm not about to spend a bunch of money purchasing student copies of Shakespeare's plays, when we can find them anywhere on the internet for free! But there are a few books that I plan to use to spice up this unit. As my regular readers will attest, I believe in getting students up, moving, and acting The Second City Guide to Improve in the Classroom. Second City, as you may know, is a mainstay of improv comedy here in Chicago, and though I have attended trainings that center on the teachings within this book, I don't actually own the book yet. The next book I'd like to use is entitled Pop Sonnets, by Erik Didriksen, which I recently learned about via the Folger Library's Shakespeare Unlimited podcast. This is a collection of pop songs lovingly re-worked into Shakespearean sonnets--down to the very last iamb. I plan to use these as warm-ups a few times a week; students will read the lyrics, try to guess the song based on its content, and then we'll decode it together while listening to the song itself. Once again, my goal here is exposure to the language without all the pressure. My last book selections are also all about exposure. Kill Shakespeare is a series of comic books in which all of Shakespeare's most famous heroes team up against his most famous villains to search for a long-lost wizard (Shakespeare himself). The combination of comic-style storytelling, the visual artwork, and the mash-up of these complex characters will definitely get the wheels turning in the minds of some of my hardest-to-reach students.
during this unit. But even my acting games and strategies can become stale over time. That's why I'd like to invest in my own copy of

Other Necessities:
During our Shakespeare unit, I allow students to choose a monologue to memorize and perform as part of their final grades. Headphones are absolutely crucial to the implementation of this project, especially for my English language learners. I set them up with everything they need, including easily-accessible videos of their speeches being performed by professionals. To see how I set up this assignment and make my students fully-independent in their preparation, check out my previous post here.  Lastly, I want to do everything I can to make my Shakespeare unit as hands-on as possible. As an extension project (or as a modified final), students will have the opportunity to construct their own Globe Theater out of paper. In the meantime, they can research its history, structural components, audiences in Shakespeare's time, and superstitions that were widely believed in Elizabethan England. Sounds like a great presentation to me!

As I've mentioned above, feel free to steal any of the resources I've compiled above and find your own creative ways to use them in your classroom. However, this collection of resources isn't cheap and I certainly don't have funding to infuse my classroom with them. If you feel inclined to donate to my Donors Choose project, I would greatly appreciate it. And stay tuned for a full 10-week lesson plan to see how I incorporate each of these resources into one, cohesive unit!

Thanks for reading!

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