Marguerita Drew has earned recognition for her creative approach to introducing a lot of information without resorting to reading through handout after handout. Congrats Ms. Drew!
The Hamlet grab bag
In preparation for reading Shakespeare's Hamlet, I do something called "Hamlet Grab Bag." as in "into" activity for all of my senior English classes. Because there is a lot of information to cover/introduce the students to (e.g. language, puns, background on the play, essential questions for the play, etc.) and because reading handouts is boring, I created this "game" of sorts to get the information across.
First, I cut up slips of paper indicating a specific activity related to the handouts and/or the play. I ask for volunteers to pick the activity out of a bag or a jar.
The various activities are as follows:
1. Glossary Sheet: each student gets the sheet and they have to choose one new word to memorize with the definition in ONE MINUTE. Then, in quick, random, round robin fashion, I call on students to stand up, pronounce their word with the definition. No word can be repeated, so if someone takes a student's word, they must quickly memorize another.
2. Act One Handout: This handout has several different activity slips because the sheet had four different topics on it. One is about the ghost in Hamlet so the slip says, "Read the section on the king's ghost, then have a class discussion: do you believe in ghosts?" Another section is called "Incestuous Sheets" and the slip tells the student to read the section then we discuss where we have seen this scenario before (which inevitably brings up a discussion of Oedipus the King which the students just read). There is also a section on puns and students are called upon to think of a pun on the spot.
3. Shakespeare's Dictionary: This handout has over 60 words and phrases that Shakespeare made up, many of which appear in Hamlet. The slip initiates a Pictionary game during which the class is divided into two teams and they each send representatives to the board to draw various phrases and the team that guesses the term first, gets a point and an explanation of what the term means. The team with the most points after 5-10 minutes, wins.
4. Shakespeare's Insults: This handout has various components of an Old English insult and two students are presenting with a fictional scenario which results in them taking turns creating insults from the phrases on the handout.
5. Read Lines 1-80 aloud: This slip forces the class to jump into Hamlet cold but it is effective because, after explaining that the students CAN understand Shakespeare if they relax and let the language come to them, the play begins with the line, "Who's there?" I immediately stop the reading and ask the students what the line means. They look at me incredulously and tell me what it means using the same words. I say, "See, Shakespeare's not hard!" And, they laugh, breaking the tension. The remaining 79 lines (the exposition) are read and explained as we go.
6. Class Discussion: What is the purpose of revenge? We spend some time discussing the topic since the plot of the play revolves around the issue of revenge.
7. Hypothetical Situation: The slip says, "Imagine that you go away to college and when you return at the end of the school year, your father has died and your mother has married your uncle. What would you do?" This, of course, is the plot of Hamlet and the students offer shocking, and sometimes humorous responses.
Although there are various activities for "Hamlet Grab Bag," and hence the information covered is jumbled, I find that the kids have much more fun than they would if we simply read handout aloud or I lectured. (One AP student said to me, "This is the most fun we've had in AP all year!"