Shakespeare as part of our cultural capital

Author: Francis Gilbert
Published: 13/01/2014

Studying Shakespeare is likely to have a Marmite reaction in any classroom, but the following teaching approaches aim to reassure students that there's less to be feared than they might have originally thought. The accompanying resource includes further activities and a worksheet.

1 Starting off

Some people think you're not educated if you don't know certain bits of Shakespeare. And, like it or not, Shakespeare has become part of the 'cultural capital' that every student is expected to have.

A simple way to prompt students to 'own' Shakespeare and start to find meaning in his work, is to take a selection of famous lines from Shakespeare and see whether they can match the play, meaning and line. They'll generally find that they know more than they first thought ...

See the full resource for my suggestions for lines (along with the contexts and meanings) for students to 'unmuddle'.

2 Independent research skills

Once students have read and matched the quotations (and discussed them), you could ask them to use the internet to explore one or more of the quotations in depth.

They could also use this as an opportunity to find out more about the play as a whole, looking up synopses online, or watching scenes on YouTube. You could then get students to gather all of their notes/thoughts/links together and email it to you.

This could be followed by a presentation to the class about what they have discovered from their research.

3 Putting pen to paper

If you'd like students to produce a written outcome, you could develop your lesson in the following ways:

  • Students could write a story based on one of the quotations, using it to provide inspiration, or embedding it into the story somehow. Some films are based on famous Shakespeare lines already, e.g. Band of BrothersTo Be Or Not To BeMurder Most Foul.
  • Ask students to write a persuasive speech on any topic which uses at least two or three of these quotations.

Two further writing suggestions are provided in the resource.

4 Variations on a theme

Students could produce a slideshow illustrating the quotations with images or videos from Google or YouTube. Getting students to pick the most fitting images in pairs is a good place to start. They should then decide on the main topic of the speech or key words, type this into Google and see what comes up.

This exercise gets students deploying their summarising skills - boiling down quotes to key words - and also asks students to choose the right image for them.

The discussion that results from this should help them see ultimately that good writing is all about choosing the right mental image.

Download Francis Gilbert's classroom resource. 

(This article was first published on 13.01.14 as a newsletter.)

Francis Gilbert

Francis Gilbert is a writer, journalist and Head of the MA in Creative Writing and Education and course leader for PGCE English at Goldsmiths.