The Nature of Writing and the Writing of Nature
IntroductionWhile Shakespeare may not be common on the elementary school curriculum, his poetry is a natural match for students in 4th and 5th grades. The students relish the sound of Shakespeare's language - his wonderfully inventive words and powerful rhythms - as well as his vivid descriptions. While it may not be appropriate to give elementary students an entire play to read, they can dig into a short passage or scene with great attention and enjoyment.
This lesson plan uses Shakespeare's writing as a model for elementary students, encouraging them use their imaginations to explore to the evocative powers of language. It gives them a manageable piece of text which they can master and then use as a springboard for their own writing.
Learning ObjectivesStudents will:
Estimated Time of CompletionThis lesson will take one to two 50-minute class periods.
ProcedureBegin by sharing the following short bit of poetry from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" 2.1. 249-256:
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,It's not necessary for students to know the entire play; they will be focusing on the power of the writing in this one passage. Ask the students to close their eyes and imagine the scene as you read the piece to them. What do they see? You may need to give some brief definitions of unfamiliar words - for instance, students probably won't know what "woodbine" (honeysuckle) or "eglantine" (sweet-briar) is - but keep the definitions short and simple. Let the sound of the language and the context create understanding for the students.
Pass out copies of the passage on the Handout and have students illustrate the scene they imagined, using the text as a reference.
Once the pictures are complete, have students read through the passage and circle any words that gave them specific ideas for their pictures. For example, if they drew purple flowers, they should circle "violet." Discuss which words were easier to imagine, and which were harder. Did the students illustrate any words for which they did not know the exact definition? Some of the common names which Shakespeare knew for plants - musk-roses or oxlips - are evocative enough to suggest an image.
Show students an excerpt "In Search of Shakespeare," in which scenes from Shakespeare's native Warwickshire are shown and many of the native plants are named. (Episode 1, 08:20-09:45) Explain to them that Shakespeare's plays drew inspiration from the countryside he knew. He used imagery in his writing - particularly metaphorical names - to communicate a picture to his audience, to create a picture in their minds. Visit the "In Search of Shakespeare" Web site and look under "Locations." There you will find images of the places Shakespeare knew throughout this life.
Assign students the task of gathering their own descriptions. They should, like Shakespeare, use images to describe their natural environment. If you have access to the outdoors, students should go outside to observe plants and trees. If you are confined to the classroom, provide students with magazines that depict a natural environment in their pages. If the students don't know names for everything they want to include, encourage them to use their powers of observation. Remind them that Shakespeare often used or even invented descriptive names: cuckoo-bud (buttercup), love-in-idleness (pansy), flower-de-luce (iris), and so on. Encourage the students to make notes that will help them develop compelling images, using similes and metaphors.
Students should then develop their descriptions into a short (no more than 10 lines) descriptive poem. Encourage them to create a sense of place - like Shakespeare did - with words.
Complete the lesson by having students share their poems with the class as a whole or, if time does not allow, reading them to one another in small groups.
Extension Activities1. Consider continuing this activity with other texts from Shakespeare's plays - for example, "Hamlet" 4.7.138-155, "King Lear" 3.2.1-9, or "The Tempest" 5.1.33-57. These last two texts are enacted in "In Search of Shakespeare", Episode 4; rather than reading them aloud to students, you can show them the scenes from the video. (King Lear: 22:00-26:00; The Tempest: 35:15-38:20)
2. Have the students act out either Shakespeare's poems, or their own. Can they strike poses that show the nature they are describing?
3. Students can also research the environments - either Shakespeare's or their own - which they are describing. Encourage them to compare the scientific and common names for various plants. Which are more useful for poetic writing? Which are more descriptive?
Online ResourcesFolger Shakespeare Library - Shakespeare For Kids:
NCTE and IRA:(http://www.ncte.org/about/over/standards/110846.htm)
Standard 1: Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process.
About the AuthorAnne Turner worked for many years at the Folger Shakespeare Library, where she developed and implemented the outreach programs to elementary classrooms in the D.C. Public Schools. She continues to be a trainer for the Folger Education and Festivals Project, leading workshops for teachers on methods of teaching Shakespeare. She also serves as the Assistant Rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia, where she teaches religion and leads chapel services for students at Grace Episcopal Day School.
HandoutThe Nature of Writing and the Writing of Nature
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