Use these creative ideas to teach Shakespeare to middle and high schoolers—a sure way to help develop a lifelong love of the Bard of Avon.

Creative Ways to Teach Shakespeare in Your Homeschool

William Shakespeare. The name either thrills you or fills you with dread – there usually isn’t an “in between.”

Okay, maybe there is some middle ground there, but let’s face it: most of us grudgingly memorized line after line of his plays in high school—lines we didn’t particularly enjoy or even worse, didn’t understand. And the thought of having to teach Shakespeare to our own kids makes us cringe.

Yet, being the adoring and conscientious mom that you are, you realize that for your precious offspring to have a thorough education, you’re going to have to find a way to teach Shakespeare (intelligently) and hopefully help your kid or teen connect with the Bard.

Why?

Because Shakespeare is everywhere—especially if you speak English (or Klingon)!

Teach Shakespeare Because He’s Everywhere!

Shakespeare isn’t just limited to an English Lit class. I mean, even the Genie from Aladdin could quote Julius Caesar. And when Marianne Dashwood and Willoughby recited “Sonnet 116” together, in Sense and Sensibility, all of us Jane Austen freaks had to swiftly set it to memory as well. BBC’s Sherlock went on drug-induced tirade in which he quoted extensively from Henry V. And as I mentioned above, Shakespeare’s works have made it beyond our solar system to Kronos (the Klingon home world).

See, Shakespeare really is everywhere!

As Ken Ludwig, of How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, says,

“Shakespeare is, indisputably, one of the…great bedrocks of Western civilization in English…Not only do Shakespeare’s plays themselves contain the finest writing of the past 450 years, but most of the best novels, plays, poetry, and films in the English language produced since Shakespeare’s death in 1616 – from Jane Austen to Charles Dickens, from Ulysses to The Godfather – are heavily influenced by Shakespeare’s stories, characters, language, and themes.”

If you want your kids to have a well-rounded, highly-cultured education, then the Bard is kind of important.

So, instead of waiting until your kids are in high school, why not introduce them to him early on? That’s what we did and all three of our kids have a strong appreciation for his works and great memories of seeing his plays. We always tried to make our “Shakespeare time” fun, which I’ll get to in a moment.

But first, let’s talk about some of the benefits of teaching Shakespeare.

teach shakespeare by acting out scenes from the plays
Alec as Hamlet

Benefits of Teaching Shakespeare in Your Homeschool

Why is studying Shakespeare so important? Are there benefits of teaching Shakespeare to your children? YES!

(1) Language enrichment. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Shakespeare is credited with introducing almost 3,000 words to the English language! Some have estimated his own vocabulary range was between 17,000 to 29,000 words, which is double the number used by the average person. When students study his plays, they’re introduced to a complex vocabulary that broadens their understanding of language. Exposure to Shakespeare’s unique language and style can help homeschoolers develop critical thinking skills by forcing them to analyze and interpret the writings. It helps students learn how to appreciate well-written literature, boosting their overall reading comprehension.

(2) Cultural References. Shakespeare’s lines are interwoven and deeply ingrained into our culture. According to the Literature Encyclopedia, Shakespeare’s works are the second most quoted (after the Bible) in the English language. In fact, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Shakespeare wrote close to a tenth of the most quoted lines ever written or spoken in English!

(3) Understanding the Human Condition. Studying Shakespeare can give you a great deal of insight into human nature. He seemed to have such a grasp of the human heart, mind, will, and emotions. There are many lessons to be learned within his works if you’ll take the time to do so.

(4) Universal Themes. The themes in Shakespeare’s plays, even though they were written centuries ago, still resonate with modern-day problems. Kids and teens will gain a greater understanding of universal themes such as love, betrayal, power, and morality. Learning how to analyze characters’ motivations and themes helps students develop critical thinking skills.

(5) Historical Significance. Many of Shakespeare’s plays are set in specific historical periods, which can help homeschoolers to learn more about those time periods and the societal issues of the time. Studying Shakespeare can provide a foundation for further historical studies and promote a deeper curiosity about different cultures.

(6) Brain power. Research shows that studying Shakespeare boosts electrical activity to the brain. It activates new synapses in your brain that wouldn’t be activated otherwise! Every new thing you are exposed to “turns on” a new part of your brain that was previously dormant.

(7) Enhancing Creativity. In addition to the analytical benefits of studying Shakespeare, homeschooling students also gain an opportunity to be creative. Reading and performing plays in a group provides an outlet to explore different emotions and use creativity in analyzing and interpreting open-ended themes.

Liam hoping the Bard will enhance his creativity. The Bard just thinks that Liam is weird.

Creative Ways to Teach Shakespeare

In our homeschool, our kids were introduced to Shakespeare from a very early age. Here are a few fun ways we’ve studied the Bard over the years:

(1) “Set the stage” in your home before you read his poetry. Make it a special time by lighting some candles, putting the kettle on for tea, and playing some soft classical music in the background. My kids absolutely loved having tea parties during school. Tea time and poetry just seem to go hand-in-hand.

(2) And if you don’t feel you can read it, then check out LibriVox, or pull up some YouTube videos with Brits reading Shakespeare’s poetry.

(3) Because of the complexity of his plays (and characters), if your kids are younger, you will probably want to do what we did and read first from Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare, mapping out characters with stick figures to keep up (but stick figures can become a bit complicated to keep track of).

Teach Shakespeare to young students by reading Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare.
Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare

(4) A more fun way to “act out” the plays and to keep up with the characters is to let your kids act out the scenes with dolls, stuffed animals, action figures or Lego people. (A “beanie baby” Eeyore was once “Bottom” and we thought it quite apropos.) 😉

(5) After reading from Beautiful Stories, you may want to re-read each play from Tales from Shakespeare, by Charles and Mary Lamb since their stories are a bit more in depth. This is especially helpful for upper elementary students.

(6) Watch the film adaptations. Around middle and high school age, our kids began to watch the film adaptations of certain plays (see below for our family favorites). Watching the film first helped them better understand each play.

(7) Collect extra copies of any Shakespeare plays that you find at yard sales and thrift stores so you’ll have multiple copies from which to read. Assign each family member various parts to read.

(8) Rather than just reading the play, allow your kids to act it out in full costume (um, it is a play after all).

teach shakespeare to high school students
Olivia as Juliet

(9) Teach your kids some Shakespearean insults. Isn’t it fun to call your brother a “crusty botch of nature,” or your sister a “poisonous bunch-backed toad”? (Well, maybe you don’t want to get that started…ahem…)

(10) You might want to invest in a set of No Fear Shakespeare editions which has the original text in Elizabethan English on one page and modern English on the opposite page. This makes the original play much easier to understand.

Books for teaching Shakespeare.

(11) If you have a local homeshool drama club, why not let your teens work through the book, Shaking Hands with Shakespeare? This book contains over 50 activities, including performing scenes in various acting styles,  and writing and performing your own “Shakespearean” scenes with modern-day story lines. Our teens really enjoyed doing this with our local co-op.

(12) If at all possible, expose your kids to live performances of Shakespeare’s plays. Our family loves to go to The Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta on a regular basis. We have literally howled with laughter over several of the comedy performances (though Romeo and Juliet may or may not have bored the boys to tears). Nothing beats a live performance!  

Teach Shakespeare through live performances.

And finally, invest in other books that will help teach Shakespeare to your kids and teens. (I’ll link our family favorites below). All three of my kids are writers and aspiring authors, so what better writer to study under than the greatest storyteller in the English language?

(A bit of trivia: Rumor has it that John Keats was so influenced by Shakespeare that he kept a bust of the Bard beside him while he wrote, hoping that Shakespeare would spark his creativity.)

Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.
Mural of Shakespeare
This mural of Shakespeare on the South Bank in London is one of my absolute favorites!

Our Favorite Shakespeare Film Adaptations

Here are just a few of the film adaptations our family loves. Please read the parental guides and use your own discretion with younger kids:

Twelfth Night: Or What You WillTwelfth Night: Or What You WillTwelfth Night: Or What You WillA Midsummer Night's DreamA Midsummer Night’s DreamA Midsummer Night's DreamMuch Ado About NothingMuch Ado About NothingMuch Ado About NothingRomeo and JulietRomeo and JulietRomeo and JulietThe Hollow Crown Season 1-2 [Blu-ray]The Hollow Crown Season 1-2 [Blu-ray]The Hollow Crown Season 1-2 [Blu-ray]Shakespeare Retold (DVD)Shakespeare Retold (DVD)Shakespeare Retold (DVD)

 

Our Favorite Books to Teach Shakepeare

Bard of Avon: The Story of William ShakespeareBard of Avon: The Story of William ShakespeareBard of Avon: The Story of William ShakespeareBeautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children: Being a Choice Collection from the World's Greatest Classic Writer Wm. ShakespeareBeautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children: Being a Choice Collection from the World’s Greatest Classic Writer Wm. ShakespeareBeautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children: Being a Choice Collection from the World's Greatest Classic Writer Wm. ShakespeareTales From Shakespeare Student Edition Complete And UnabridgedTales From Shakespeare Student Edition Complete And UnabridgedTales From Shakespeare Student Edition Complete And UnabridgedHow to Teach Your Children ShakespeareHow to Teach Your Children ShakespeareHow to Teach Your Children ShakespeareBrightest Heaven of Invention: A Christian Guide to Six Shakespeare PlaysBrightest Heaven of Invention: A Christian Guide to Six Shakespeare PlaysBrightest Heaven of Invention: A Christian Guide to Six Shakespeare PlaysWilliam Shakespeare & the Globe (Trophy Picture Books (Paperback))William Shakespeare & the Globe (Trophy Picture Books (Paperback))William Shakespeare & the Globe (Trophy Picture Books (Paperback))Shaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager's Guide to Reading and Performing the BardShaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager’s Guide to Reading and Performing the BardShaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager's Guide to Reading and Performing the BardShakespeare: His Work and His WorldShakespeare: His Work and His WorldShakespeare: His Work and His WorldShakespeare's Imagery and What it Tells UsShakespeare’s Imagery and What it Tells UsShakespeare's Imagery and What it Tells Us