Constructing New Understanding Through Choral Readings of Shakespeare
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As the culmination of their study of William Shakespeare's The Tempest (or any other Shakespearean play), students explore theme and character by working in small groups to compose a 50 line choral reading made by cutting and rearranging lines from the play. They then choreograph, rehearse, and perform the choral reading for the class. This activity engages students in thinking about the relationships among language, character, and theme, and it offers an authentic performance activity different from more traditional speech or scene presentations.
From Theory to Practice
Studying any work of Shakespeare can be daunting for both teacher and students, so it is important to keep at the foreground advice that Delia DeCourcy, Lyn Fairchild, and Robin Follet share in their NCTE publication Teaching Romeo and Juliet: A Differentiated Approach. Their principles for teaching Shakespeare effectively remind teachers that a "Shakespearean play should be discussed, analyzed, interpreted, acted, and owned rather than covered. Learning occurs when the student makes meaning-i.e. constructs rather than receives understanding" (1). This choral reading activity builds from discussion and analysis done during the course of study of Shakespeare's The Tempest and allows students to engage fully in constructing (and re-constructing) meanings and interpretations of the play, with the added benefit of providing the opportunity to see and respond to classmates' varied interpretations as well.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
Materials and Technology
- This lesson assumes that students have read The Tempest or another play by Shakespeare in its entirety and that they have engaged in group and full-class discussion of character and theme. The purpose of the activity is to provide a reflective, performance-based, culminating activity for a unit on The Tempest. See these related ReadWriteThink lessons for ideas on teaching the play of your choice: Book Report Alternative: Characters for Hire! Studying Character in a Drama, Happily Ever After? Exploring Character, Conflict, and Plot in a Dramatic Tragedy, and Unlocking the Underlying Symbolism and Themes of a Dramatic Work.
- Prepare copies of all necessary student handouts.
- Arrange for a computer with a projector to show the video example of choral reading. Bookmark the video example of choral reading page and test the media program and volume on your computer. Obtain external speakers if necessary. If you do not have access to a projector, students can watch the example on individual computers.
- Arrange for student access to Internet-connected computers.
- If you are unfamiliar with choral reading, refer to Web resources such as the PBS site The Importance of Using Multiple Methods of Reading Instruction (see heading labeled Choral Reading) or Reading-Strategies-Help.com page and share appropriate information with students.
- Arrange for a CD player for students to use during their performances.
- Arrange to use a video camera during performances (optional).
- Test the ReadWriteThink Notetaker on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.
- apply knowledge of character and literary themes to compose a thematically cohesive choral reading.
- evaluate and select passages that present a cohesive picture of theme and/or character.
- employ creative thinking to compose an aesthetically pleasing choral reading.
- employ multiple intelligences to choreograph and perform an aesthetically pleasing choral reading.
- Introduce the activity by distributing and discussing the Choral Reading Introduction and Guidelines. Emphasize in oral instructions that the purpose of the activity is not simply to perform a section of a scene, but rather to offer something new about theme or character by putting together lines that do not occur chronologically in the play. If students who have read The Tempest, for example, want to focus on the character of Caliban, they can communicate a sympathetic portrayal of a wronged indigenous person or they can communicate a harsh portrayal of a violent savage, depending on the lines by and about Caliban they choose to perform.
- Distribute the Choral Reading Student Example Script, emphasizing the reconstructed nature of the script by pointing out that the lines come from different sections of the play and the lines are not attributed to specific characters.
- Then show students the video example of choral reading and discuss student reactions to and interpretations of what they saw.
- Use the video example and the sample script to elicit from students examples of performance tools available in a choral reading: phonal and antiphonal reading, isolating specific words to always be spoken by an individual rather than the group, adding voices to the reading to create drama, stepping forward or backward on specific lines, keeping backs to the audience unless speaking, etc.
- Distribute and discuss the Choral Reading Rubric to establish student performance expectations.
- Allow students the remainder of the session to select a theme, look through the text for lines they would like to include in their reading and to begin composing their choral reading.
- Have students use the ReadWriteThink Notetaker to keep track of the lines they want to include in their reading. For each line they think they will include, ask them to write the act, scene, and line number, the line (easily transferrable from an online version of the play), and a sentence describing their rationale for including that line in the choral reading. The Notetaker will allow them to create a bulleted list to keep track of line numbers and their rationale. These notes will allow them to return quickly to specific lines when they write the draft of their choral reading. Additionally, when they write their reflection paragraph at the end of the activity, they can refer to their notes about rationale. Remind students to print their work from the Notetaker, as their work cannot be saved in the tool.
- Before the next class session, students should have a typed draft of their choral reading.
- Student groups will continue work on the project by reviewing and revising the draft of the choral reading they worked on during the last session and begin choreographing their reading.
- Remind students that they are to employ music to heighten the sense of drama in their reading and that choral readings are typically done with an air of high seriousness.
- Students should practice performing their choral readings, paying particular attention to their unison reading.
- Students should make any decisions about uniforms/costumes and make plans for performances the following day.
- Distribute and discuss the Choral Reading Student Rubric and set the expectation that students will watch each performance attentively and provide thoughtful feedback to their peers.
- Then give students five minutes to meet with their small group to make sure they are ready to perform. This is also a good time to set up the music for the first group that will perform.
- Students now take the stage with their performances. With student permission, video tape the performances for use as examples in the future.
- Have students complete the Choral Reading Student Rubric as you respond on the Choral Reading Rubric. The Choral Reading Student Rubric contains the additional open-ended question, "State in your own words what new insight into character and/or theme this choral reading provided." The responses to this will allow the performers to assess their success in communicating one of the more challenging aspects of the assignment. You may choose to assign a score to the student rubrics and average those with yours to achieve the final score for the activity or simply use the student rubrics as a tool for reflection.
- As a reflection activity, ask each individual student to write a one- to two-paragraph evaluation of their choral reading using the Choral Reading Reflection handout as a guide.
Have students further their exploration of The Tempest and choral readings by using resources from these Websites:
- Folger Shakespeare Library lesson plans for The Tempest: The Folger Shakespeare Library has a number of resources for teaching The Tempest.
- The Importance of Using Multiple Methods of Reading Instruction: PBS provides this useful general resource which contains information about choral reading about halfway down the page.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- During the first two sessions, while students are preparing their choral readings, circulate among the groups to ensure that students understand the assignment and are on task.
- Use the Choral Reading Rubric to provide evaluative information for the group performances.
- Use the Choral Reading Student Rubric to provide further assessment as well as feedback for students on how their performance was received.
- Paragraphs written in response to the Choral Reading Reflection allow students to evaluate their own performances as well as provide the teacher with additional information to consider in evaluation.