Ditch the Second Day Syllabus and Read Shakespeare Instead!

compliments

After my summer experience at the Folger Shakespeare Library, I decided that I was going to get my students up and moving around my classroom in some sort of Shakespeare activity within the first three days of school. And guess what? I did just that!

On day two of the new school year, I ditched the rules and procedures protocol, and instead, each of my classes participated in a Shakespeare compliment activity (an activity that I first experienced first-hand this summer). I do something similar to this in March when we begin Romeo and Juliet; however, instead of Shakespeare compliments, they spew Shakespeare insults at one another. I never thought this was something my 9th students could handle on day 2, but I was totally wrong!

I passed out the Shakespeare compliments sheet. There were three columns of terms – the first two adjectives and the third nouns. First I had the students read over the words silently to themselves. After this, they practiced reading some of the words aloud. The final step was putting the words together in an out-of-seat activity. They began their compliments with the word “thou”, strung three words together (one from each column), and then they complimented at least six other classmates. I challenged them to speak to peers they aren’t friends with. The results – AWESOME! The students were engaged, not one complained, and they got a kick out of many of the terms. In fact, I had a number of students say, “I can’t wait to do the Shakespeare insults!”

Sample compliments:

Thou airy, eye-beaming wafer-cake

Thou Taffeta, tender-smelling velvet-guard

Thou marbled, May-morn ringlet

Thou alms-deed, face-royal homanger

AND my favorite

Thou mannerly, ear-kissing pittikins

Shakes compli 2

There were so many TEACHABLE moments in this lesson that I never expected! Below are some benefits to this activity (or something similar!)

  1. Fun, engaging icebreaker activity.
  2. They were moving – something that doesn’t occur in many classes the first week of school.
  3. A student told me she couldn’t pronounce a word. I told her that whatever she says is correct (another thing I brought back from the Folger). This led into a quick chat with the class about pronunciation and how it’s rude to constantly be correcting someone. I want all students to feel comfortable and confident when speaking up in class!
  4. This activity helped set expectations. At the sound of my voice, the students said one final compliment and then headed back to their seats.
  5. Some of the rules and procedures of my classroom were explained when I introduced this activity – win/win!
  6. I could gauge the dynamic of the group by seeing the way they interact with others.
  7. THEY READ SHAKESPEARE, and they enjoyed it! In my school district, my class is the first time they are introduced to Shakespeare. This definitely piqued their interest a bit.
  8. I now know who my “actors” are. But by the end of the year, ALL will be actors! 🙂

So go ahead and ditch that second day syllabus and get those students up and complimenting one another using Shakespeare’s words!

Shakespeare Camp and the New School Year

classroom view

It’s hard to believe a new school year is beginning once again. But what’s even harder to believe that this will be my 10th, yes you heard right, TENTH year teaching high school English. Over the past ten years I’ve had some amazing and humbling experiences. I’ve directed and produced three musicals, began a reading course for struggling students, moved to a new school district, participated in conferences that took me all over the country, won national English teaching awards, and became president of the PA Council for Teachers of English and Language Arts. I’ve gotten to know and collaborate with respected authors and educators from across the world. Most importantly, I’ve watched thousands of students move from 9th grade to college, growing academically and socially. I’ve seen non-readers become excited, avid, can’t-take-a-book-out-of-their-hand readers. I’ve had the awesome pleasure of witnessing students become excited about reading Shakespeare, scream with joy after receiving a book signed by an author (special thanks to Jay Asher, Steve Chbosky, and the late Walter Dean Myers) to students who were dealing with issues high schoolers should never have to deal with. I’ve been invited to former student college graduations, weddings, and sadly I’ve attended too many student funerals.

And through all of those memorable moments, there is another one that I have the pleasure of adding to my list. This life-changing experience occurred over the course of one of the most memorable weeks of my life, and it will make a lasting impact on my teaching (and writing, too). If you know me, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. The Teaching Shakespeare Institute at the Folger Shakespeare Library, which I now like to refer it as Shakespeare Camp.

It’s been a month since Shakespeare Camp (which is so much easier to explain this week of Shakespeare awesomeness to my non-teaching friends and family) and I cannot stop thinking about it. As I sat through three days of valuable in-service sessions this past week (I got a lot out of a number of presentations) at my school district, I found myself thinking back to that week of awesomeness just a little over a month ago. Oh, how I wished I was sword fighting on the Folger’s lawn, listening to engaging lectures by the scholars and Folger text editors, performing on the United States’s only Elizabethan stage, and collaborating with 26 other like-minded, Shakespeare obsessed colleagues (many of whom I now call friends). As I think back on that experience, there are three things I want to take with me as I teach this year in order to keep the Folger memory alive and especially to create a memorable 9th grade year for my 100 plus students.

Shakes Center1. Relinquish control. If you’re a leader, teacher, boss, parent, you understand the difficulty in relinquishing control. But that’s one of the things that I want to work on this year. By relinquishing control (not total control, though), I am placing the learning into the hands of my students, in turn creating a memorable, authentic, and challenge-based learning environment. When I get to the acting of Romeo and Juliet, I know relinquishing control will be a struggle – but with my tools and tips from Shakespeare Camp, I know it can be done.

2. It’s all about the words. Sometimes we get so focused on teaching specific reading skills and strategies (thank you, standardized tests) we forget about the words. When students simply read words (often times through repetition), meaning begins to form organically.

3. Begin with performance. Thanks to an amazing blogpost by Debbie Gascon, I now have the confidence to begin my school year with performance. Although I will be discussing the general rules and procedures the very first day (remember, I do have 9th grade students! haha), on day 2 they’ll be up and out of their seats participating in the first performance-based activity of the year. Check back for an update on that! 🙂

Okay … okay … I know there is so much more more I will be using in my classroom, but I wanted to start with those three ideas. Thank you Folger Shakespeare Library for reinvigorating me for the start of my TENTH year!

Happy New Year! 🙂 Jennie @jenniekaywrites

About Jennie : Jennie K. Brown is an award-winning high school English teacher, freelance magazine writer, and author of children’s books. Her middle grade novel POPPY MAYBERRY, THE MONDAY will be published in April 2016 by month9books (Tantrum Books imprint), with a sequel to follow in December of that year. She currently serves as president of the Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts (PCTELA) and is an active member of SCBWI, NCTE, and ALAN. She is a regular contributor to the SCBWI Eastern PA and PCTELA blogs. Jennie can be found on twitter, facebook, and her website jenniekbrown.com