Teaching Macbeth

I’m teaching Macbeth for GCSE this year. Here are my reflections on the purposes, processes and pedagogies of teaching Shakespeare.

Macbeth: Prose Retelling

To a certain extent it’s difficult to read a Shakespeare text with a class in the same way that you’d read anything else. The archaic and rich language can confound children even if they watch a live performance or film version. I’ve found that students approach the text if time is spent at the start (after teaching the initial scene) securing understanding of the plot and characters before reading the play. Doing the following is effective: outline the bare-bones of the entire play in 10 steps, each with a quote that students say aloud while miming an action; reading a...

Knowledge Agenda for Macbeth

In my preparations for teaching Macbeth again I’ve collected a number of knowledge organisers created by teachers working in different school contexts in the UK. There are commonalities: they name characters, identify similar themes, list a handful of quotes to learn and offer some vocabulary to learn. All provide a list of terms (some straightforward, some complex . One of my favourites is set out like a Monopoly board with a brief description of each scene in the boxes around the edges. Many schools use the “knowledge” on the sheet as the...

Introducing Macbeth

The first few lessons on a text – particularly Shakespeare – are crucial. Nowadays the standard modus operandi at GCSE is to start with assessment objectives, pages of (often irrelevant and subsequently forgotten) contextual information and lists of vocabulary or technical terms. Often knowledge organisers are given out before anything else. Groan. What is it that should be established during the first lessons of Macbeth? Begin by connecting the start of Macbeth with students’ existing knowledge. Plunging straight into I.i and encouraging students to consider what other texts and media experiences this opening triggers. Explore the musicality and signification of...

Practical Planning for Teaching Macbeth

In September I begin teaching Macbeth to two Year 11 groups. I’m starting at a new school, I’ve not met the students before and have to consider the practicalities of teaching in a post-Lockdown, Covid-safe environment. Over Lockdown and the Summer I’ve had the opportunity to read and reflect on my practice as an English specialist and try to refine my approaches to teaching. I’m recording my thoughts on preparation and deliver of Macbeth here. It’s about 5 years since I last taught Macbeth. While I’m aware that I’m strong at engaging students in the play and fostering their ownership...

Why is Shakespeare the only compulsory content area in this year’s English Literature GCSE?

Amid the controversy over poetry being made optional in the 2021 English Literature GCSEs, there’s been little mention that the examination of a Shakespeare play is the only non-optional component. It’s possible to trace this requirement back to the 1989 Cox Report which is when the first statutory requirement for teaching Shakespeare was introduced. The question I’ve got is why is Shakespeare specifically mandatory? Shakespeare has a mythic status in Britain which is difficult to pin down other than a pervading agreement by all that there is something culturally worthy in his writing that schools are expected to teach. Somehow,...

Shakespeare for All Ages and Stages

In 2008 – during the era of the various National Strategies – the Department for Children, Schools and Families in collaboration with organisations like the QCA and RSC produced Shakespeare for All Ages and Stages, not only a booklet giving guidance on the teaching of Shakespeare in schools but what it variously describes as a “framework of opportunities” or even a “map of opportunities”. Don’t groan when you see the pun in the title, though. It seems to have been unintentional. It’s noticeable that it begins by asking the question “Why Shakespeare?” and immediately finds difficulty in articulating why Shakespeare...