Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Innovative teaching of Shakespeare engages and excites primary school children

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Pupils Shakespeare Drama

Claire Holloway graduated from Oxford Brookes University in 2018 having studied Primary Teacher Education; she is now a primary school teacher and is using lots of Drama to teach Shakespeare, a method which her pupils love, and one which was inspired by her time at Brookes.

More specifically, Claire used highly interactive and inclusive Drama activities to teach children The Tempest. This included using the game ‘Whoosh!’ which really engaged her class and allowed them to use quotes from Shakespeare’s text. After learning about the first part of the story whereby Prospero says the storm spell, Claire and her class created a soundscape of the storm, which built onto their music lessons. They made a boat out of a cardboard box and the children took it in turns to become sailors on the boat experiencing the storm and performing roles on the ship (for example taking in the topsail) and saying quotes from Act 1 of the play whilst the rest of the class made the soundscape. After this Claire had the children create and perform a rhyming storm spell that Prospero may have used, taking inspiration from the Witches’ spell from Macbeth. The children also created freeze frames of key events in the story and captioned them by stating what happened in them. At the end of the class, the children wrote a diary entry in the role of either Prospero, Caliban or Miranda discussing their emotions and what had happened from the perspective of the character they chose. To prepare them for this Claire gave the children an opportunity to hot seat Miranda, Prospero and Caliban and be in the hot seat themselves.

Claire was so pleased by her class’s positive response to these drama activities that she recently contacted her former lecturer Adrienne Duggan to let her know how popular and valuable the methods she learned on the Primary Teacher Education course are in practice. Using Drama to teach Shakespeare is a core component of the Adrienne’s ‘Literature in the Primary School’ module which can be taken in the 3rd year of the course. The module aims to enable the student to develop depth of knowledge and understanding of literature for children and to consider it within a critical framework.

Claire’s challenge of literature teaching norms and success shows that the module is not only achieving these aims but also has valuable practical applications for schools, in this case allowing children to positively interpret, the often complex language and ideas, of Shakespeare, in an accessible and fun way, as Claire says:

“Using drama, particularly as much as we have with this unit, has had a significantly positive impact on all of the children in my class. Drama engaged and motivated all of the children in my class and the children were genuinely excited for each lesson and every activity. Many children who find writing challenging, particularly my pupils with special educational needs, were able to access the learning by becoming a character and sharing their ideas without having to write them down and this proved valuable thinking time. Using drama made a particularly positive impact on the children in my class who find it challenging to concentrate as it really engaged them through being active. In addition to engagement, drama helped all of my class to get ideas for writing their diary, use ambitious vocabulary, understand the story and develop their confidence through sharing ideas and performing. I use drama in as many lessons as possible as I can see the positive impact it has on all areas of the children’s learning in all subjects.”

Adrienne Duggan, Senior Lecturer in Drama in Education; is delighted that ideas from the course are being used in real primary schools. Adrienne commented:

“We encourage students to use lots of drama in their teaching at Oxford Brookes. Drama is a physical and inclusive way of engaging children. Shakespeare wrote his plays to be actively performed, not to be read sitting at desks. Through fun and visual work, children get to speak Shakespeare's language in a context that they can understand which helps them to feel confident in accessing the text.”

More broadly the Primary Teacher Education course aims to deliver the key skills needed to be an effective primary classroom teacher and an education leader of the future. Claire is a shining example of these skills in practice and no doubt will become a leader in her field.

Video of Adrienne’s ‘Literature in the Primary School’ module and of many of the other Primary Teacher Education modules can be seen here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bjf5dv4Mqc

For more information on the Oxford Brookes School of Education and the full range of courses they offer please visit: www.brookes.ac.uk/school-of-education/