Macbeth and Year 5

By Austin, Ken | NATE Classroom, Autumn 2008 | Go to article overview

Macbeth and Year 5


Austin, Ken, NATE Classroom


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When Hamlet said 'The play's the thing ...', the last thing Shakespeare could have anticipated was that we would be involving children as young as eight- or nine-years-old in his plays over 400 years later. At William Parker School this is what we have tried to do by running drama workshops based on Macbeth with four of our partnership primary schools.

In 2007 we became a specialist college for Humanities and a partner in the RSC Learning Network. I was nominated to do Year 1 of the course: an introduction to teaching Shakespeare employing the RSC's ensemble approach to exploring and presenting plays. As a department we thought it would be beneficial if I worked with Year 5 pupils, given the bridging units that we were teaching to pupils in Year 6. We wanted to give primary children an active and enjoyable experience of Shakespeare, in line with the RSC ethos. As a department we are passionate about Shakespeare, and this is what I wanted to communicate through the workshops. My hope was (and is) that as a result primary pupils will come to our school eager to engage with Shakespeare at Key Stage 3.

The process of planning the workshops with primary colleagues involved numerous phone calls, emails and joint meetings. Many of the primary teachers involved in the planning stage had attended one of the RSC's INSET sessions at our school earlier in the year and were very keen for the workshops to go ahead. We planned the workshops for a two-week period after my Year 11 students had left and Year 10 were on work experience, so my cover requirements were kept to a minimum. In total I taught nine two-hour workshops in the four primary schools. All the schools were happy for me to give an introduction to 'Macbeth', which was the play I had worked on during my course with the RSC. It is worth noting that only one of the schools had taught any Shakespeare below Year 6.

So what did I do? I wanted to introduce the story, approach some of the themes and engage the children in an appreciation of Shakespeare's dramatic imagery. I had to create a two-hour scheme which would engage all the students and allow flexibility to suit learning styles and the range of ability with which I was presented, using many of the techniques advocated by the RSC.

I introduced the pupils to William Shakespeare (I was playing the role of William Parker, the founder of our school four hundred years ago, so I was introducing them to my namesake). I also mentioned that we would be exploring a few ideas from one of his plays, 'Macbeth'.

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I began the workshop with a physical warm up. The children learned to walk at specific speeds around the space. I changed this to a move where they had to strike a distorted pose which, progressively, they changed every five seconds to copy another pupil's grotesque shape. I told them that this was because in lots of Shakespeare's plays the truth gets distorted and that actors need to be able to physically interpret the ideas within a play. They thoroughly enjoyed this activity and showed they had the physical control necessary to create theatre.

I quickly moved the group into pairs and introduced ideas from within the play. Initially, I got them to create still images on objects from the play: a dagger, a castle and a royal crown. From that, I gave them an introduction to the relationship between Macbeth and Banquo by getting them to strike three still images: one for 'two friends celebrating a victory', the second, 'two friends sharing a secret', and finally, 'two friends who don't trust each other any more'. These were rehearsed and performed in ensemble. Regardless of which school I was in, the pupils were able to present powerful still images suggested by these relationships.

We explored some of the imagery within the play. Pupils were asked to join pairs to make groups of four. …

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