Classroom Stars

Exploring Shakespeare in Primary Education: Medium-Term Plans for Years 1 to 6

Learning Shakespeare in Primary Schools
Embark on these medium-term plans on Shakespeare in primary education, offering engaging activities tailored for Years 1 to 6. From A Midsummer Night's Dream to Macbeth, nurture creativity and a love of literature in young learners.

Introducing the works of William Shakespeare to primary school pupils may seem ambitious, but the rewards are immeasurable. Shakespeare’s plays offer a rich tapestry of language, emotion, and storytelling that transcends time and culture. By engaging with his works from an early age, pupils can develop a deep appreciation for literature, language, and the human experience. Moreover, studying Shakespeare fosters critical thinking, empathy, and creativity, essential skills for success in both academic and personal pursuits.

Shakespeare’s plays are not merely historical relics; they are living texts that resonate with universal themes and emotions. Through imaginative exploration, pupils can connect with characters like Hamlet, Juliet, and Macbeth, discovering their own reflections on these timeless figures. By experiencing Shakespeare’s language in its original form, pupils can enhance their vocabulary, language comprehension, and communication skills.

Furthermore, studying Shakespeare cultivates cultural literacy and fosters an understanding of literary heritage. By engaging with the works of one of the greatest playwrights in the English language, pupils can develop a sense of pride in their linguistic and literary heritage. Shakespeare’s plays also provide a window into the past, offering insights into Elizabethan society, politics, and culture.

In crafting a medium-term plan for teaching Shakespeare in primary school, it is essential to select age-appropriate texts and activities that cater to the developmental needs and interests of pupils. By scaffolding their learning across the primary years, pupils can gradually deepen their understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare’s works, laying the foundation for a lifelong love of literature and learning.

Here, Classroom Stars have created medium-term plans for Years 1 to 6 to learn about Shakespeare and his plays. These plans can be used directly for detailed and in-depth planning or to inform teachers’ own planning, allowing them to dip in and out as needed.

Year 1: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Summary of Plot: A comedic tale of love, mischief, and magic set in an enchanted forest. The play intertwines the stories of four young lovers, a group of amateur actors, and mischievous fairies, creating a delightful blend of romance and fantasy.

Learning Outcome: Introduce Year 1 learners to the basic elements of Shakespearean comedy, including mistaken identities, love triangles, and the use of magical elements.

Activities:
Fairy Garden Craft: Pupils embark on a creative journey by designing and crafting their own miniature fairy gardens. Using recycled materials such as cardboard, and paper, and natural elements like twigs and leaves, they construct enchanting scenes reminiscent of the magical forest in the play. This activity encourages imagination, fine motor skills, and attention to detail as pupils bring the whimsical world of fairies to life.

Character Masks: Pupils dive into the world of theatrical expression by designing and decorating masks representing characters from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Using a variety of art supplies such as paint, glitter, feathers, and fabric, they imbue their masks with personality and emotion. Once their masks are complete, pupils engage in role-playing activities, taking on the roles of their chosen characters and bringing the story to life through dramatic play. This activity fosters creativity, empathy, and confidence as pupils step into the shoes of Shakespearean characters.

Acting Out Scenes: Pupils explore the power of language and performance by acting out key scenes from the play. Divided into groups, they select scenes such as the lovers’ quarrels, the antics of the amateur actors, or the mischief of the fairies. Guided by teachers, pupils rehearse their lines, experiment with gestures and expressions, and collaborate to stage captivating performances. Through this hands-on approach to Shakespearean drama, pupils develop teamwork, communication skills, and an appreciation for the art of storytelling.

Fairy Tale Retelling: Pupils explore the themes of transformation and enchantment by creating their own fairy tale inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Working in small groups, pupils brainstorm plot ideas, develop characters, and craft imaginative narratives set in magical forests and mystical realms. This storytelling activity encourages collaboration, creativity, and narrative skills as pupils weave together elements of fantasy and adventure inspired by Shakespeare’s play.

Magical Potion Making: Pupils delve into the world of alchemy and potions as they concoct their own magical brews inspired by the love potion in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Using a variety of safe household ingredients such as water, food colouring, glitter, and herbs, pupils mix and stir their potions, imbuing them with fantastical properties and effects. Through this hands-on science activity, pupils explore concepts of chemical reactions, experimentation, and creative problem-solving, while connecting with the magical themes of the play.

Outdoor Performance: Pupils showcase their theatrical talents with an outdoor performance of selected scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Utilising the school grounds as their stage, pupils rehearse their lines, blocking, and choreography, bringing the magic of Shakespeare’s play to life amidst nature’s backdrop. Parents, teachers, and fellow pupils are invited to attend the performance, fostering a sense of community and appreciation for the arts as pupils celebrate their achievements in outdoor theatre.

Year 2: The Tempest

Summary of Plot: A tale of shipwrecks, sorcery, and reconciliation. The play follows Prospero, a magician and rightful Duke of Milan, as he orchestrates events on a remote island to seek justice and forgiveness.

Learning Outcome: Introduce Year 2 pupils to themes of forgiveness, power, and the natural world, while exploring the character of Prospero and his magical abilities.

Activities:
Shipwreck Diorama: Pupils unleash their creativity as they construct intricate dioramas depicting the dramatic shipwreck scene from The Tempest. Using a variety of materials such as cardboard, modelling clay, and paint, they recreate the stormy sea, the stranded ship, and the mysterious island. Through hands-on construction and imaginative storytelling, pupils gain a deeper understanding of the play’s setting and themes, while honing their spatial reasoning and artistic skills.

Magic Wand Making: Pupils channel their inner sorcerers as they design and decorate their own magic wands inspired by Prospero’s mystical powers. Using materials such as wooden dowels, glitter, ribbons, and beads, they transform simple objects into fantastical artefacts fit for a magician’s hand. After crafting their wands, pupils engage in imaginative play, casting spells and conjuring enchantments inspired by the magic of The Tempest. This activity encourages creativity, fine motor skills, and imaginative thinking as pupils explore the world of sorcery and illusion.

Character Monologues: Pupils delve into the minds of The Tempest’s characters as they write and perform short monologues expressing their thoughts and feelings. Guided by prompts and examples from the play, pupils explore the motivations, desires, and conflicts of characters such as Prospero, Ariel, and Caliban. Through the process of writing and performing their monologues, pupils develop empathy, analytical thinking, and expressive communication skills, while gaining a deeper appreciation for the complexity of Shakespearean characters.

Island Survival Challenge: Pupils embark on a thrilling adventure as they participate in an island survival challenge inspired by The Tempest. Working in teams, pupils are tasked with overcoming obstacles, solving puzzles, and completing tasks to escape the imaginary island. From building shelters to deciphering riddles, pupils utilise their critical thinking, teamwork, and problem-solving skills to navigate the challenges of the wilderness, mirroring the trials faced by characters in the play.

Prospero’s Book of Spells: Pupils unleash their creativity by crafting their own “Book of Spells” inspired by Prospero’s magical grimoire in The Tempest. Using art supplies, such as paper, pens, and decorative embellishments, pupils design and illustrate pages filled with mystical symbols, incantations, and enchantments. This artistic activity encourages imaginative storytelling, fine motor skills, and a deeper engagement with the themes of magic and sorcery in Shakespeare’s play.

Shipwreck Storytelling: Pupils hone their oral storytelling skills by recounting their own version of the shipwreck scene from The Tempest. Working individually or in pairs, pupils use descriptive language, vivid imagery, and expressive gestures to narrate the dramatic events of the stormy sea and the stranded ship. This storytelling activity promotes confidence, creativity, and language development as pupils immerse themselves in the thrilling narrative of shipwreck and survival.

Year 3: Romeo and Juliet

Summary of Plot: A tragic tale of forbidden love and feuding families in Renaissance Verona. The play follows the passionate romance between Romeo and Juliet, whose love ultimately leads to their untimely demise.

Learning Outcome: Introduce Year 3 learners to themes of love, fate, and the consequences of impulsive actions, while exploring the beauty of Shakespearean language.

Activities:
Balcony Scene Recital: Pupils step into the shoes of Romeo and Juliet as they reenact the iconic balcony scene, focusing on expressive delivery and understanding the characters’ emotions. Guided by teachers, pupils practice their lines, gestures, and facial expressions, striving to capture the intensity and romance of Shakespeare’s words. Through this performance-based activity, pupils develop confidence, public speaking skills, and an appreciation for the power of language in conveying emotion.

Love Letter Writing: Pupils immerse themselves in the world of Renaissance romance as they write letters from the perspective of Romeo or Juliet, expressing their love and desires. Drawing inspiration from the play’s passionate dialogue, pupils craft heartfelt letters filled with poetic language and emotional depth. This writing activity encourages creativity, empathy, and language development as pupils explore the themes of love, longing, and sacrifice central to Romeo and Juliet’s story.

Family Crest Design: Pupils delve into the heraldic tradition as they create family crests for the Montagues and Capulets, exploring the symbolism of heraldry in the play. Using symbols, colours, and motifs associated with each family, pupils design intricate crests that reflect the values, aspirations, and conflicts of the feuding households. Through this interdisciplinary activity, pupils gain insight into the historical context of Romeo and Juliet while honing their artistic skills and critical thinking abilities.

Elizabethan Dance Workshop: Pupils step back in time as they learn traditional Elizabethan dances inspired by the Renaissance era of Romeo and Juliet. Led by a dance instructor or teacher, pupils explore dances such as the galliard, pavane, and branle, mastering intricate footwork and graceful movements. This immersive dance workshop not only enhances pupils’ physical coordination and rhythm but also deepens their understanding of the cultural context of Shakespeare’s play, fostering an appreciation for historical art forms.

Verona Travel Brochure: Pupils become travel agents as they create enticing travel brochures inviting tourists to visit the romantic city of Verona, the setting of Romeo and Juliet. Using research about Verona’s landmarks, culture, and history, pupils design colourful brochures complete with photos, descriptions, and travel tips. This interdisciplinary activity combines geography, research skills, and persuasive writing, allowing pupils to showcase their knowledge of Verona while promoting the timeless allure of Shakespeare’s tragic love story.

Friendship Bracelet Exchange: Pupils celebrate the themes of friendship and loyalty by participating in a friendship bracelet exchange inspired by Romeo and Juliet’s bond with their friends. Pupils create handmade friendship bracelets using colourful beads, strings, and charms, infusing each bracelet with personal meaning and sentiment. During a special exchange ceremony, pupils trade bracelets with their classmates, forging connections and strengthening bonds of friendship as they honour the spirit of camaraderie depicted in Shakespeare’s play.

Year 4: Twelfth Night

Summary of Plot: A delightful comedy of mistaken identity and romantic confusion. The play follows the adventures of Viola, who disguises herself as a young man named Cesario, leading to a series of comedic misunderstandings.

Learning Outcome: Introduce Year 4 children to themes of disguise, identity, and the folly of love, while exploring the comedic elements of Shakespearean drama.

Activities:
Letter Writing Extravaganza: Pupils unleash their creativity by engaging in a letter-writing activity inspired by the characters’ correspondence in Twelfth Night. Working individually, pupils assume the role of a character from the play, such as Viola, Olivia, or Orsino, and compose letters to another character expressing their thoughts, desires, or intentions. They use language and imagery reminiscent of the play to capture the essence of each character’s personality and situation. This activity promotes empathy, literary analysis, and language development as pupils explore the complexities of human relationships and communication in Shakespeare’s comedy.

Shakespearean Comedy Showcase: Pupils showcase their talents and creativity with a Shakespearean comedy showcase featuring scenes and excerpts from Twelfth Night. Working in groups, pupils select scenes such as the mistaken identity of Viola and Sebastian, the antics of Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, or the romantic declarations of Orsino and Olivia. They rehearse their chosen scenes, incorporating elements of physical comedy, expressive acting, and comedic timing. The showcase provides an opportunity for pupils to perform, collaborate, and share their interpretations of Shakespeare’s comedy with their peers, fostering confidence, teamwork, and appreciation for the theatrical arts.

Shakespearean Insult Battle: Pupils engage in a friendly Shakespearean insult battle, drawing inspiration from the witty banter and wordplay in Twelfth Night. Armed with a list of Shakespearean insults and retorts, pupils take turns playfully insulting each other using elaborate language and clever insults. This activity not only reinforces vocabulary and language comprehension but also fosters a sense of camaraderie and humour as pupils embrace the playful spirit of Shakespearean comedy.

Character Costume Design: Pupils tap into their artistic talents by designing costumes inspired by characters from Twelfth Night. Working individually or in pairs, pupils select a character from the play and create sketches or digital illustrations of costumes that reflect the character’s personality, role, and era. They consider details such as fabric, colour, and accessories, drawing inspiration from Renaissance fashion and theatrical traditions. This creative activity encourages imagination, attention to detail, and an appreciation for the visual aspects of theatrical production while deepening pupils’ understanding of characterisation in Shakespeare’s comedy.

Shipwreck Story Writing: Pupils unleash their imagination by writing their own creative stories inspired by the shipwreck scene in Twelfth Night. Encourage pupils to explore different perspectives and narrative styles as they recount the events leading up to and following the shipwreck, incorporating elements of humour, romance, and mistaken identity. This writing activity promotes creativity, narrative skills, and critical thinking as pupils craft original stories inspired by Shakespeare’s comedic masterpiece.

Twelfth Night Film Festival: Pupils showcase their creativity and digital literacy skills by producing short films or animations inspired by Twelfth Night. Working in small groups, pupils select scenes, characters, or themes from the play and adapt them into original film adaptations using digital cameras, smartphones, or animation software. They explore aspects of filmmaking such as scripting, storyboarding, acting, and editing, while interpreting Shakespeare’s text for a contemporary audience. The film festival provides a platform for pupils to share their interpretations of the play, express their creativity, and engage with Shakespeare’s comedy in a multimedia format.

Year 5: Macbeth

Summary of Plot: A gripping tale of ambition, betrayal, and supernatural forces. The play follows the rise and fall of Macbeth, a Scottish nobleman whose desire for power leads to his tragic downfall.

Learning Outcome: Introduce Year 5 pupils to themes of ambition, guilt, and the consequences of unchecked ambition, while exploring the dark and atmospheric world of Macbeth.

Activities:
Witches’ Brew: Pupils delve into the mystical world of the witches by creating their own “witches’ brew.” In this hands-on science activity, pupils combine safe household ingredients such as vinegar, baking soda, food colouring, and glitter to concoct bubbling potions. As they mix and observe chemical reactions, they discuss the role of the witches and their prophecies in Macbeth. This activity not only reinforces scientific concepts but also engages pupils in an imaginative play inspired by the supernatural elements of the play.

Character Profiles: Pupils immerse themselves in the complexities of Macbeth’s characters by creating detailed character profiles. Working individually or in groups, pupils select key characters such as Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, or the witches and compile information about their personalities, motivations, and actions. They include quotes from the play to support their analyses and explore how each character contributes to the overarching themes of ambition, power, and guilt. This activity promotes critical thinking, textual analysis, and empathy as pupils delve into the psychology of Shakespeare’s characters.

Ghostly Banquet: Pupils organise and participate in a “ghostly banquet” inspired by the infamous banquet scene in Macbeth. Transforming the classroom or school hall into a spectral banquet hall, pupils decorate tables with eerie decorations, dim lighting, and atmospheric music. They take on the roles of characters such as Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, and Banquo’s ghost, reenacting key moments from the scene. Through dramatic role-play and immersive storytelling, pupils explore themes of guilt, paranoia, and the supernatural, deepening their understanding of the play’s psychological and atmospheric elements. This interactive activity encourages creativity, collaboration, and a deeper engagement with Shakespeare’s haunting tragedy.

Macbeth Character Diary Entries: Pupils step into the shoes of characters from Macbeth by writing diary entries from their perspectives. Assign each pupil a character such as Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, or Banquo, and prompt them to imagine the character’s inner thoughts, feelings, and motivations at key points in the play. Pupils write diary entries reflecting on pivotal moments such as Macbeth’s encounter with the witches or Lady Macbeth’s descent into madness, providing insights into the psychological depth and complexity of Shakespeare’s characters.

Ambition Collage: Pupils explore the theme of ambition in Macbeth by creating collages that depict its effects on the characters and their actions. Provide magazines, newspapers, and art supplies, and encourage pupils to search for images and words that represent ambition, power, and its consequences. Pupils then arrange their findings on poster boards, creating visual representations of the themes and motifs in Macbeth. This artistic activity promotes creativity, visual literacy, and a deeper understanding of the play’s central themes.

Macbeth Debate Tournament: Pupils engage in a series of structured debates exploring key themes and moral dilemmas in Macbeth. Divide the class into teams representing different viewpoints, such as ambition versus morality, fate versus free will, or the supernatural versus human agency. Pupils research their assigned positions, construct persuasive arguments, and engage in lively debates, fostering critical thinking, communication skills, and an appreciation for the complexities of Shakespeare’s tragedy. The debate tournament culminates in a final round where pupils showcase their debating prowess and insights into the play.

Year 6: Hamlet

Summary of Plot: A timeless tragedy of revenge, madness, and moral corruption. The play follows Prince Hamlet as he seeks to avenge his father’s murder while grappling with his own existential crisis.

Learning Outcome: Introduce Year 6 children to themes of revenge, madness, and the complexity of human nature, while exploring the philosophical depth of Hamlet’s soliloquies.

Activities:
To Be or Not To Be Debate: Pupils engage in a thought-provoking debate on Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, “To be or not to be.” Dividing into teams, pupils explore different interpretations of Hamlet’s existential dilemma, discussing topics such as the meaning of life, the fear of death, and the nature of suffering. They research philosophical concepts and literary analyses to support their arguments, fostering critical thinking, communication skills, and an appreciation for the complexity of Shakespeare’s language.

Character Portraits: Pupils unleash their artistic talents by creating portraits of key characters from Hamlet. Using various art materials such as pencils, paints, or digital drawing tools, pupils depict characters such as Hamlet, Ophelia, or Claudius, capturing their personalities, emotions, and inner conflicts. Encourage pupils to incorporate symbolic elements and visual metaphors to convey the psychological depth of Shakespeare’s characters. This artistic activity promotes creativity, observational skills, and a deeper understanding of characterisation in the play.

Mystery Play: Pupils participate in a thrilling “whodunit” mystery play inspired by the murder of King Hamlet in Hamlet. Working collaboratively, pupils write and perform their own mystery plays, creating characters, developing plot twists, and weaving clues to solve the mystery of the king’s death. Through dramatic role-play and interactive storytelling, pupils explore themes of justice, deception, and the consequences of moral ambiguity, deepening their understanding of the play’s intricate plot and complex characters. This immersive activity encourages creativity, teamwork, and analytical thinking as pupils engage in the dramatic world of Shakespeare’s tragedy.

Hamlet Character Analysis: Pupils deepen their understanding of characterisation by conducting in-depth analyses of characters from Hamlet. Assign each pupil a character such as Hamlet, Ophelia, or Claudius, and prompt them to explore the character’s motivations, conflicts, and relationships. Pupils present their findings through written reports, oral presentations, or creative projects, providing insights into the psychological complexities and moral dilemmas of Shakespeare’s tragic figures.

Modern Adaptation: Pupils unleash their creativity by producing a modern adaptation of a key scene from Hamlet. Working in small groups, pupils select a scene such as the “To be or not to be” soliloquy or the play within a play, and reimagine it in a contemporary setting. They consider how modern technology, language, and social norms would influence the scene’s interpretation, updating the dialogue and staging to reflect modern sensibilities. Through this creative reinterpretation, pupils explore the universality of Shakespeare’s themes and the enduring relevance of his characters in today’s world.

Character Interview Podcast: Pupils hone their interview skills by producing a podcast featuring interviews with characters from Hamlet. Working in pairs, pupils assume the roles of interviewers and characters such as Hamlet, Ophelia, or Polonius, and engage in scripted interviews exploring their perspectives, motivations, and experiences. They research the play to develop insightful questions and authentic responses, fostering empathy, critical thinking, and an understanding of characterisation in Shakespeare’s tragedy. The podcast recordings can be shared with the class, providing a dynamic and engaging way to explore the play’s themes and characters.

Conclusion

In teaching Shakespeare’s works to primary school pupils, we embark on a journey of discovery, exploration, and imagination. Through the engaging activities tailored to each play, pupils not only learn about the timeless themes and characters of Shakespeare’s works but also develop essential skills and insights that extend beyond the classroom.

From the whimsical forests of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the haunting halls of Hamlet’s Denmark, pupils are immersed in rich worlds of comedy, tragedy, and intrigue. They craft fairy gardens, write love letters, and debate existential questions, all while delving into the language, characters, and moral dilemmas of Shakespearean drama.

These activities not only foster creativity, critical thinking, and empathy but also ignite a lifelong appreciation for literature, language, and the arts. By exploring Shakespeare’s plays in a primary school setting, pupils develop the confidence and skills to engage with complex texts, grapple with profound ideas, and express themselves with eloquence and imagination.

As we conclude this exploration of Shakespeare in primary education, we celebrate the transformative power of storytelling, the enduring relevance of Shakespeare’s works, and the boundless potential of young minds to explore, question, and create. Through Shakespeare, pupils embark on a journey of discovery that enriches their understanding of the world and inspires a lifelong love of learning.

You may like Ten Engaging Activities for the Primary Classroom to Celebrate St David’s Day.

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