Teaching Shakespeare to Year 8 Students

During Term 3, the Year 8 Drama classes have been studying the characters and narrative structure of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For most of the students, this the first time they have encountered the writer and dramatist within an academic context.

It can be daunting, as the language seems impenetrable. To begin, we work through the structure of the play. The students showed a great delight and confusion when they realised the play has a multitude of characters who belong to one of the three worlds invented by Shakespeare. These groups of characters find themselves affected by the most intriguing world, the Athenian Forrest. Here, we find the faithful servant Puck assisting the angered King Oberon, a group lover’s quarrelling, a Queen in love with a donkey and a group of actors rehearsing a play. Puck’s naughtiness or his playfulness is the most attractive to our Year 8 students. Of course, this is no surprise!

Through Puck, we create a series of learning activities. These include viewing the ways in which Puck is interpreted by acting companies; an adolescent who has no boundaries, a dark figure who needs the attention of Oberon or a playful fairy who finds delight in the strangeness of human beings. Students choose which Puck they would like to embody. Using exaggerated movement, dance and gesture the students build their own version of Puck. We also begin to use the dialogue of the character, one to two line sentences, which they then add to their characterisation.

Students also read scenes from the texts and begin to break down each line asking themselves what does this mean and what physical action will help convey the meaning to the audience? Students work in pairs to collaborate and direct each other. We also engage in learning activities that involve pronunciation and Shakespeare’s use of the iambic pentameter. The Year 8 Drama course is challenging but we find out which part of the play the students enjoy and use this to present the dramatic and expressive skills used in the productions of Shakespeare’s plays. We hope that this early exploration into the world of Shakespeare will support students with their Year 9 and 10 English studies and later in their VCE Theatre Studies and VCE English coursework.

Ms Julia West, Head of Drama