Stickmen Shakespeare

This lesson is one of three parts that won Conor the innovative lesson competition. Conor Sneyd has just finished his third year of studying English at Trintiy College. He’s always loved English, because he’s always loved reading, and he thinks that if Shakespeare was still alive he’d be annoyed that everyone takes him so seriously.

The aim of this lesson is to revise characters and themes in Shakespeare, to present information in a visual way, to get students actively involved in the lesson and to have a bit of fun with it

There is a lot going in a Shakespeare play, for example Hamlet, and it can be hard for students to remember the details of who exactly every character is, and what exactly they do. One way of revising characters and themes which I’ve found works well is by drawing everything on the board – simple drawings with stickmen. When drawing a character I ask the class things like what expression I should give them, and why – eg. giving Hamlet a sad face, as he’s sad that his father is dead and his mother has remarried so soon, or giving him an angry face, as he wants revenge on the man who murdered his father; or what they should be wearing or holding – eg. Claudius should be holding a bottle of poison because he poisoned Old Hamlet and tries to poison Hamlet during the duel, Laertes should be holding a sword because he’s trying to kill Hamlet; or who they should be standing beside – eg. Hamlet, Gertrude and Claudius should be together as they’re all part of the same family.

This can also be used to explore themes, eg. take the theme of revenge and ask the class who is trying to get revenge on who, and why – eg. Laertes is trying to get revenge on Hamlet for killing Polonius, then mark it on the drawing with a red arrow going from one character to the other.

I find this works best when I get the class involved in the drawing themselves, making them take turns to get up out of their seats and come to the board to draw something new, eg a new character. This forces them to pay full attention to what’s going on, but more importantly it brings a bit of fun to the lesson, as the drawings are usually quite silly and make everyone laugh a little bit. Having a bit of fun with Shakespeare is something which I think is extremely important – not just to make the lesson more enjoyable, but also to knock the play down off its pedestal. I think sometimes students get the impression that Shakespeare equals some sort of high art which they’re supposed to take 100% seriously, and so by introducing a little bit of silliness to the lesson it can help students realize that they’re allowed have their own opinion, and that if they think something is ridiculous, or unrealistic, that’s perfectly valid – for example it’s hard not to laugh when you’re asked to draw X’s over the eyes of every person who dies in the play, and you realise that you have to do it to literally every major character.

Overall, the main benefit of this lesson is revising information by presenting it a visual way, which is different from what students are used to and can really help some of them to remember things. While focusing on the pictures, the students revise all the major information from the play, and with all the drawings copied down into their notebooks, and just a few keywords thrown in, students have an entirely new set of notes to refer back to.

Note from Naoisé – one of the reason I chose this lesson is that it is easily adaptable to any subject. Think of any topic can can be expressed as a story board, History for example. This works perfectly for visual learners and for dyslexics who just have too many notes that are intensely word based!