Shakespeare week March 18-24 2024
Celebrate the Bard this week!

The importance of Shakespeare

There are few writers who have left such a mark on the national consciousness as Shakespeare; whether it’s his turn of phrase, his plotlines, or simply his ubiquitous slot on the exam specification, students will come across him multiple times while at school, and in their lives afterwards.

Shakespeare Week is a national celebration promoted by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, creating activities and suggestions to broaden students’ experiences with our national playwright. Too often, students’ first encounters with Shakespeare leave them feeling that he’s ‘too hard’ or ‘not relevant’ to them, rather than filled with the excitement of his universal stories, and the joy of his language. Shakespeare is everywhere! The Lion King is based on Hamlet, there’s a reference to Macbeth in the opening song of Frozen, and Taylor Swift regularly references the playwright across her works.

William Shakespeare is a named author on the curriculum of 65% of countries. He’s the only required writer on the English national curriculum; secondary school pupils must study two plays at KS3 and one at KS4, while A-Level students have a Shakespeare drama on their set text list. In Wales and Northern Ireland, he’s required study during secondary education. This means many students will come across the comic fairies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream early in their secondary career before progressing to the tragedies of Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. Whatever you do to celebrate his work this week, resist the urge to ‘translate’ or remove Shakespeare’s English – part of the joy of the bard is the richness of his language and, as it’s this students often struggle to access, it’s this we need to make more accessible and understandable through our classrooms.

In Shakespeare Week, teachers can take a step back too and fall back in love with the creativity of Shakespeare, looking for ways that our students can experience his work in a playful, imaginative way.

Watch it in performance

There’s a Shakespeare adaptation suitable for all ages! Seeing Shakespeare brought to life onstage makes it more accessible and enjoyable. The CBeebies adaptations of

 A Midsummer Night’s Dream or The Tempest are perfect for introducing KS1-2 to the plays. They pull no punches with the language, and the performances and reduced plotlines are great to get pupils engaged in Shakespeare’s stories.


For secondary, there’s the Globe and National Theatre’s free-to-schools productions ranging from Macbeth to King Lear or Troilus and Cressida if you want something more off the beaten track! Their range has something for every age group – for Hamlet alone, you can choose to watch Paapa Essiedu, David Tennant, Rory Kinnear or Maxine Peake in the title role while Christopher Ecclestone’s Macbeth is a stunner.

Explore the language

Ask any student to start ‘talking like Shakespeare’ and chances are they’ll start chucking some ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ into their sentences! Making it sound ‘old fashioned’ is one thing, but getting under the skin of where this comes from is a fabulous introduction to linguistics and perfectly suited to exploration alongside many Modern Foreign Languages.

Thou and thee were kind of on their way out when Shakespeare was writing, but he uses them alongside ‘you’ to play with the relationships between people. There’s a whole range of formality and social hierarchy involved in knowing which pronoun to use when. While French now uses the ‘tu’ form as a more informal version of ‘you’ than the more formal ‘vous’, “thee/thou” was used by a person of high status talking down to someone of a lower status, who was expected to use ‘you’ in response.

Activity: ask students to draw a social web with themselves in the middle and a range of people connected to them. If they were speaking French, or German, or Spanish, what would the pronoun be? Who would they use thee or you for if they were addressing them in a Shakespeare play?

Another great language activity can be to explore the many phrases we owe to Shakespeare. Whether he came up with them all on his own or popularised sayings of the day, he’s our source for phrases like “for goodness’s sake’, ‘dead as a doornail’, ‘the green-eyed monster’, ‘tower of strength’ and ‘foul play’.

Activity: Use Bernard Levin’s poster to choose some phrases to explore. These could become the beginning of a piece of creative writing (use it as a title, opening line, or the description of a character). Or, use it to inspire a piece of art (drawing a ‘fool’s paradise’ or “send them packing”, anyone?”)

Learn some by heart

It’s not all about the plays! Poetry by Heart 2024 launches in March and what better way to prep than by learning a Shakespeare sonnet?

The Poetry by Heart website has a selection of poems to choose from; students can learn it, record it, and submit their recording to the competition – the final takes place on the stage at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre! Their website has loads of tips on how to memorise and perform poetry.

Whether you enter the competition or choose one of Shakespeare’s soliloquies instead, speaking aloud is a powerful contributor to confidence as students have to not only learn the lines but think about their pace, tone, and physical delivery. Go for the full speech or just a few key lines and get students performing their own Shakespeare!

Take a tour

We can’t all get to the Globe Theatre in London, but we can all take the virtual tour on their website – With facts about the original building, its destruction and its reconstruction, there’s a lot to learn about the place where many of Shakespeare’s works were first performed. Older students might look at the social history of the theatre, including why audience might sit in certain seats, the technology of the sound and trapdoors. KS2 might like to follow up with the Horrible Histories episode celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th birthday, exploring the audiences of Shakespeare and why they wanted to see his plays at all.

Get in touch with your supernatural side

Fairies and witches and ghosts abound! Some of Shakespeare’s most famous plays draw on the supernatural and these are often the plays children first come across. Set the mood by playing “Something Wicked This Way Comes” from Harry Potter and get their imaginations going!

Activity: Costume designers will often draw on the theatrical history of the plays. Search images of witches from Macbeth productions or fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest. Can students create their own costume designs for either of them, using clues from the text?

Activity: Use the witches’ spell in Macbeth to write their own spell. The Shakespeare week website has a good starting point for younger students to build their own magic instructions.

Get writing and scripting

Get students writing their own works inspired by Shakespeare, whether it’s the titles on their own or the full storyline. One of the reasons Shakespeare is so enduring is because the stories resonate through centuries; his story lines of power, love, ambition, comedy and romance have something to say to us no matter when we are alive. We can all take something from his work and make it speak to us.

Activity: Use a title of a Shakespeare play or poem to create a story of their own. Use the sonnet form to make it more challenging, thinking about the rhythm and rhyme of the piece too.

Activity: Read the plotline of a Shakespeare play and turn it into their own modern play. Where would they set it? How would they adapt or change it? They can either write the opening scene as a script or explain, as a director, what they intend to do with the play and create a mood-board for the production.

Phased performance

Give students the opportunity to perform themselves using low-threat drama strategies that give everyone the chance to get involved. Choose a small section of text – the opening scene of Romeo and Juliet or the first conversation between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

Actioning – with a printed copy of the script, add a description to each section or line that describes how it should be delivered (aggressively, confidently, charmingly etc – a list of options can help less certain students). Then decide a single gesture that conveys each description. Read the scene moving from one gesture to the next.

Stepping up – ideal for exploring duologues. Split students either into pairs or two lines across the class facing each other. When a character says something threatening or like they’re in control, take a step forward. When it sounds like they’re more afraid or losing control, step back. Where they end up reveals a lot about the power dynamics of the scene.

Get everyone involved! Every member of staff can be allocated a character from one of the plays – preferably with a quotation they can give to students who ask! Set up a competition across the week to complete a ‘bingo card’ of characters with a range of different criteria (all characters from one play, a character from every play, etc) or simply collect them all!

#ShakespeareWeek runs 18-24th March 2024

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