10 Ways to Celebrate Shakespeare’s Birthday


It’s Shakespeare’s 450th birthday on Wednesday 23rd April. Here are a few EMC ideas for activities to mark the day, ranging from a short 15 minute activity to start a lesson, to some more sustained ideas. Hope you find something for each of your classes, at whatever Key Stage!

1. Bring in an armful of poetry collections and ask students, in small groups, to choose one poem by Shakespeare to perform aloud to the rest of the group.

2. Pick a famous speech and ask groups to discuss the following:

  • Talk about what’s so special about it
  • Discuss why you think it’s become so famous
  • Pick a phrase or two that you specially like and prepare to share your reasons with the rest of the class
  • Prepare a reading aloud for the class.

Good examples to choose: Henry V’s speech ‘Once more unto the breach’, Hamlet’s ‘To Be or Not to Be’, John of Gaunt’s speech from Richard II, the Queen Mab speech from Romeo and Juliet, Caliban’s speech from The Tempest, Jaques’ ‘All the world’s a stage’ speech from As You Like It.

3. Watch David and Ben Crystal on Youtube at Shakespeare’s Globe, talking about Shakespeare’s original pronunciationhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gPlpphT7n9s

4. Watch clips from The Poetry Station – Patience Agbabi, Ian McMillan and Ben Kingsley reading Shakespeare sonnets and a song from Twelfth Night:  http://www.thepoetrychannel.org.uk/search/poets/william-shakespeare


5. Explore Shakespeare’s influence on our language and all the words and phrases he invented, as well as the ways he changed the function of words, (for instance changing nouns into verbs). Here’s a brief introduction to get started: http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/changlang/writtenword/shakespeare/shakeslang.html

And here’s a longer list of phrases still in use today that were originally used by Shakespeare:  http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/phrases-sayings-shakespeare.html

You could ask students to write a short paragraph including as many phrases coined by Shakespeare as they can squeeze in, while managing to make good sense. They could then share their paragraphs across the class and see if they can identify Shakespeare’s invented phrases. 

e.g. ‘My hair stood on end when I saw the ghost movie, whereas my brother was in stitches. I didn’t sleep one wink that night, as the events of the film were constantly in my mind’s eye. My brother claimed that I was lily-livered and said the director had laid it all on with a trowel. I said he was just stony hearted, at which he was up in arms, claiming that my childishness beggared all description. 

6. Watch Akala and Hip-hop Shakespeare Company’s showreel on their website, exploring the connections between Shakespeare and hip-hop and who Shakespeare is for: http://www.hiphopshakespeare.com/site/

And then watch them performing an extract of their recent version of Richard II (6 minutes):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8qntjk-x1g


7. Download EMC’s engaging activities on Shakespeare’s language, based on two media activities on A Midsummer Night’s Dream (compared with a Levi’s advert) and on Romeo and Juliet’s ballroom scene. Just £6.50!:  http://www.emcdownload.co.uk/product-detail/media-approaches-to-shakespeares-language/1124

8. Watch clips from the RSC’s ‘Shakespeare Unlocked’ website, featuring Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Julius Caesar at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01dtvpl, or go to Shakespeare’s Globe’s ‘Discovery Space’ to hear actors talking about playing their roles or to look at the interactive microsites for different plays (http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/education/discovery-space)

9. Tell a story from Shakespeare. The Charles and Mary Lamb re-tellings are available online here http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/1286/pg1286.html

Or there are more recent versions such as those by Geraldine McCaughrean or Leon Garfield.

You could pause the story a few times and ask pupils to do freeze frames to show a key moment in the section you’ve just read or told.

10. A Level students might enjoy this blog on ‘What Shakespeare Play Should I Read?’, an entertaining ‘Infographic’ flow-chart giving options according to your interests! A bit of fun! https://www.goodreads.com/blog/show/415-what-shakespeare-play-should-i-read-an-infographic?utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=editorial&utm_campaign=shakespeare

BONUS ACTIVITY: Book a place on the English and Media Centre’s fabulous ‘Teaching King Lear‘ course, run by Lucy Webster on Friday 16th May: http://www.englishandmedia.co.uk/courses/result.php?CourseType=all


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