Reading Shakespeare's The Tempest through a Postcolonial Lens

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Nine 50-minute class sessions
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Students begin this unit by closely analyzing an excerpt from Mary Rowlandson's The Captive: The True Story Of The Captivity Of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson Among The Indians. They then compare an excerpt of Shakespeare's The Tempest with Aimé Césaire's A Tempest in order to facilitate a postcolonial reading of Shakespeare. Students will arrive at an understanding of the other and will consider how canonical literature may position white characters in relation to those of different ethnicities. Students will question the perspective of writers like Shakespeare and will consider Césaire's A Tempest as a form of resistance to dominant narratives.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

Beth Wilson advocates for teaching theory to high school students because "teenagers have the potential to grow significantly by applying critical lenses to texts and the world" (69). When students are able to analyze texts through practice with literary theory in class, they are better able to make sense of and think critically about the media they consume on a daily basis. Kimberly Parker offers a compelling way to guide students to an understanding of postcolonial theory; through Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche's TED talk "The Danger of a Single Story," students are asked to think critically about singular and simplistic narratives about people and places that they may have taken for granted. In this unit, students similarly use Adiche to facilitate discussions are asked to locate the "incompleteness" of stories told by canonical authors like Shakespeare. Students are asked to examine the perspectives of Western authors and critically analyze representations of "the other."

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.

State Standards

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

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 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).
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

Materials and Technology

  • Dictionaries
  • Computer with projection capability
  • Chart paper



Mary Rowlandson's captivity narrative is available online through Project Gutenberg. Students will closely analyze Rowlandson's word choice to locate and analyze her understanding of self in relation to the native Americans that she encounters.


Students will view Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED talk to facilitate understanding of how narratives or stories may shape perceptions of people and cultures.


Shakespeare's The Tempest is available for students to read online.


Aimé Césaire's A Tempest is available for students to read online.



Student Objectives

Students will

  • discuss how an author draws on the work of another author and consider why authors may draw on or transform works of literature.
  • analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone.
  • cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
  • analyze a particular point of view or cultural experience reflected in a work of literature from outside the United States.

Session One

  1. Begin the lesson by displaying the following prompt:

    “Your high school is considering extending the school day by two hours. Who should a journalist interview in order to get an accurate understanding of the pros and cons of this proposition?"

    Ask students to spend one minute independently brainstorming answers. Note: Tailor this prompt to suit the interests of your group of students.

  2. Ask students to share their responses with a partner, then lead a brief discussion about the prompt using the Opening Activity Discussion Questions:

    • What would the journalist be missing if he or she interviewed only teachers? Or only students?

    • How does a student's perspective differ from a teacher's perspective? Why?

    • What are the potential consequences of ignoring a particular perspective, or giving too much voice to one group of people?

    • Follow-up if students struggle with this question: Who reads news reports? What would those readers know/not know if journalists didn't bother to share the opinions of teachers or students on this issue? What could happen as a result of this?

  3. Tell students that they will be spending the next several sessions examining authors' perspectives and examining the potential implications of those perspectives. Explain that they will work to accurately locate Mary Rowlandson's perspective in "The Captive," to analyze word choice, and to discuss how these choices impact meaning and tone. Emphasize that throughout this unit, they are aiming to become stronger critical thinkers and readers.

  4. Share the Rowlandson Narrative Response Prompt that students will be reading at the end of the lesson and go over the evaluation criteria on the Written Response Rubric.

  5. Distribute the text and ask students to read independently at their desks. Share or project the following Guiding Questions:

    • How are white people portrayed in this text?

    • How are Native Americans portrayed?

    • What words stand out to you as you read?

    • What details seem important?

  6. Circulate while students read to gauge progress and to ask questions such as "Why did you underline that detail?" "What seems to be the gist of this text?" "What stands out to you as you're reading this?"

  7. Ask students to briefly share their understanding of the text with a partner and to create one to two discussion questions.

  8. Lead a whole-class discussion on this text. Call on pairs of students to share their understanding of the text and to ask questions. Encourage peers to build on ideas during the discussion, and require students to use specific textual evidence when sharing ideas during discussion. Additional questions to ask might include:

    • What is happening to the narrator?
    • How are Native Americans portrayed in this text?
    • Circle words that the narrator uses to describe the "Indians" (pause while students do this; teachers may circulate around the room to confirm that students are on task and to check understanding)

Session Two

  1. Explain to students that in order to gain more insight into this text, they will be working with a partner to conduct a close analysis of Rowlandson's specific word choice. Distribute the Word Choice Analysis Tool and go over the example provided.

  2. Assign roles to pairs: a Reader who will read aloud the text to their partner and the Facilitator who will keep the conversation moving by asking the questions on the Reader and Facilitator Role Sheet. Give students time to read and discuss the text.

  3. Ask partners to share their Word Choice Analysis Tool with another partner group and to add to their own notes during their discussion.

  4. Call on each group of four students to share one or two of their strongest examples. Encourage other groups to build on or challenge ideas.

  5. Confirm understanding of the text and concepts before transitioning to the Rowlandson Narrative Response Prompt. Call on additional students to explain their analysis of Rowlandson's tone. Additional questions to ask include

    • What information are we missing from this text?
    • How do you think this text would be different if it were written from the perspective of the Native Americans that Rowlandson is describing? Why?
    • What has influenced Rowlandson's perspective?
    • Why does perspective matter? How does this perspective influence her narrative?
  6. Students should independently answer the Rowlandson Narrative Response Prompt to be collected at the end of the period and returned to students with feedback for the following session. Collect all responses and graphic organizers and review in preparation for the next session.

Session Three

  1. Begin the session by asking a few students to recap the previous sessions and by reading aloud exemplar responses to the Rowlandson Narrative Response Prompt. Re-teach as needed based on quality of responses and based on how well students met the previous objectives.

  2. Tell students that they have started the process critically examining how an author's perspective can influence the stories that they tell and that they will now apply this understanding to an analysis of new texts. It will also be their job to consider the implications of these perspectives.

  3. Post or project the following guiding questions in the classroom:

    • How can an author's perspective shape a narrative?
    • Why does perspective matter?
  4. Share TED Talk Response Prompt with students and confirm that students understand the prompt and evaluation criteria.

  5. Ask students to use the ReadWriteThink Notetaker or preferred method of note-taking.

  6. Tell students that they will be watching a TED talk from Chimamanda Adichie, a contemporary Nigerian author of stories and books like Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun. Show students copies of these books if you have them in your library. Tell students that this TED talk will help them to address some of our big questions about perspective and narratives.

  7. Project or share copies of the TED Talk Guiding Questions before students view the TED talk.

  8. Play the TED talk, pausing and replaying as needed.

  9. Ask students to share their notes and questions with a partner or small group. Students should add to their own notes during this discussion.

  10. Lead a whole-class discussion about the TED talk. Begin by asking students to share their questions and analysis and by encouraging students to build on others' ideas. Additional questions to ask beyond the guiding questions already given to students include

    • What is the "single story" that we hear about Africa, according to Adichie?
    • What other groups have "single stories?" How do you know? Who tells those stories?
    • What is the problem with the "single story," according to Adichie?

Session Four

  1. Write "The Other" on a piece of chart paper and ask students to list qualities assigned to people who have a "single story." Students should list features like: Stereotyped, presented as different from/inferior to person telling the story (often white subject), treated poorly.

  2. Tell students that they should begin incorporating this academic term into their discussions. Provide examples of how to do this if students are struggling with terminology.

  3. Confirm understanding of the objectives before students complete their TED Talk Response Prompt. Additional questions to ask include

    • What argument is Adichie making in her TED talk?
    • What evidence does Adichie give to support this argument?
  4. Students independently complete TED Talk Response Prompt.

  5. Ask students to read aloud their responses to a small group of 2-3 other students.

  6. Ask students to write a 1-2 paragraph response to the Adichie and Rowlandson Reflection prompt, to be finished as homework.

Session Five

  1. Begin the session by asking students to read aloud their Adichie and Rowlandson Reflection to a partner. Call on a few students to share their reflection with the class. Encourage students to share questions or sources of confusion and re-teach as necessary.

  2. Share exemplar claims and uses of textual evidence from the previous lesson's TED Talk Response Prompt.

  3. Clarify the connections between this session and learning in previous sessions. Share the Summative Assessment Task and tell students that in order to be successful on this assignment, they will need to be able to analyze specific word choices like they did when reading Mary Rowlandson's captivity narrative in Session One, and they will need to draw on ideas presented in Chimamanda Adichie's TED talk. Students should understand that they have been practicing critical thinking and analysis skills. During this session, they will begin applying those skills to a new text, an excerpt from Shakespeare's The Tempest.

  4. Distribute The Tempest Excerpt. Condsider reading aloud or condense this summary of the play to provide students a basic understanding of the premise of the play and the major characters at this point (Prospero, Miranda, Caliban, Ariel).

  5. Students independently read and annotate The Tempest. Students should conduct a word choice analysis like they did with "The Captivity."

  6. Ask students to spend one minute discussing their understanding of The Tempest and questions they have about the text.

Session Six

  1. Instruct students to work collaboratively in small groups to conduct a character analysis of Caliban using the Story Mapping Tool.

  2. Lead a whole-class discussion on The Tempest. Call on a presenter in the first group to share their analysis of the story and their group's questions. Then, ask the next group to summarize what the speaker just said and build on their ideas. Repeat this process until all groups have added new insights.

  3. Use the Tempest Teachers Guide with Close Reading Questions to draw attention to questions that students have not yet addressed.

  4. Distribute the Caliban Portrayal Response 1 and ask students to complete it independently.

  5. For homework, ask students to re-read The Tempest and draw an image of Caliban as he is represented in this text.

Session Seven

  1. Begin the session by asking students to share and explain their drawings of Caliban. Students should refer to specific textual evidence when justifying their portrayal.

  2. Read aloud exemplar claims and use of textual evidence from Caliban Portrayal Response 1. Re-teach as needed to correct any confusion.

  3. Explain to students that in this session, they will read another version of The Tempest and they will use the following process to build understanding:

    • Read and comprehend A Tempest.
    • Analyze Césaire's representation of Caliban; analyze specific word choice and discuss how this affects meaning and tone.
    • Compare and contrast A Tempest and The Tempest
    • Answer the question: What is Césaire doing with Shakespeare's text and why?
    • Compose an essay that addresses big questions from unit.
  4. Ask students to read and annotate Césaire's A Tempest independently. They should use the Story Mapping Tool to facilitate a close reading of characters in the story.

  5. Ask students work collaboratively in small groups to share their current understanding of A Tempest and to further their understanding of the text.

  6. Facilitate a whole-class discussion on this text. Require students to summarize others' ideas before adding their own and require students to use specific textual evidence to support all claims. Students should also add to their notes during the whole-class discussion.

  7. Then direct students independently complete the Caliban Portrayal 2. Collect all written responses to evaluate in preparation for the next lesson.

  8. For the next session, ask students to re-read A Tempest and The Tempest. Consider asking students to use a Venn Diagram or other graphic organizer to help students organize comparative notes.

Session Eight

  1. Begin the lesson by asking students to draw an image of Caliban as he's portrayed in Césaire's A Tempest.

  2. Ask students to explain their drawings to a partner; they should use evidence from the text to justify their artistic choices.

  3. Call on students to explain their drawings. Then ask students to discuss specific differences that they noticed between Shakespeare's text and Césaire's text.

  4. Review exemplar responses to the Caliban Portrayal Response 1 and then return to the objectives that shared the previous day.

  5. Facilitate a discussion around the questions What is Césaire doing with Shakespeare's text? Why did he make these changes? Record discussion notes on a projector or piece of chart paper to track student understanding.

  6. Clarify that the goal of the upcoming comparative analysis is not simply to identify similarities and differences. Their job will be to engage in the difficult work of thoroughly analyzing the purpose behind changes in the story and the implications of these changes.

  7. Form groups of 3-4 students to share their comparative analysis and build on others' ideas. Provide groups with these Comparative Analysis Questions to promote further analysis of the texts.

  8. Facilitate a whole-class discussion on the target questions What is Césaire doing with Shakespeare's text? Why did he make these changes? All groups should share new insights and students should build on others' ideas during the discussion. Use these additional Full Group Discussion Questions to further the discussion.

  9. Ask students to explain new insights that they gained through the discussion and to formulate a claim in response to the day's questions: What is Césaire doing with Shakespeare's text? Why did he make these changes?

  10. Collect all responses and review in preparation for the last class session.

Session Nine

  1. Ask students to take out all of their responses and notes.

  2. Display and distribute the Summative Assessment analytical writing task:

    Compose a comparative analysis of Shakespeare's The Tempest and " A Tempest” by Aimé Césaire. How is Césaire responding to Shakespeare?  Why is he responding to Shakespeare?
  3. Lead a brief brainstorming session in which students explain how they might respond to the writing prompt.

  4. Students independently respond to the extended response writing assignment.


  • Extend writing instruction by adding a peer review component, by asking students to revise informal responses for specific purposes, and by extending the extended response component of the lesson.
  • Students can conduct a close reading of Rudyard Kipling's "White Man's Burden" and formulate meaningful connections between this poem and other texts in the unit.
  • Critique a clip of Disney's Aladdin or Disney's Peter Pan with the specific purpose of analyzing representations of Native Americans or the Middle East. Then, students can form meaningful connections between these films and other texts in the unit.

Student Assessment / Reflections

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