Next week we’ll be running our free workshops (at Northcote and Ringwood) launching our new version of Macbeth and sharing some great strategies about how to teach the text (whether you buy our book or not). One of the things we’ll be emphasising is that if you’re doing Shakespeare you need to saddle up to teach students to understand the play at a language level. If all students can do by the end is recall the basic plot outline and who’s to blame for the death of Romeo and Juliet or how the witches made Macbeth go nuts, then you may as well teach a modern novel which is much easier for students to understand. The value in studying Shakespeare is not understanding his plots but how he uses language to explore the complexity of his characters. To that end, we’ll by sharing close reading strategies at our Macbeth workshop which scaffold students to think about how language works. All of these strategies are transferable – you can use them for close analysis of any text, we’ll simply be demonstrating how they work for Macbeth. Below is an example. It’s a strategy called Right Word Writing – and it’s simple, elegant and we use it again and again. If you look at this sample page from our new edition of Macbeth, you’ll see that students do two things:
1) Review the evidence
2) Select a word which best describes the evidence
Both stages are essential in close reading. We often ask students to create mind maps, fill out tables or do writing in an evidence vacuum. In other words, their thinking is based on an impression or memory of the text – not a fresh reading of the text. To say insightful things about the text – especially Shakespeare – we need students to keep returning to the evidence – to have a fresh, informed look. This is the review stage. In terms of analysing the evidence, we need to equip students with the tools of the trade – analytic language. This is the Right Word Writing phase. In this stage, we present students with a range of words which could be used to describe the evidence and we give them nuanced definitions of the words. These definitions prompt insight: students needs to return to the evidence and consider what exactly it’s showing us and which word best captures this. It creates space for rich discussion and consequently good analysis.
Come along next week to get lots more strategies about teaching Shakespeare.