Over the last few years, Shakespeare has become an important part of our curriculum at home. Keira especially has developed an avid interest; one of her favorite presents last Christmas was an illustrated, abridged compendium of his plays. Even Declan, usually a strict science-and-technology guy, has enjoyed breaking down the plays’ themes and subtleties.
How did we grab their interest?
We didn’t use a dumbed-down version of Shakespeare’s masterpieces, nor did we hand them Hamlet and leave them floundering.
We used a great piece of downloadable software called Shakespeare in Bits. At the moment, it offers downloads of five plays: Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Julius Caesar. With such a range of Shakespeare’s most notable works, I’ve been able to give the kids a great headstart on their Shakespeare studies.
Shakespeare in Bits offers an animated version of each play; the colors and images immediately snatched their attention and held it. They were able to watch the plays unfold instead of trying to work through the text by themselves.
The software also has options to let students read along with the characters’ lines; almost every section of the play has an option to replace the more flowery areas with a brief translation.
Thus, the seemingly ridiculous phrase “We’ll not carry coals,” can be shown as, “No one will make fools of us.” Declan and Keira easily switch back to the original text once they understand what the character is saying.
If your students are still struggling with the language, each scene has a ‘Synopsis’ option so that the kids can see what was going on between all the metaphors and similes. However, if your students are more advanced, Shakespeare in Bits offers character analysis, break-downs of recurring themes, and quizzes.
I still had Kathleen helping the younger ones with the plays when I wasn’t available; she made sure they were keeping up with the often-complex plots and that they weren’t getting lost in the language. Shakespeare in Bits usually needs some supervision, but in time, your kids will be able to study the plays independently even before high school!
Success became clear when Declan was laughing hysterically through A Midsummer’s Night Dream and when Keira requested Twelfth Night as her birthday movie.
High-Five, Mr. Shakespeare.
To learn more about Shakespeare in Bits, watch their video and visit their site for free demonstrations!
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