Dear K-3 teachers,
Introducing the younger students to Shakespeare is a real delight, and we are glad you are interested in doing so!
As you have probably noticed, most of “Shakespeare Kids” is geared towards teachers in the upper elementary grades, because students in grades 4-6 generally have the reading ability and maturity necessary for long-term performance projects. But we have met some amazing children in 2nd and 3rd grade who were already capable of tackling a major Shakespearean role – so you never know!
What we would like to do with this page is point you towards some elements
of ours ite where you might find materials and approaches useful for
younger students. Some of the activities we use with 4th graders, for
example, can be simplified to work quite well with 2nd graders.
In general, we find that very basic exercises -- such as the Puck speech
"I'll follow you," found in our Act 1, Scene 1: Getting started section --
work with children as young as kindergarteners, if you adjust for their
reading level and tempo. In this exercise, each child is given an index
card with a piece of text of about 1-4 words. Most children can read these
words with assistance and quick prompting. The children who can't read
them can quickly memorize their words when given them verbally -- "Your
line is, 'at every turn,'" you tell the student, and they repeat: "At
every turn!" They say it three or four times and they have it.
What we recommend is that you scan several of our sections for teachers in
grades 4-8, and look for ideas that can be adapated for your students. The
Act 1, Scene 1 section mentioned above is filled with games and exercises
great for this age group. Our Resources for the Classroom Teacher section
has listings of films, websites, and books, and many of those are useful
for the K-3 range.
Some of the resources we highlight are aimed specifically at younger kids, especially the books of Lois Burdett and her students. Burdett lives and teaches in Stratford, Ontatrio, home of Canada’s famous Stratford Shakespeare Festival, and Shakespeare is a very important part of her curriculum. Her students learn the stories, then retell them in their own rhyming poetry and lovingly illustrate the characters.
Before you begin exploring, here are a few quick thoughts on working with K-3 kids on Shakespeare:
There are many excellent books now for young readers that look at Shakespeare’s life, his theater, and his plays. These can be terrific for sparking interest; then you can follow that up the next day or week with work on a short piece of a scene, and follow that with a few more books. You can play with a small part of a text, such as Puck’s speech “I’ll follow you” or the Fairy’s “Over hill, over dale,” and let the kids dress up in bits of costumes (anything you can find from home, even simple scarves and hats) and perform it as a group.
Students in grades 2-3 are capable of longer periods of sustained concentration, and might be able to do a 1-page portion of a scene as a group, or work in small teams on a little section.
One amazing thing we’ve noticed about doing one-hour sessions with students in K-3 is how deep an impression one visit can make. Often, if you are able to visit the students a few weeks later, many of them will still remember their “part” and perform it with gusto right away. They also love to combine art and writing. Some of the best Shakespeare portraits we’ve ever seen came from a group of first-graders who studied the drawing of Will on the front of Bard of Avon, then incorporated into their drawing various words and phrases invented by Shakespeare.
All it will take is one hour to give your students a Shakespeare experience they will talk about for a long time!