Collaboration Brings Shakespeare to Life for Eighth Grade English Classes
Eighth grade English students put their acting skills to the test performing William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Woodman Center for their peers and families this November. The performance was the culmination of two months of intensive classwork reading the play, learning lines, blocking, collaborating with others, and learning the complexities of the Shakespearean style of language.
The project, which has been a part of the curriculum for seven years, was led by English teacher Maureen Nagle and theater teachers Steve Kidd and Chris Hoyt and involved the entire eighth grade class. Understanding Shakespeare is no easy feat, so bringing the play to life for students helped them experience the text in its native form.
“We start by reading, discussing, and analyzing the play in English class. Kids are equally frustrated and fascinated by the language. It can be so hard to understand what’s happening, so we make the experience engaging and fun,” says Maureen.
Students began by taking turns reading out loud in class, then blocking scenes by imagining how the action unfolds. While they are doing this, they are learning new vocabulary, studying poetic devices, and analyzing themes like power and control. Each of the four class groups are then given a section of the play that they will learn to perform.
The first task of the groups was to reread their scene, discuss it as a group, then memorize their lines. Most students memorized about 10 to 50 lines. This is where the major effort and time must be put in, and the actors helped each other to make progress on their lines each day. For some students, this would be their first time acting on stage in front of a large audience.
“I think the hardest part for me was memorizing my lines because of the old language that we’re not used to,” said David I. “It was difficult, but I used strategies and worked hard at it. I learned that if I reach for a goal, I’ll achieve it.”
Students then began the actual process of blocking the scenes for the stage and student managers were assigned to each class to help everyone consider important elements. It takes about two weeks to block and then rehearse each scene to be ready for the final performance.
When the big day arrived, the objective of the performance was not theatrical perfection. Students mess up lines or cues, but accuracy was not what Maureen and Steve were assessing. What they were really looking for was how students could handle the challenge of collaborating with others to reach a common goal.
“This is hard work for them, not just the grunt work of memorizing lines, but getting up on stage to share their work in front of a live audience!” says Maureen. “It all comes together because they trust us to guide them through the process, and we trust them to put in their best effort, commit 100% to their role, and help each other along the way.”
Although challenging, the students ultimately find the experience rewarding. Sofia M. reflects, “I found it challenging at the very beginning to practice because I spoke more quietly around large groups of people, but I worked on getting louder. In the end, I am proud of myself because I spoke out and wasn’t so nervous.”
The project provided an opportunity for students to take risks and strengthen bonds with one another as they problem-solved, leaned on each other for support, and truly let their inner light shine.
“What I hope the students remember most were the joyful moments where they went for it, like delivering a line with authority, or when they made the audience laugh,” says Maureen. “All the magic happens in these little moments where they are building trust and bonding with each other.”