Missing Macbeth


As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I’m a 6th grade teacher on Leave of Absence. Because I’m on Leave, I’m not feeling the usual May fatigue, or writing this post with the same “Voice of May,” as described by Dolce Bellezza in one of her posts last week. Instead, I’m feeling some sadness that, this year, I’m not part of what happens in my classroom every May/June. MACBETH is what happens at this time of year!

For the last 16 years, my teammates and I have introduced our 6th graders to William Shakespeare. It’s our final big project of the school year, and it’s my favorite. Our recipe for fun works like this: I usually start the unit on April 23rd, the Bard’s birthday and death day, a piece of information that captures the hearts of 6th graders immediately. To build some background understanding for the play, we discuss readings and watch films about Shakespeare’s life, the theater during Shakespeare’s day, and life during Elizabethan times, that sort of thing. My next step is to read a prose version of MACBETH to the class. Many years ago, I found a used copy of Bernard Miles’s Five Tales From Shakespeare, long out of print. It’s a teaching treasure! The prose retelling of the story is perfect for young people of all ages, takes me about 40 minutes to read aloud to the class, and you can hear a pin drop each year as I read it.

After the students have become familiar with the storyline of the play, I pass out our scripts. (We do an abbreviated version of the play, a series of “skits” of the most important scenes, but with Shakespeare’s language kept intact.) First, I read the script aloud, with the students following along, so they can hear the language. We then take a couple of days to read the script together, and I translate everything into a 6th grader’s understanding. Then, as they become more and more familiar with the play, parts are chosen and memorizing begins. (Incidentally, the photo at the left was taken during a rehearsal, and the student is doing a very humorous job of overacting in the role of the drunken porter!)

Another delightful tradition and wonderful part of this experience is a collaboration with the Seattle Children’s Theater. Each May, we ask one of their very talented actor/teachers to come to our classrooms for a “dramashop.” These drama workshops are part of the SCT’s educational outreach program, but individualized for our study of MACBETH. The teacher spends 1 hour in each of our classrooms, introducing the kids to the magic fun of theater and Shakespearean acting. This hour provides the spark, and the kids begin to put heart and soul into our rehearsals.

Performances are in our own classrooms (each class performing separately with their own unique interpretation of the play), during the last week of the school year, with desks pushed back, everyone in black t-shirts, and parents and grandparents in attendance. When the performance is over, the students answer questions from the audience.

I get goosebumps thinking about those performances, year after year. What a pleasure to hear the Bard’s language being spoken so eloquently by my 6th graders, and what a delight to see the pride of accomplishment on their faces. They learn so much during this unit. You’re never too young to learn to love Shakespeare and his language!

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15 thoughts on “Missing Macbeth

  1. Elaine Magliaro

    Robin,

    I got tagged with a meme this morning–and now I’m tagging you! You can check out the directions at Wild Rose Reader.

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  2. iliana

    Wow, Macbeth in 6th grade? I think that’s great. I honestly don’t think I read any Shakespeare until I was in high school.
    By the way how are you enjoying Love in the Time of Cholera?

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  3. Amy Palko

    I home educate my three children, and I have found that even from a very young age, they can get a huge amount out of Shakespeare. There’s nothing quite like hearing your five year old quote Richard III at an appropriate point in a conversation! I wrote a post about Shakespeare in formal (UK) education and my own approach here if you’re interested. Thanks for the great post!

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  4. Carl V.

    That is so cool that your school does that. I didn’t read/explore Macbeth, my first ever Shakespeare, until I was a junior in high school. It cemented my love of Shakespeare, but I would have been thrilled to have been introduced to him earlier!

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  5. Nymeth

    It really is fantastic that your school does that with sixth graders. It’s definitely never too early. I wish I had been introduced to Shakespeare that young.

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  6. Gentle Reader

    I still remember doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 7th grade–I think introducing Shakespeare even younger is better! Your unit on Shakespeare sounds great! Thanks for such a lovely and encouraging post.

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  7. Robin

    Wow! Thank you all for your nice comments and encouragement, and for your own memories of being introduced to Shakespeare.

    Amy, your post and the links you included in it were very interesting! My first experience with Shakespeare was in high school and was very boring and intimidating. I developed my deep love for anything Shakespeare after I started teaching, and with my wonderful teammates put together this amazing experience with MACBETH for our students! Unfortunately, my team and I won’t be there next year, due to retirement and my leave of absence. I don’t know if the experience will continue without us!

    Iliana, I’m absolutely loving Love in the Time of Cholera!

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  8. Jill

    What a *great* exercise in drama for the class. I remember doing Romeo and Juliet in sixth grade, but I can imagine that depending upon the make up of the class that Macbeth would have a delightfully grim appeal.

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  9. Robin

    Jill, it’s been a real success with our 6th graders over the years. They are quite taken by it, so there definitely is something that appeals to the 12-year old mind.

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  10. Chris

    This is so cool Robin! I would’ve loved to do something like this in sixth grade! Your students who have had you as a teacher are so lucky. Love it!

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  11. Robin

    Thanks, Chris! It’s always a highlight of the year–for me and for the kids. Last year, the grandfather of one of my students came to see it, and he told me that his 6th grade class performed MACBETH when he was in 6th grade long ago. He still remembered his lines! That was really nice to hear.

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  12. mom

    Your blog reminded me of the year I was able to watch your sixth graders performance of Macbeth. What a great job they did!
    Like some others, my Shakespeare came my third year in High School. That year Mr Streeper’s love and enthusiasm for Shakespeare gave us an everlasting appreciation.
    mom

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  13. lalitadeb

    I came across your blog quite by chance and it’s been a Godsend!

    You see, I’ve taught Macbeth – and other Shakespeare plays – to much older students and to my teacher trainees at the uni, but this year, am about to start teaching it to my Grade 6 and 7 students. (Btw, they chose Macbeth from outlines of 6 Shakespeare plays. I’d been all set to start on Romeo and Juliet, but they surprised me!)

    I’ve been VERY apprehensive, but this blog has given me immense encouragement.

    I loved your lesson ideas, and feel sure I could improve on my own plan with tips from you.

    I’m afraid I’m not very net-savvy, and do not know how / if this would be possible, but could I perhaps get in touch with you so you could have a look at my plan so far and give me some feed-back?

    I’ll understand if you’re reluctant to be in touch, in which case, could you just post more details regarding what you do with your kids? Then I could adapt and incorporate your ideas with my own, to suit my Mozambican students.

    Immensely greatful,
    Lalita

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