Evaluating our School Year: Shakespeare

This post is part of a series I'm doing as a way to evaluate our school year.  I am covering each subject, describing what we did; what worked for us and what didn't work; and detailing any changes I plan to make.  I find this process so helpful as I finish out our year and before I begin to plan for our next year.  

I was won over to the idea of studying Shakespeare with my kids, years ago- after reading Linda Fay's post called What's So Great About Shakespeare?  I was mainly fascinated with how many words and phrases Shakespeare added to the English language.

However, I personally felt inadequate to teach Shakespeare, seeing as how I've only ever read three plays: Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear-- eons ago, back in high school.  I got through them only because I had Cliff notes and I had no appreciation for the plays at all.

(Also, doesn't it always sounds so hoity-toity to mention to anyone that you're studying Shakespeare in your homeschool?)  So I had an aversion to that, too.  But I decided to give it a try, and I am now so glad I did.  We all really like Shakespeare.

NOTE: Everything we do is what I gleaned from Linda's blog years ago, so truly none of the following ideas are original to me.  

I give each of the kids a 3x3 grid.  You can easily have the kids draw out their own grids, but I have a document that I just print out each time.  (You'll see those in the following photos.)

I draw up my own grid on a dry erase board:

Or, on Mark's day off, he does:
WHATEVER.  Totally one-upping me with his fancy drawings.  Look at that king!  (No, it was actually really fun for me to come home to this ^ the first time he did Shakespeare with the kids on his day off, because he obviously ROCKED it, and I was so proud.)

As each character is introduced, we all take time to draw that character, assigning one character per box.  We've done this for years and it really helps us all keep track of the characters.  If needed, we can add notes or drawings in the appropriate box as a particular character's story progresses.

Gracious! This makes me happy.  This is Adelia's, from a couple of years ago.
I read aloud, pausing with each new character for maybe 3-5 minutes to give us all time to sketch.  [Some of my children want their drawings *just so*, so I often will encourage those children to perfect their drawings a bit more later so that the rest of us can move along.]

 I used to read from Nesbit's Beautiful Stories From Shakespeare, but I've since switched to Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare
We may do 3-5 characters each reading, and we rarely finish an entire play in one sitting. The following week, I have the kids pull out their papers and narrate back to me what has happened.  The grid format helps with this, because I can call on a child, pick a character, and say, "Tell me what you remember about _________."  And then choose another character for the next child.

I pull out my dry erase board again and we continue reading, filling in more characters as we come to them.  We continue on in this way for 2-3 weeks, usually, until we're through a play.

Example: Here is week two of King Lear, so my drawings have been added to Mark's drawings from the previous week:

And that is how we learn Shakespeare.  It's simple and effective.  We have learned several plays this way over the years: Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, As You Like It, Macbeth, Hamlet, Taming of the Shrew, Merchant of Venice, A Winter's Tale, King Lear, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (for this one I had purchased a picture book of the play and my kids all loved that.)  I may be missing a couple of plays we've done but those are the ones I remember.  After doing Taming of the Shrew we did rent the video (the one with Elizabeth Taylor in it) and watched it.

If you're unfamiliar with William Shakespeare, I'd also like to mention this picture book as a good resource: Shakespeare: His Work and His World by Michael Rosen. This is a great book for understanding the world Shakespeare came from and highlights excerpts from his plays throughout.   

For this next year, we're going straight to the play itself.  I'm going to choose a play, hand each (reading) child a copy, assign parts and we're going to act it out somewhat, using Shakespeare's own words.  I'm excited to try this.

Please let me know if you have any questions!


  1. What a great post! This sounds like a fun way to get to know him & his work. I wonder - what play will you start with next year? Hugs ♥

    1. Quinne~ Well, one of the boys requested Hamlet, so I think we'll tackle that. :) (((big hugs)))

  2. Thank you for sharing how you are using Shakespeare with young children. I've always left it to the latter years (content issues) but I like how you shared your approach.

    1. You're so welcome. We have only had to do minor editing at times-- generally the Nesbit and Lamb versions don't have all the themes that would be issues. ;)

  3. So I really like how you've explained this and it seems so doable. I feel like I've read so many articles on dictation and your explanation on it is the most cohesive and comprehensive. I look forward to implementing it with my girls. Question for you: How far in advance do you plan for your year in terms of typing up your weekly schedules? Do you do a month at a time, or specific units, etc? And did you simply create your own excel sheet for your weekly schedule.

    P.S. I am so like you in terms of needing to plan with pen and paper. If I can't see it all I get overwhelmed.

    1. Hi Kamille!

      I'm actually wondering if you meant to leave this comment ^ on the post on dictation? If so, I'll leave my response there, too, in case you can't track it down again!
      Let's see... re: planning, I have done it both ways-- planned everything in advance, and nothing in advance. ;)

      The everything-in-advance plan didn't work for me/us, because life happens, and we'd get sick or something and then we'd fall behind and I would go crazy staring at my lesson plans which were now several days or weeks behind. It also left me no room for spontaneity, which I discovered is important to me.

      The nothing-in-advance plan doesn't go well, either, because then I spend most of my day running around making copies, pulling things together that we need, figuratively scratching my head and trying to get it all going on the fly.

      And so somewhere in there is a happy medium. I try to outline our year in advance and put in the things that I can easily plan (that I could also easily shift to another day). My older kids do have lesson plans for math and history that they check off, but we can be fluid with that, too, if need be. And then each week I print up weekly checklists for the kids (but I'm working off a master copy for each of them.)

      I do create my own spreadsheets/checklists.

      I hope this isn't too confusing. You're welcome to come on over and see any of it, anytime! ;)


  4. Hi Stacy! Would it be too much trouble for you to provide a link to your little grid? Or a downloadable form?

    1. Hi Candice! Yes. I have a PDF I would be happy to email to you. You can click on a link on the sidebar that will allow you to email me, and once I have your email, I can send you the PDF back! :) ~Stacy


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