Three Ingredients to Consider When Choosing Your Text

Man, I love the witches in Macbeth.  And what better time to conjure their likeness than just a few weeks before Halloween?

I always found it mesmerizing to read through the list of disgusting ingredients the witches tossed into their cauldron over the course of Macbeth: the blood of a pig who ate her own babies, the sweat from a recently deceased murderer, the eye of a newt, the toe of a frog... The list goes on in disgusting detail.

As we choose the ingredients to toss into our second quarter cauldron--a time when many of us are perhaps diving into our Shakespeare units--the most powerful one of all is what version of Shakespeare's text we'll ultimately hold our students accountable for.

There are plenty of versions and formats of each play to choose from, each with varying levels of support baked right in.  So, how do you choose the one that's right for your students?

Keep these three things in mind before you add a play to your classroom's cauldron:

1.  Shakespeare's texts are free.  Save your admin some money.  

I always scratch my head when I see 120 copies of Romeo and Juliet have been ordered for one teacher who plans to tackle that play. And I know my administrators grimace when they see the price associated with buying class sets of books. As a Shakespeare snob, there is no version I love better than the Folger series, which are about $5 a book. But I urge you to consider even cheaper ways to get Shakespeare's words into your students' hands. I know we're not all tech savvy and we certainly don't all have a one-to-one student-to-computer ratio, but these plays have been free of copyright laws for years. They're all available online. We could print them out if we wanted to, or book some time in the computer lab for our students. In a world where budgets are being slashed and class sizes are swelling, your admin will thank you if you employ a little ingenuity and find a way to access a free version of the play you want to teach, rather than potentially blowing your department's book budget on something you could access through Google.

2.  Choose a text that allows you to balance independence with rigor.  

It's an ugly battle we fight between getting our students to read independently and keeping the level of rigor high in our classrooms. If you've figured out how to win, please comment and share your wisdom, as it is something I struggle with every day. I urge you to set the bar high, which is quite easy to do when you're sending students down the Shakespearean rabbit hole. I've badmouthed resources like No Fear Shakespeare and No Sweat Shakespeare quite enough in previous posts, but I'll say it again - your students will rise only as high as you allow them to. Start with Shakespeare's original words, cut down plays, scenes, and speeches as you see fit, and see what your students can do. There are many more posts to come on how to successfully help students with learning disabilities and second language barriers reach Shakespeare's high bar (but I'll start you off with this resource).

3.  Choose font size and spacing that allows for annotation.

As much as my snobby inner-self loves the Folger versions of Shakespeare's plays, I find it damn near impossible to teach from those books. The font is quite small and the lines are very close together. Sometimes even the footnotes take on the form of short novels. When I have my struggling readers open those books, they are overwhelmed and they quickly shut down. And when I ask them to act from those books, they spend more time losing and trying to find their place than actually speaking the words. And it's not just the Folger series--most printed formats are just not ideal tools for the classroom because they don't allow the space for students to annotate and interact with the text. Such interaction is absolutely critical when exposing students to such complex text.

So... what's in my cauldron? 
Being the Shakespeare fiend that I am, I have taken it upon myself to take the entire Folger text, put it into a Google Doc, cut out unnecessary or repetitive scenes/lines, and add in answer-as-you-go comprehension questions from a variety of Bloom's Taxonomy levels.  Yes, I'm a little nutty. You can see the final product on my Teachers Pay Teachers page, in addition to some screen shots below.

They say necessity is the mother of invention... Well, I just kept shopping around for the "ultimate" teachable version of Shakespeare's plays, and I couldn't find one that satisfied me. But since I put in the work to make my own abridgment, I have not had a single student who was bested by Shakespeare.  Click on the image to the right to see previews of the text, questions, and answer keys, which are all included!

Take a look at what I've come up with and let me know what you think!  Also, if you have a play in mind that you'd like to see formatted in this way, I am your girl. Leave me a comment and I'll get right on it! At this moment, I think Romeo and Juliet will be my next mountain to tackle.

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