Tag Archives: shakespeare

Mrs. Stuart Goes to Washington: The Last Word

Before I begin my tour of the museums here in DC, I want to take a minute to extend my utmost gratitude to a few people. First, the NCTE team in the DC office, Jenna Fournel and Lu Ann McNabb, for being gracious and welcoming. I will miss our little office camaraderie. Second, my family. I was only able to have this incredible experience only because of the support of my amazing mother-in-law, who came down to DC to watch the kids for three weeks, and my sweet parents, who flew out for grandparent duty for the remainder of the time. Finally, my darling husband, who has been alone at home with a screaming cat for over a month. My deepest thanks to you all.

It’s tough to explain to a twelve-year-old the sheer power of words. Ironically, words don’t do themselves justice. As I made my way around the sights in DC, I found myself constantly in awe of the words all around me and the way in which they have shaped, and continue to shape, our country. Below is a collection of my thoughts, lesson ideas, and reflections on five museums, in the order in which I viewed them.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

As a teacher of the Diary of a Young Girl, the Holocaust is a topic I discuss with eighth graders every year. The main exhibit experience begins with a large group of people packed into a steel elevator, that makes you instantly uncomfortable. When you exit, you are met with videos taken during concentration camp liberation, and a giant photograph of burnt corpses. The silence in the museum is overwhelming. Two areas in particular spoke to me. The first was the section on propaganda. This year I would like to have students analyze the rhetoric of Joseph Goebbels to answer a common question: Why were people angry at Jewish people? How did Goebbels use words to confuse and deceive? The second section I found interesting was about the League of German Girls. During our unit study, we cover Hitler Youth, but I didn’t know about its female counterpart. Finally, I have tried researching contemporary genocides in the past, but I would like to revisit that this year. The USHMM website has a rich library of educator resources, including a couple of interesting professional learning opportunities.

National Museum of American History

I uncovered a few neat ideas here. Most important is Wonderplace, a super awesome play space complete with a climbing structure, and kitchen with fake fruit, and the Spark!Lab where kids can be inventors and make stuff.  Kiddos were happy for hours. The exhibit Many Voices, One Nation made me think, How do the words of many people, across time, unite to form a country? I could have my students look at the works of the authors we study, Edgar Allen Poe, Richard Wright, Daniel Keyes, and whoever else gets tossed in there this year-to see how each of their unique voices became a part of the narrative of America.

Executive Order 9066 got me thinking about how words can used to strip people of their liberties.

I also saw Executive Order 9066, signed by President Roosevelt, which resulted in the removal of over 110,000 Japanese Americans from their West Coast homes. Another question to pose to students: How have people used words to deprive others of their freedoms? (Check out the Smithsonian’s History Explorer for educator resources. You can search by grade level, time period and/or subject you teach.)

Folger Shakespeare Library
Life imitating art. The exhibit had cute interactive elements.

I’ve been a fan of these guys since I met them at NCTE’s Annual Convention in 2014. I’ve used their incredible resources for teaching Shakespeare, and they also offer professional learning opportunities,  including a month-long stay here in DC to study Shakespeare in depth. Of course I had to visit! The current exhibit showcased paintings of Shakespeare, the man himself and the scenes from the plays. The library is home to the largest collection of Shakespeare works, as well as other rare Renaissance works. Since I took the tour, I got to peek in the reading room. Swoon. During the tour, our guide mentioned that Shakespeare was not wholly original and that he took many of his stories from other authors. How can words be refashioned into something new and exciting?  On an unrelated note, while at Folger I enjoyed learning about Project Dustbunny, dirt from the gutters of books analyzed for past readers’ DNA – wild.

First Folio! First Folio!
National Museum of African American History and Culture
The abolitionist paper, The North Star, was founded by Frederick Douglass. My kids will love seeing the actual paper.

This museum is the newest, opening in September 2016. I noticed a few different ways in which words were important, especially for someone who teaches Richard Wright’s, Black Boy. First, Nat Turner’s Bible and Harriet Tubman’s hymnal were on display. Both struck me, and I thought, How do people find strength and comfort in words during times of pain and turmoil? I look forward to examining this question with my students; it’s a topic that pairs nicely with Anne Frank finding solace in books.

Finding comfort in words can be a common thread throughout history.

Alongside the reading of Black Boy, my students and I read the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. A question for my students will be, How can we use words to fight for change? This question will be especially useful as we follow Wright on his journey of discovering how authors used words to fight against racism.


The California paper posted outside the day I visited.

The Newseum “promotes, explains and defends free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.” Tons of great ideas here! Around the outside of the museum are front pages from each of the fifty states and around the world. What a great activity for teaching media literacy. I want to pull the day’s headlines from three papers and have students analyze the differences. How can we use the same words to paint a different picture? There was also a neat exhibit on each of the five freedoms. This might be interesting to explore as my students learn about the Bill of Rights in social studies. How are the words of the past relevant today? I want to explore the modern issues relating to each of the five freedoms.

This exhibit poses the question, what freedoms do students have at school?

There was also really cool display about the rights of students, which I know mine will enjoy talking about, especially the parts on dress code. A question I will ask is, How can you use words to fight for what you believe in?

And now I, NCTE’s 2017 Kent B. Williamson Policy Fellow, am signing off. I hope you enjoyed following along as much as I enjoyed the journey. Please contact me, I’d love to connect and chat. Peace.

Today, We Celebrate Shakespeare!

Portrait of English playwright, William Shakespeare
Portrait of English playwright, William Shakespeare

In 1564, William Shakespeare was born on this day. In his life, Shakespeare wrote at least 38 plays and over 150 short and long poems. Shakespeare’s plays can be divided into three main categories: the comedies, the histories, and the tragedies. The following from NCTE and ReadWriteThink.org provide more resources on Shakespeare’s plays.




As author Ben Jonson wrote of him, Shakespeare is “not of an age, but for all time.”

Beware the Ides of March!

0315-ides-of-march_full_600In Julius Caesar, a soothsayer warns Caesar to “Beware the Ides of March.” Caesar ignores the warning and is, in fact, murdered on March 15, called “the Ides” on the Roman calendar. Over time, the date has become associated with doom and momentous events – particularly ones with disastrous effects. The following resources from NCTE and ReadWriteThink.org offer solutions for bringing Julius Caesar to life for all students.

Shakespeare in the elementary school? The Primary Voices article “”Creative Drama through Scaffolded Plays in the Language Arts Classroom“” chronicles how the author first used creative drama in a summer reading program with first graders, and then over the years, developed a much broader understanding of drama as an important teaching tool. She also describes writing “scaffolded” plays with sixth-grade students and illustrates their annual thematic dinner theater.

The ReadWriteThink.org lesson plan “”Book Report Alternative: Characters for Hire! Studying Character in Drama“” asks students to create a resume for one of the characters in a drama. Students select a character from the play to focus on and jot down notes about that character. Next, they search for historical background information and then explore the play again, looking for both direct and implied information about their characters and noting the location of supporting details. Finally, students draft resumes for their characters and search a job listing site for a job for which their character is qualified.

Julius Caesar, with its themes of loyalty, ambition, and deception, still resonates with high school students and remains a favorite text in classrooms everywhere. Through differentiated instruction, the NCTE text Teaching Julius Caesar: A Differentiated Approach offers solutions for bringing the play to life for all students – those with various interests, readiness levels, and learning styles. Discover more by reading the sample chapter.

An Introduction to Julius Caesar Using Multiple-Perspective Universal Theme Analysis” from ReadWriteThink.org is an introduction to William Shakespeare’s tragic play, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, through the study of universal themes using multiple-perspective investigations of betrayal scenarios.

How can students build new connections with the poetic details of Shakespeare’s plays? In this digital movie project, “Connecting Students with Shakespeare’s Poetry: Digital Creations of Close Reading” students explore close reading and thoughtful selection of imagery to create deeper understanding.

What ideas do you have for Julius Caesar in the classroom?

Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare!

Portrait of English playwright, William Shakespeare
Portrait of English playwright, William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare’s birthday is celebrated on April 23. Students at every grade level can be involved in activities to celebrate Shakespeare’s birth. The following from NCTE and ReadWriteThink.org provide more resources on Shakespeare.

Elementary students can begin learning about the rhyming structure of a sonnet by listening to and reading this type of poetry. They can also begin practicing with the number of syllables in a line.

Introduce Shakespeare to middle school students through popular culture. Pop culture provides an introduction to Shakespeare’s poetic devices in this lesson, which asks students to explore an excerpt from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Demonstrate to high school students that Shakespeare always remains relevant through modern updates and reworkings. YouTube can help students better appreciate literary details in Shakespeare and learn more about the cultural and aesthetic value of imitation, parody, and irony.

The act of translating Shakespearean text into contemporary language encourages student interest in further study of the text as described in this TETYC article.

Still want more? Visit here to see a collection of resources on Shakespeare from NCTE.

Shakespeare Mob Secret – Exposed!

shakespeareAt this year’s NCTE Convention, one of the most exciting events occurred in secrecy – if a massive rally can be considered secret.

We on NCTE’s staff were working hard that week, managing events, directing lost attendees, ringing up book sales, etc. For organizers charged with keeping the Minneapolis event running smoothly for our 6,000 attendees, it was a stressful time. We’d had more than our share of challenges already when we suddenly received a text from a staff member: a vocal mob had gathered around the escalators. Security was freaking out.

I scrambled to investigate. Down the halls of the Minneapolis Convention Center, I could hear the hundreds yelling:

Double, double toil and trouble!
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble!

What I found was a moment of magic. Hundreds of delighted people were reciting Shakespeare with giddy enthusiasm.

The Folger Shakespeare Library, one of many organizations participating in our 2015 Convention, had quietly distributed a flier encouraging people to assemble here. On the back of the flier were the lines from a scene in Macbeth. The hundreds who had arrived for this flash mob were divided into different teams, each team reading a different part. And everyone was having a ball.

Though NCTE had neither scheduled nor authorized the event, not everyone was caught off guard by it. The Folger Shakespeare Library had pulled similar stunts at the two previous NCTE Conventions. And though these flash mobs were planned with the subversive stealth of a jewel heist, they were such a delight that the last thing NCTE wanted to do was shut them down.

The mind behind this madness was Folger Shakespeare Library Senior Consultant on National Education Michael LoMonico. He told me in an interview that the reactions have been overwhelmingly positive, and this positive reception has allowed the flash mobs to succeed even in tricky situations.

The first flash mob happened at our 2013 Convention, held in Boston. LoMonico decided to hold that one outside, but Boston’s November weather was not the only complication participants encountered. Earlier that year, the city had suffered its Boston Marathon bombing, so local police were unusually alert for anything suspicious. Hundreds of people suddenly appearing in public and yelling lines from Romeo and Juliette’s balcony scene drew immediate attention. But when police arrived and saw how much fun the crowd was having, with passersby eagerly joining in, the police allowed it to continue.

As LoMonico shared with me, “Somebody said to one of my colleagues, ‘You got their permission?’ He said, ‘Oh yeah, sure. We got their permission,’ which of course we didn’t. But the police were fine once they realized what we were doing.”

At the following year’s NCTE Convention in Washington, DC, LoMonico decided to hold the flash mob indoors. Drawing from the famous funeral speech in Julius Caesar, someone with a bullhorn read the words of Mark Antony from atop the convention hall escalator, while the mob below read the reactions of the funeral crowd. In our nation’s capital, security is always on high alert, but once again, the surprise delighted hundreds. LoMonico reports, “In all three [of these flash mob] cases, the police . . . thought it was so much fun that they were excited by it themselves.”

Yet LoMonico says he was doing even more than giving English teachers some joy. “One of the things we emphasize to the teachers . . . is that this is something they can do with their own students.” A fun event like this can make Shakespeare more approachable for reluctant readers. “It’s not just some stuffy words on a page. But it’s fun. It can be exciting. [And also] it’s a very safe way of reading because if everybody is reading together . . . it’s a lot easier, for kids particularly – and for anyone – to be part of a group that’s reading it. We refer to that as ‘choral reading.’ And choral reading is really helpful because it’s less intimidating than giving an individual a part.”

After LoMonico invited English teachers to do this activity with their own students, more than two dozen classes sent videos of their own flash mobs. The locations ranged from a middle school cafeteria, where students disrupted lunch, to Ellis Island, mobbed by an international high school.

And will Folger attempt another flash mob at next year’s NCTE Convention? LoMonico says he is already researching the announced Atlanta location to plan logistics.


Enjoy all the videos of students around the country doing Shakespeare flash mobs.

Read Mike LoMonico’s blog post, in which he highlights the most outstanding of these videos.

And watch all three of the NCTE Convention Shakespeare flash mobs.