Shakespeare Without a Curriculum

Have you wanted to include Shakespeare in your homeschool, but struggled to find a curriculum that would be a good fit? We are using lots of learning resources, but not a certain fixed curriculum with teacher’s guide. Instead I started by thinking about my goals for this co-op class of 4th-9th graders.

I wanted the kids to fall in love with Shakespeare. I wanted to insure that this would not be the only time they read The Tempest. I wanted to give them an experience that would be enjoyable and would build their confidence as they approached other plays. I also wanted them the interact meaningfully with the text itself, to wrestle with the language looking for a blessing.

So how do we do that if we are not depending on a curriculum guide?

We started our work with lots of scaffolding–tools to help get a handle on the characters and main action of the play. We started with this slideshow that opens with the question, Do you like stories with wizards? That got their attention! The slideshow walks through the plot and introduces famous lines. Then we watched the Tempest episode of Shakespeare’s Animated Tales. These wonderful BBC productions can be hard to find, but are worth the hunt! Single episodes are available online, but check if your library has a copy of the entire collection.

We used the information from the slideshow and movie to help us as we filled out this tri-sheet about the play. This set of printables has been invaluable as we move into higher level interpretive work. It’s been an approachable way to enrich our literary vocabulary in an engaging way.

We are listening to one act each week. Audio productions are a great way to experience the play, to give a sense of how what’s on the page becomes a full-fledged production. Before we begin we review the action of the previous act using a collection of quotes. We are also studying art inspired by The Tempest. Each week we learn a bit about a different artist (drawn mostly from Wikipedia) and complete a notebooking page.

Then we settle in for about 20 minutes of listening. Some kids are following along with a Folger edition of the play, some are using a graphic novel that has the full text of the play, and some kids are working on Drawn Notes. This is a practice I learned from my mom who taught Romeo and Juliet to 7th graders for 30 years. I think she even read the whole play aloud to her classes! I am asking the kids to take a quote from the play and to illustrate it in some way.

This is not meant as simply busy work, craft projects to keep their hands busy as they listen. This is a way to enter into a dialogue with the text. This is real, creative, generative work. Illustration becomes the first step in interpretation.

This is where I have been most surprised! Kids are producing work and sharing it with the rest of the students. And then the whole class learns and grows through their work! It’s not something that any curriculum could create. It’s built on the individual genius of the kids gathered in my living room! Even though this is the first time through The Tempest for a lot of the group and the first time through any Shakespeare for some, authentic work is happening.


  1. This is so encouraging! I want to get back into the practice of enjoying Shakespeare with my kids like I did when my oldest two were littler. We live in Portland too (I think I heard on the RAR podcast that you do?)

    1. So good to hear this, Tara! We had a wonderful time reading The Tempest this spring, and I think everyone is anxious for more!

  2. I listened to you on the RAR podcast. I’m taking notes and looking forward to incorporating Shakespeare into our personal study and possibly our co-op. I saw recommended books on the RAR site. I want to have a wide range available of reading interests and levels. I think some of those listed fall into the picture book category, but can’t tell if there were any graphic novels listed and I know it was discussed. What are your favorite graphic novels for teaching Shakespeare?

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