Dr Chris Lima provides her final five top tips for teaching Shakespeare to both language proficient speakers and language learners alike, in the third part of this series.

teaching eap literature 620x200

In parts one and two of this series, I shared ten tips on teaching Shakespeare. In this article, I will share with you the final five. That’s a total of 15 tips to celebrate 15 years of onestopenglish in the year we celebrate 400 years of Shakespeare’s legacy!

11. Foster learner autonomy.

Shakespeare cannot be confined to a classroom. Studying Shakespeare requires your students to devote some hours to reading, thinking and exploring material on their own. This is what an EAP student needs to do but it should also apply to any learner studying Shakespeare. Design homework activities that require students to search for specific language in the texts, search the library for relevant texts about the plays or find more information and material on the internet. Moreover, make these tasks collaborative so the information and materials students find on their own can be shared with others and help to build up a collective body of knowledge in the group. 

12. Engage with criticism.

EAP learners are, as a rule, either preparing to join a university programme or already studying for their academic degree. Therefore, besides reading Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, they should also start reading Shakespearean criticism – other scholars and academics that have written about Shakespeare. This kind of secondary reading can be a challenge in terms of the theoretical concepts, style, conventions and academic jargon used. Gently introduce your students to Shakespearean literary criticism by asking them to read and paraphrase paragraphs, extracts and whole sections of articles and embedding them into your lesson or the students’ homework.

13. Go beyond.

Through the centuries, Shakespeare has inspired other people to create works of art that are based on or somehow related to his plays and poems. Explore other texts related to the play you are studying. These can be texts inspired by Shakespeare, such as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. You can also ask your students to find music, paintings, comics and video games that have been inspired by Shakespeare.

14. Be bold.

Most published English language material is sold worldwide and targets teachers and learners living and working in a wide variety of social and cultural contexts. Because of this, authors and publishers are, understandably, reluctant to include topics that may cause discomfort and/or offend people’s political and religious beliefs. The result is that, sometimes, English language lessons feel flat and learners do not have many opportunities to discuss issues that really matter to them and that have a real impact on their everyday lives, such as power, politics, war and peace, sexuality, love and jealousy, racism, prejudice, religion, life and death. When you engage with Shakespeare, you find all of this – ultimately, this is the reason why we still read, watch, and study his work. Shakespeare speaks about things that matter to all of us as human beings. Deal with these issues sensibly and always discuss them in the context of the plays. Insist that students respect each other’s points of view and, that way, the texts and lessons can become precious opportunities to promote intercultural understanding and tolerance.

15. Enjoy.

Studying literature does not necessarily have to kill students’ enjoyment of reading – especially in the case of Shakespeare. On the contrary, there is so much to learn and explore in terms of texts, ideas and other art forms associated with his work that a course on Shakespeare can become something much more than just learning new language and practising the four skills. Approach your lessons on Shakespeare with a sense of discovery and wonder. Motivate your students to embark with you on an adventure to explore his texts and their connections with our world.

Rex Gibson (1998, p.2), in his seminal book on teaching Shakespeare, points out that the ‘easy answer to the question “Why teach Shakespeare?” is “Why not?”’ He argues that ‘Shakespeare’s characters, stories and themes have been, and still are, a source of meaning and significance for every generation’ because they offer opportunities for ‘reinterpretation and local application of familiar human relationships and passions.’ Although this article presents ideas in terms of ‘teaching tips’, these are in fact the embodiment of some of the methodological and pedagogical principles that guide my approach to teaching and developing teaching materials based on Shakespeare’s works. Behind each of these 15 tips there are a number of theoretical and pedagogical concepts that inform classroom practices. Some of them come from classroom experience but most them come from professional literature in the field which I present as some suggestions for further reading whihc you can find below.

Coming up …

In the following articles in this series, I will be exploring in more depth some of the ideas briefly discussed in the first three parts, such as teaching literature and EAP, developing critical thinking, working with academic writing and developing digital literacy. Keep coming to onestopenglish and don’t forget to share these ideas with your teaching colleagues.

Suggestions for further reading

  • Crystal, B. (2013) Springboard Shakespeare series. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Crystal, D. (2008) ‘Think on my Words’: Exploring Shakespeare’s Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Crystal, D. and Crystal, B. (2002) Shakespeare’s Words: A Glossary and Language Companion. London: Penguin.
  • Gibson, R. (1998) Teaching Shakespeare: A Handbook for Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Johnson, K. (2013) Shakespeare’s English: A Practical Linguistic Guide. Harlow: Pearson.