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26 February 2024

Making Shakespeare Fun: 5 activities for your middle schoolers

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Teaching Shakespeare and tired of hearing groans and seeing eye rolls whenever you mention him in your classroom? Fear not! Shakespeare can be cool, and learning about his plays can actually be fun. Let's explore some energizing activities to make Shakespeare more accessible and interesting for your middle school students.

Shakespeare Circle

From Shakespeare in your Space: Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth

Let's kick Off with confidence! To ensure everyone feels at ease and ready to dive in, we're starting with some fun exercises. These quick activities are designed to get your students chatting about the playwright and the play in no time! 

  • SHAKESPEARE IS: Bring the group into a circle. You say ‘Shakespeare is...?’ and then get each person in the circle to say what they know/think/feel about Shakespeare. All responses should be encouraged, e.g. Shakespeare is...old/a man/boring/dead/poetic/dramatic/bald, etc. 
  • [TITLE OF PLAY] IS: Now repeat the same question but use the title of the play you are studying for Shakespeare. For example: ‘Romeo and Juliet is...?’. Encourage the group to reveal what they think/feel/know about the play, e.g. Romeo and Juliet is...a love story/romantic/violent/stupid/not real/real/Italian/two families, etc. 
  • WALL NOTES: At the end of this sequence get all students to write down one word on a Post-it note to describe the play. Then get them to put the notes on the wall.  This provides a visual resource for students to reflect upon as they study the play.

This activity can be stretched further to explore specific characters or groups. For instance, if you're tackling Macbeth, ask your students, 'What are the witches like?' Or if delving into Hamlet, inquire, 'How would you describe Queen Gertrude?'

Encourage lively responses from your students and keep the energy flowing! After each question, don't forget to jot down their thoughts on the Wall Notes for a colorful display of ideas!


Found in multiple Discover, Explore, Assess: Teacher’s Notes including Othello, Romeo and Juliet, The Comedy of Errors, and Twelfth Night

Let's get creative! Assign characters from the play to your students and challenge them to create tableaux showcasing the relationships between these characters in different scenarios.

Encourage students to unleash their inner actors, using body language, gestures, and even levels to express these relationships. It's all about bringing the story to life and having fun while doing it!

Proxemics refers to the physical space between the actors and how it can be used to show different relationships. The different shapes and spacing created on stage will tell the audience different things about the action and the characters. For example, different interpretations would be made about two characters sitting very close to each other on a sofa, in comparison to two characters sitting on opposite ends of the sofa.

Consider the following:

  • Give students different scenarios from the play to base their tableaux on. You could also have them explore scenes that are spoken about, but not seen onstage.
  • Question students on their positions in relation to each other. Students should be encouraged to use the character information when making decisions about their tableaux. 
  • Ask students to improvise small scenes from their tableaux and encourage them to think about how these characters may speak and interact with one another. This will support students in developing their characterization skills and allow them to consider the way an actor may perform the role. 
  • Advanced students could work in larger groups and add in more characters to see how the image changes when new characters are added.

Hot Seating

Found in multiple Discover, Explore, Assess Teacher’s Notes including Othello, Romeo and Juliet, The Comedy of Errors, and Twelfth Night

Let’s get to know Shakespeare’s characters! This activity works well with a class that has high energy. Students can take turns to sit in the "hot seat" and answer questions in character from other members of the class. Students in the "hot seat" should be encouraged to get creative by adopting the appropriate characterization when they are in a role.

If they do not know the answer to a question, students could be encouraged to improvise based on their understanding of the character from any classroom discussions and their own prior knowledge. This strategy will allow all students the opportunity to become more comfortable performing while learning more about the characters.

As you get ready, you could consider the following ideas: 

  • Allocate a scribe to make notes based on the responses from students in the "hot seat." This will enable students to have a record of some of the responses that were given instead of being required to remember everything that was said. They can then use the notes as a starting point for discussions after the activity. 
  • Prepare a list of questions to be asked and give them to each student to support learners during the activity. 
  • Allow students to prepare questions in advance of the activity. 
  • Allow the student in the "hot seat" to have notes on the character or a copy of the script in front of them to help answer the questions. 
  • Model the activity prior to the students taking part, so they understand how it works. 
  • Have students ask yes/no questions only.

Working with the text: Soliloquies

Found in Shakespeare in your Space: Macbeth

This exercise is perfect for your entire class, or you may wish to divide students into smaller groups of two. The goal? To bring the text to life in the most connected and engaging way possible. 

Select a soliloquy from the play and then ask a brave volunteer to read aloud in the middle of the circle. 

  • Read it aloud once. 
  • Next, have your volunteer read it again, and this time have the audience say "What?" at the end of each line of verse. The reader must then repeat the line he or she just read in response to the question. Do this a few times. 
  • Then gather the group closer around the speaker, and as the speech is spoken aloud, have the group gently tap the person speaking. This will stimulate a series of responses that the speaker should channel into how he or she delivers the speech. Do this several times.
  • At the end of this sequence, place a chair in the center of the room and hot-seat the speaker in the role (see exercise above). Encourage your group to give feedback on what they have seen and heard.

Working with the text: Scenes

From Shakespeare in your Space: Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth

This sequence peels back the layers of the text and brings students closer to the characters and their words. Choose an exciting section of the text you're studying and have students try out the following: 

  • BACK TO BACK: In pairs, get the students to sit on the floor back to back and then read the scene out together, each taking a part. 
  • FAR APART: Next, get the students to stand as far apart from each other in the space as possible and read the scene again. 
  • OVER THE TOP: Bring the pairs together and get them to perform the scene in a completely over-the-top fashion. 
  • CHAT: Finally, ask them to speak it quietly and gently to each other in a conversational form. 
  • WALL NOTES: Have students write key things they learned about the characters and the scene on post-it notes and attach them to the wall. 

These engaging Shakespeare activities aim to make the Bard more accessible and enjoyable for middle school students. By encouraging active participation and creative exploration, you can help your students discover the excitement and relevance of Shakespeare's plays. Let's make Shakespeare cool again!

Teaching High School? Check out the best Shakespeare activities to engage your high school students!

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