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Making Macbeth fun

Discussion in 'English' started by RebeccaParis, Oct 9, 2017.

  1. RebeccaParis

    RebeccaParis New commenter

    I'm teaching Macbeth this year to a group of Year 9s. It's a class of somewhat mixed ability in a private school, and while most of the class seems to catch on quickly and enjoy the text and the language, others have said they find it boring and/or difficult. I have some low-level behavioural problems in the classroom & I believe the lack of interest in the text among a sub-set of this class may be contributing to the disruption.

    I've used various resources from TES (thank you, contributors!) as well as the exercises suggested by the Cambridge School version of the play we use. Each lesson involves some opportunity to 'act' out the text, then we talk about what has happened in the scene, and then there is some low-level language analysis aided by worksheets etc. We've watched a couple of scenes on YouTube but I'm reluctant to just resort to letting them watch a film.

    I say 'act' in inverted commas because the acting generally involves three or four of the pupils reading the text out in front of the class. I'd be keen to encourage a proper dramatisation of some of the scenes with costumes, props etc. but I fear that this extra activity may only worsen the ADHD-type difficulties some of the pupils have, and lead to the whole class become more out of control.

    Therefore, I thought I'd turn to everyone on TES to ask whether anyone has any ideas about how to engage pupils who are dissuaded by studying Shakespeare. I personally think Macbeth is a great choice for Year 9 (violence! battles! murder!) but that's not been the case so far.

    Has anyone ever used any games with this play for example? Any hints or tips gratefully received. :)
     
  2. Mrsmumbles

    Mrsmumbles Star commenter

    Hello!
    I used to do your job, so I know exactly what you refer to. There's lots you can do.
    1) Firstly stamp down hard on the low level disruption. I taught gobby boys. When they were told that what we didn't cover I class would get the remainder set as homework, they soon went quiet. You have to cover yourself at all times.
    2) Instead of whole scene reading, create print outs of key speeches and soliloquies, using a TES pack to speed this up! Speeches are great. Most kids are too lazy to do entire scenes now, a lot find it genuinely hard, and, crucially, the exam board want them to know key quotations for the timed essays. Far easier to learn a speech off by heart and recall six good quotations from that! The brain can somehow recall it better.
    3) Split the kids up into pairs. You choose, so they know that if they act up, they won't be able to choose besties! They always work better in mixed pairs, I think. Give each pair or trio a different Macbeth extract. Soliloquies could have four kids, in two pairs, working on them. On the projector, give them a seven point list of dramatic and staging features to focus on as they learn the lines. Think about: context of the scene, what has happened, what is about to, emotions of the speaker and how they change, stress patterns on key words, actions to accompany them, key phrases, pronouncing words correctly, assonance, alliteration, varying tone through a line, etc. It's also a good springboard for a homework, where the kids analyse their allocated speech as homework.
    4) Film as many as you can (be prepared for awkward ones to refuse!) and play them back...most of the kids love this. If you have used YouTube, get playlists of established performances of the same speech, get a discussion going on the speech.

    I liked doing this because some kids really need to improve their working memories ad this enables them to get going, whereas, at the top end, they can really shine and produce amazing deliveries which give them far greater confidence in those all-important key lines.
     
  3. Mrsmumbles

    Mrsmumbles Star commenter

    Ooh...and I sell one of these Macbeth key speeches packs! Just saying! :):)
     
    blueskydreaming likes this.
  4. gruoch

    gruoch New commenter

    Have a look at the RSC Toolkit. It covers all the most popular plays including Macbeth.
    I've just bought 'Creative Shakespeare' but not had a chance to use it yet.
    When I'm teaching Shakespeare I turn my class into a theatre company and treat the plays as a script.
     
    pepper5 likes this.
  5. CaptGrimesRetd

    CaptGrimesRetd New commenter

    All the above sound excellent ideas.

    One small and unrelated point: you might like to reconsider your user name - just in case.
     
    Mrsmumbles likes this.
  6. 2004ajd

    2004ajd New commenter

    Mrsmumbles likes this.
  7. roamingteacher

    roamingteacher Occasional commenter

    While all the ideas shared here are great, it doesn't seem like you lacked engaging activities yourself. To me, it sounds like a classroom culture issue rather than you not creating enjoyable lessons. Remember that teens (like other humans) will often disparage something they don't understand or find too challenging rather than apply themselves heartily. It's hard to advise exactly what to do without knowing your exact context, but I might have a mid-unit evaluation and ask students to write down how they are doing with the text, with specific categories for them to comment on or rate e.g. comprehension, storyline, characters - find out who is doing well with each and who isn't. Then perhaps do a bit of peer coaching or pair up reluctant / keen students to produce explanations / presentations / short videos on particular aspects of the play. Get everyone on the same page so that if they are not enjoying it, they can at least talk about it intelligently. And do 'allow' them to not enjoy it - make it clear, that's OK as long as they can articulate what it is they don't enjoy and why. That's the whole point of criticism after all! Just saying, 'It's ****,' isn't demonstrating critical thinking, but when you add 'because' it raises the level of the discussion.
    I always start the year with growth mindset stuff too, so - if you have the time - you might want to take a bit of time out and explore how it connects to this study for them.
    Keep doing your performance pieces, as it is drama after all and I wholeheartedly believe it's the best way to experience any play (other than a live performance, with a recorded performance if that's not possible). Have you had them compare how they are staging / acting snippets with extracts from professional versions?
    And believe in yourself - sounds like you're doing all the right things and just need to deal with their attitudes, rather than the delivery of the lessons.
     
  8. sparkleghirl

    sparkleghirl Lead commenter

    Excuse the interruption from someone who doesn't teach english.

    A young relative was studying Macbeth last year and they had to do little projects creating brief updated storylines, ie placing Macbeth and his ruthless ambition in a more contemporary setting. He seemed to love it and regaled us one day with stories his classmates had come up with. Some did politicians, which I suppose isn't too far removed from the original, one group did about an ambitious footballer bumping off his rivals, he said the girls were 'really scary' and he believed some of them really would kill to get ahead. The best one he said was about a teacher in the school(!) who wanted to be in charge and was bumping off those above him.

    Might be worth a try, they might surprise (and scare) you. If you do it, make sure you report back on what they all came uo with.....
     
  9. gruoch

    gruoch New commenter

    The reimagined Shakespeare the BBC did a few years back took the hook of 'this dead butcher' and cast Macbeth as a celebrity chef.
     
    Mrsmumbles likes this.
  10. sparkleghirl

    sparkleghirl Lead commenter

    Oh, I hadn't heard of that. I thought maybethe idea had come from the bbc ones centuries ago about the drug dealers in birmingham. (Birmingham?)
     
  11. saluki

    saluki Established commenter

    There are some fantastic clips of Macbeth online. The Patrick Stewart version gives me the heebie jeebies. There is a seriously weird Australian version somewhere. Sad that these cannot engage the students. I love Macbeth.
    All of the above ideas including OP sound excellent. Low ability students often lack the confidence to act out plays so this is worth bearing in mind.
     
    Mrsmumbles likes this.
  12. blueskydreaming

    blueskydreaming Lead commenter

    When I was teaching Macbeth last year I applied the text to our English language lessons too (we split lessons into lang and lit), e.g. write a guide to instruct Macbeth and his castle staff how to make a cup of tea/coffee; write a letter from Lady M persuading her husband to Kill Duncan; write a newspaper article explaining how Duncan has been killed (i.e. from the perspective of those who didn't realise Macbeth did it); write a speech as a lawyer appealing the conviction of your client for being a witch, and subsequent sentence of death...

    They had to consider form, audience, purpose - Macbeth himself was the audience for some of the texts, so they had to incorporate details relevant to him; in other texts context was required. One autistic boy added the detail that while waiting for the kettle to boil Macbeth could ride around the castle on his horse 3 times - so sweet!
     
  13. Mrsmumbles

    Mrsmumbles Star commenter

    Ooh yes, I've done that too and it works so well. Lots of ruthless city planning execs appeared. The thing about speeches is that oarvthe kids up, a goofier one with a quieter and more focussed one, they rise to the occasion because they don't usually want to let down a peer. Being asked to use your voice for someone else's lines is a great classroom leveller.
     
  14. Mrsmumbles

    Mrsmumbles Star commenter

    Yeah, I love the Scottish Play too. Just annoyed that Thicky Gove misunderstood the play so totally, he used it to form UK education policy for the next two years... Gove. The Scottish Politician.
     
  15. Mrsmumbles

    Mrsmumbles Star commenter

    Gordon's vaulting ambition! Gives a whole new dimension to Death By Chocolate cake...
     
  16. 34knockthedoor

    34knockthedoor New commenter

    This is all well and good on here acting out scenes IF there is time to do it. If the lesson is a double lesson then yes there should be enough time to do everything. Also I don't understand why you say you try and let them act during every lesson. You need to do other things as well as just acting....this is an English lesson after all not a drama one. I fully understand the need to act out some scenes to enable learning and retention but don't overdo it. They are year 9s so they are still kids yeh? So you can get them to draw what is happening on a poster for example. Students with behavioural problems sometimes like to draw rather than have to do engaging stuff like acting. Let the actors among them do the acting and let the ones who really can't/don't want to do the poster. Also as Mrs mumbles says, the exam boards have quotations in their questions so the kids need to really learn these quotations and be able to refer to points in them for the question paper. Please don't just turn your English lessons into a drama class.
     
  17. blueskydreaming

    blueskydreaming Lead commenter

    Ah, musicteach's newest incarnation.

    You contradict yourself - it's an English lesson, so they shouldn't be doing drama, but they should be doing drawing?

    Year 9 don't need to learn quotations for an exam. GCSEs start in Y10 (apart from in carp schools).

    Since they will be studying a Shakespeare text the following year as part of their GCSE, Y9 is the final chance you have as a teacher to spend time appreciating the dramatic qualities of the text without the pressure of having to learn the quotes, plot, characters etc. inside out. During Y10 and 11 you won't have time to act every lesson, but you can make time in Y9; plus, it depends how that particular department want to conduct their half-termly assessment in relation to this text - they might want the students to write a 'missing scene', which would require them to understand the use of speech, stage directions, conventions of script writing, and so on, or do some descriptive writing, neither of which would require the students to include or write about quotes.

    Shakespeare wrote plays, not novels, so you have to consider the text as a play - the playtext, the performance, the audience... At GCSE you must consider the audience, and the effects on the audience, not only in terms of the dramatic devices employed by the author, but also the context in which the play was initially created and watched. How best to understand the function of a dramatic monologue than to watch or perform one yourself?

    For AQA and Edexcel, at least, there are not 'quotations in the question', but rather the Shakespeare question/s is/are part extract and part whole text - you write about language in the extract, and also about the rest of the play, including quotes. (For Edexcel the 'modern text' question does feature a quotation).
     
    MrMedia likes this.
  18. gruoch

    gruoch New commenter

    Yup - blueprints for actors. The best way to get kids involved in Shakespeare is to remember it's a play and that different interpretations are up for discussion: no 2 Shakespeare productions are ever the same.
    I never get kids to act in front of the class unless they actively want to. Sight reading Shakespeare is hard enough for professional actors, let alone Yr 9s!
     
  19. 34knockthedoor

    34knockthedoor New commenter

    I didn't contradict myself at all and I wasn't the one who said the kids has to learn quotations for the exam boards, it was Mrs Mumbles who did. The reason why I didn't contradict myself is because when I said get the low ability students to draw a poster, I didn't just mean DRAW, I meant draw a poster and include ENGLISH in the poster such as a summary of the plot or some famous quotes such as : " Is this a dagger I see before me". You obviously know what you are talking about BSD as far as requirements of the exam etc but I am afraid English is English and drama is drama, What the OP has here is a drama lesson not an English lesson if all she is doing is acting. Kids in year 9 shouldn't just be doing Shakespeare, they should be reading Harry Potter or writing poems or writing a letter to a friend and learning how to write English and learning all about " Wingardium Leviosa" not just "Is this a dagger I see before me", or " To be or not to be. Whether tis nobler of the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune....". There is a place for Sh but don't just have a drama class when it's supposed to be an English class.
     
  20. 34knockthedoor

    34knockthedoor New commenter

    I think love or comedy would be better than battles and murder for year 9s. 12th Night or Romeo and Juliet would be better plays to have done.
     

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