Posted on March 14, 2016
Shakespeare Week Activities
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust publicises Shakespeare Week each year in March, and in 2016 it runs from 14th to 20th March. We first found out about this from Sarah of Delivering Grace, and it has been something that the children and I really enjoyed taking part in. Although this is the ‘official’ Shakespeare week, these activities could of course be done at any time of the year, and the Shakespeare Week website resources are available all year round.
I have decided that we will look at the Merchant of Venice as a family this time, after doing the Tempest last year. Here are some of the resources and activities we will be using and doing:
There are some special resources on offer this week due to the celebrations. We will be starting the week with a digital tour of the Shakespeare Birthplace Museum in Stratford-upon-Avon, which is open to schools or home educators who register on the Shakespeare Week site. The Royal Shakespeare Company is offering live online streaming of their performance of Othello to UK schools and homeschoolers. However, I have decided to wait for their screening of the Merchant of Venice in April, as I don’t feel our children are ready for some of the more violent scenes in Othello, although the RSC does also give a teachers’ guide which gives the timing of scenes within the broadcast which they may wish to miss out for younger children.
Online Audiobooks and Videos
We already have an audiobook of Charles and Mary Lamb’s children’s book Tales from Shakespeare on cassette tape (I know, old school!), but it does not include their version of the Merchant of Venice, so I have downloaded the Merchant of Venice audio chapter of Tales from Shakespeare from Librivox. All their audiobooks are in the public domain, and are therefore free. You can also get the ‘print’ version of Tales from Shakespeare free for Kindle, on Amazon. We are going on a trip one day this week, and will listen to the audiobook in the car. Librivox also offer Edith Nesbit’s The Children’s Shakespeare to stream or download.
I also hope to watch a video of how the Globe Theatre building was reconstructed and to end of the week, we will watch the BBC worldwide film of the Merchant of Venice. From Friday 18th March 2016, BBC Schools Radio will have a retelling of the Merchant of Venice available, but I am not sure if we will use this yet- I will probably preview it first- although there is a set of teachers’ notes to go along with all the plays that they have made retold versions of, written by well-known authors.
We will be using the free printable ‘Passports to Shakespeare’ booklets from the Shakespeare Week, and also building these printable paper models of the Globe Theatre in London, after we have watched the video on the building of the reconstructed Globe Theatre that I mentioned above.
Along with the audiobook of the Merchant of Venice that we listen to in the car, we will be taking along Merchant of Venice wordsearches from the Shakespeare Week site. There really is a wealth of resources on there for learning about Shakespeare, and we used some of them last year, for example to learn about common idioms currently used in the English language, which were actually ‘invented’ by Shakespeare himself.
Reading the Original Text
I have read some authors who do not agree with using any adapted versions of Shakespeare’s works, but our children have really enjoyed and been able to understand Charles and Mary Lamb’s retellings, and they have not stopped our oldest two from going on to read the original plays, such as when they each studied Much Ado About Nothing as part of Learning Language Arts Through Literature Green. However, we will be reading some of the original text of the Merchant of Venice this week, and I hope the children will enjoy and appreciate how it sounds, as it was written to be heard.
Towards the end of the week, I hope to have the children act out their own shortened version of the Merchant of Venice. One of the girls was given a Moulin Roty Shadow Puppet Theatre and extra shadow puppets for Christmas, so we may use those, or just get them to dress up and enjoy it!
Obviously as part of our study this week, we will be discussing some of the issues that the Merchant of Venice raises, such as how some of the characters are treated, and how this relates to how we should treat others. It is only one week of course, so we won’t necessarily be going into great depth at this time, but it will be a bit more than just looking at the surface of the story. I also hope to talk a bit about iambic pentameter, and other literary forms in Shakespeare’s work, which our older two have touched on a wee bit so far.
General Resources for Learning about Shakespeare at Home
BBC Primary History has a William Shakespeare page, which in addition to information about the man and his plays, also includes related portraits and photographs, as well as an online quiz and game.
Tara of This Sweet Life has a Shakespeare for Kids post with lots of recommendations for children’s books on Shakespeare, and links to Shakepeare unit studies, and Claire from Angelic Scalliwags has a great series of posts on her family’s amazing Shakespeare unit study throughout summer last year.
Finally, Sarah MacKenzie of the Read Aloud Revival podcast recently did an interesting interview with Ken Ludwig, author of How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. I even found the readers’ comments below the podcast an extra help.
So, it looks like it will be a fun Shakespeare Week for us! Has your family studied Shakespeare together? If so, what did you enjoy most about it? Or have you stayed away from learning about Shakespeare so far? Please leave a comment and let me know.
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