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Scrappy Scrapbooks

A hand shot up instantly when I announced the day's topic.

"But we're in 4th grade," whined one of the girls. "We can't do Shakespeare."

I was there to prove them wrong. I was there to give them their first experience in the world of the Bard, more specifically "Hamlet." If the students were to perform "Hamlet" for family and friends in just eight weeks, they would need a proper introduction.

Throughout the next two weeks we read "Hamlet" together. We took it slow, about half an act a day, sharing the reading responsibilities. The plot, they could grasp. The characters and their motivation - that was the source of their anxieties.

"Why would he do that?"
"Why didn't she just leave him alone?"
"She married her brother-in-law?"

I needed a way to make them connect to the characters they would soon be playing. As I searched through my lesson binders I came upon an old "character book" that I made for a play that I was a part of in college. The book was a scrapbook for the life of my character, filled with photos and mementos the character would have kept.

The largest obstacle in teaching this lesson was that the students immediately thought of things they wanted in the scrapbook, not what the character would have. (See handout for step-by-step directions)

"Why did you choose blue for Ophelia's scarf?" I asked a student

"I like blue."

"Does Ophelia like blue?"

"Oooohhhh, no, she likes pink."

I wanted the students to think about what their character's favorite color was, what scents the character liked, what textures felt like the character. Ophelia may like soft ribbons at the beginning of her book, but may turn to weeds or sticks by the end. I told them to step inside the character's brain and step out of theirs.

And so the students began their own scrapbook for their "Hamlet" characters. They sifted through a large table filled with magazines, colored paper, crayons and as many art supplies as I could find. They brought in things they found at home and in nature-scraps of fabric, beads, trinkets, small stones, sticks, flowers, and feathers. They cut out words and crafted pictures, capping off their scrapbook with a two-paragraph explanation of why they believed the character would possess these items.

At the end of the exercise, we had a class teeming with Ophelias, Hamlets and Horatios who presented their scrapbooks to the class with pride. Not only did they learn about the character they had selected, they discovered every role through each other's eyes.

About the Author

Lauren Kane taught fourth grade at Columbus School for Girls in Columbus, Ohio.


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