Shakespeare with my twelve-year-old
I admit it. I was a bit apprehensive about choosing and reading our first Shakespeare play.
I knew my son was ready this year. His love for books and language is well-established and his reading level is excellent. This past year has seen him read many more classics than years past, and retain and enjoy them all. He read (and we discussed) Treasure Island, Sherlock Holmes, and the Tripod Trilogy, just to name a few. We’ve been studying ancient history, and when we came upon the wonder, power, and subsequent demise of ancient Rome, I knew we had to read Julius Caesar.
So we jumped in with both feet.
I wasn’t sure how it would work, but I planned on having him notebook through it a bit, read it aloud with me, study the characters and history. Mostly, however, my goal was for him to enjoy it. And now that we’re well into the third act, I am thrilled to say that our experience has been wonderful and that the drama has captured us both.
How I introduced Shakespeare to my middle schooler
- We reviewed the history- we’d already been going through the Story of the World, complete with my son writing outlines and filling in his timeline, so we discussed what he’d learned so far.
- We researched Shakespeare’s life- I used this flip book as an easy introduction, and looked up a bit more online.
- We read a brief synopsis- We used Pink Monkey Notes (free online notes similar to Cliff’s) and read about the characters as well. I learned about this website from Susan Wise Bauer this year at our homeschool convention and it has been an awesome resource!
- I assigned a notebooking page on vocabulary, and also a compare/contrast paper- The vocabulary assignment was with words such as plot, protagonist, antagonist, climax, and theme, basics about a play’s structure. The compare/contrast paper was between two characters of my son’s choice. He settled on Brutus and Cassius and came up with some great thoughts, including quotes that supported his ideas.
- We started reading- We each had a character or two per scene and read as dramatically as we could. I often would stop and ask what Colin thought of the passage, or a specific line, to see how he was responding. I think we did a good job in the drama department. At one point my 5-year-old looked up with a frightened look on his face and said we should be reading something about people who are nice to each other.
- We supplemented with notes about each scene- Pink Monkey Notes again. There is a detailed synopsis with cultural and literary notes on every scene.
- I kept it simple- What I did not want to do is overwhelm. I wanted us to experience the text, the rich language, and the story together without weighing ourselves down with lots of busy work.
Shakespeare resources for children
- I gained a lot of confidence and suggestions from this lens on Squidoo by Jimmie; it is chock full of great ideas and links.
- I also have loved using my Notebooking Pages membership to supplement the play itself. This site has thousands of pages available to meet any need you may have. It would be a fabulous addition to any type of curriculum this year!
- This post from Lauren has some printables about Julius Caesar for younger children, in case you want to include them in your reading.
- Before we ever read a real Shakespeare play, we had read aloud a couple of the stories from Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb. It is very well-written and retains a lot of the integrity of the language while making sure it’s accessible for children.
- This Shakespeare Can Be Fun series is also a great way to introduce the stories of Shakespeare’s plays with fun drawings by children.
When do you plan on introducing the Bard to your children? Or have you already? Do tell! I’d love to hear your experience!
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