Much Ado About Shakespeare +Giveaway

I  have always enjoyed classic literature – especially historical fiction. However, as a child I didn’t have the opportunity to study Shakespeare. The school counselors – in their infinite wisdom – hadn’t set me on the college tract. I thereby listened in envy to my peers talk about the Shakespeare play they were learning about in Honors English.

When I began homeschooling, I knew that I wanted to make Shakespeare accessible to my children. I wanted them to be familiar with his works – regardless of what they chose to do in later life.

As I began to sprinkle Shakespeare into our studies, was a little apprehensive. I had to admit I didn’t know much about this man of many words, but for their sake I was determined to figure it out. We have tried a number of activities and strategies over the years. Essentially, building a middle school Shakespeare unit takes just five steps.

Admin Note: This photo is from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s “Much Ado About Nothing”. We will be seeing this play next month. 

Much Ado About Shakespeare @EvaVarga.net1. Introduce the Play

First, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the plot and story line. You can then freely enjoy the details without having to keep track of who is who. One of our newest additions to our library is The Shakespeare Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained).  {Many thanks to DK Publishing for providing the book to us for review. Please see my full Disclosure Policy for more details.}

What a valuable resource! This easy to use but very comprehensive book offers background on the characters, a timeline of events throughout the performance, themes, and plot summary, along with an overview of the legacy of each show.

There is also a nice biography of Shakespeare’s life in the beginning of the book and a timeline of each play written during the various phases of his career: when he was a freelance writer, as a shareholder in Lord’s Chamberlain’s theater company, and when his company was given a royal patent by by King James. Throughout the book, you really get to know Shakespeare as well as his plays. I know we will be referencing this book for many years to come.

Enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a copy of this book for yourself. 

Biographies

If you haven’t studied Shakespeare in the past, it is a good idea to begin with a biography. There are many to choose from – for all levels of readers.

A few that we have enjoyed in the past are:

Biographies by Diane Stanley are sooo wonderful they transport you; Bard of Avon: The Story of William Shakespeare is no exception. The information is concise and clear yet is not watered down. This is someone that really understands writing books for children that adults can enjoy using as teachers or parents.  The text provides a great picture of who Shakespeare was and how the political and popular culture of his day reacted to his plays.

The “Who Was” series of books are wonderful. They are very informative and include a few illustrations which make learning about historical characters, scientists, writers, etc. fun for kids. Who Was William Shakespeare? even includes a great vocabulary list, which I appreciated for our homeschool lessons.  Mannis creates many interesting asides in this short book, including words and phrases that were coined by the Bard, an explanation of blank verse, what school was like, the politics of the time, big city London, and how the Globe Theatre came about.

Picture Books

To introduce the basics of the plot, I begin by reading aloud from Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb or Shakespeare’s Stories for Young Readers by Edith Nesbit.

Other favorites include:

2. Learn Some Lines

Copywork is the practice of copying someone else’s writing in your own hand. We keep a notebook specifically for copying noteworthy poems, prose, and quotes. When we are studying Shakespeare, we select lines of personal interest. I also utilize these same excerpts for dictation.

Shakespeare Monologues is the perfect site to find longer selections for memory work. Actors use this site to find selections for auditions. You can search for women’s or men’s monologues and then by play title.

Another great site for Shakespeare quotes is Absolute Shakespeare.

3. Watch the Play

We know that Shakespeare wrote drama to be performed in a theater not “literature” to be analyzed during language arts lessons. So reading his plays doesn’t achieve the same effect as watching a performance.

Enjoy a Movie

Many of the bard’s plays have also been adapted for film. This is a great way to prepare children for a live production – allowing them to see the full story as it unfolds on the television screen.

TIP :: Violence, profanity, and even nudity are all issues in many Shakespeare plays. Be sure to preview the movies yourself to decide if it is appropriate – and enjoyable – for your family.

Film adaptations we have enjoyed include:

Find a Live Production

The play we study in our homeschool is based on what will be performed locally – this year, we will see Much Ado About Nothing as well as Antony & Cleopatra – both are family productions (reduced price) at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. High schools, local theaters, and area acting companies are all likely places to find the occasional Shakespeare play. Ask around and see if there are groups you don’t know about yet.

If you attend plays regularly, you might be interested in Shakespeare Passport, a virtual ticket that gives you access to events and museums all over the world. It’s easy to use your mobile device as a virtual ticket or discount coupon. The website lists numerous venues all over the world where Shakespeare’s plays are staged.

Here are few highly esteemed venues in California and Oregon:

TIP :: You might inquire about volunteering as ushers in exchange for tickets. This is a great way to attend theater if the ticket price is not in your budget.

Scripts allow actors the opportunity to interpret their characters and reflect on different facets of humanity as they do so. Shakespeare’s plays and themes are complex, as life and people are. I absolutely love to watch multiple versions of a play and see how differences of inflection, of setting, and of context put completely different spins on the lines. This is the beauty of Shakespeare.

One of my favorite productions was Romeo & Juliet performed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival several years ago.  During the preface, the director stated that because Romeo & Juliet was a play of contrasts, he chose to highlight the contrasts.  The most evident way he accomplished this was in his choice of costuming.  The  older generation – the parents and their employed – wore Elizabethan costumes whereas the young generation – the young lovers and their friends – wore modern day apparel including school team uniforms.  He further emphasized the contrasts with their speech – taking liberty with the prose originally penned by Shakespeare for the youth.

A few years later we enjoyed another OSF production of Romeo & Juliet. This time, it was set in Northern California in the mid-17th century – a vibrant and conflicted time in our history.  Romeo and Juliet – the son and daughter of two landed families (one Mexican & the other Spanish) locked in an old feud. Spanish was woven into the tapestry of the Victorian English much to my delight!

4. Read the Script

Though Shakespeare wrote to be performed, there is still great value in reading his plays with their beautiful use of English. However, there’s more than one way to read a text.

A great way to read Shakespeare is to give each student a copy and play an audiobook version while you all follow along. Hearing someone who knows how the lines flow read them aloud helps immensely with comprehension.

5. Perform the Play (optional)

You can actually bring the theater home by acting out Shakespearean plays in your living room. Dress up and be actors, or use puppets instead.

Although it would be valuable, you don’t have to have costuming and rehearsals in order to give your children the chance to act out Shakespeare. Here are some other low-key, low-commitment ways to add performance to your homeschool:

  • Create a LEGO iStop motion of your favorite scene complete with your own voices
  • Illustrate a graphic novel or comic book of selected scenes
  • Memorize a monologues and deliver it as though you are auditioning
  • Take a Shakespeare theater class – many of the venues I listed above have camps and workshops for children of all ages

Much Ado About Nothing

Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is a fun comedy about two couples—one in a “merry war” of words. It is one of two plays we will be seeing performed live this year. Below you will find a variety of free resources to help you put together a unit study on this delightful comedy.

Much Ado Quotes ~ With this worksheet, your teen will translate Shakespeare’s words into modern language, match up characters with their descriptions, and assign quotes from the play to who said them.

Call me Shakespeare ~ Review the hijinks of one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies with song (accompanying worksheet on characterization is included).

Jimmie Lanley has a great collection of Hands-on Shakespeare activities on HubPages.

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Oregon Coast Quests

We are avid Letterboxers and have always enjoyed the added fun of a scavenger hunt while on a family outing. When I first discovered Oregon Coast Quests, I was intrigued. I knew this was something we would enjoy. As it turned out, it provided so much more.

questsoregonLike Letterboxing, Quests are fun and educational clue-directed hunts that encourage exploration of natural areas. A self-guided activity whereby Questers follow a map and find a series of clues to reach a hidden box.

Similarly, the box contains a small guest book, a stamp pad, and a unique rubber stamp. Participants sign the guest book to record their find, and make an imprint of the box stamp in their clue book as proof of accomplishment. Then the box is re-hidden for the next person to find. The location of the clues and box remain a secret so others can share the fun. Oregon Coast Quest clues and boxes stay in place year-round.

What makes Quests different from Letterboxes is that in the box, there is additional information about the site. Additionally, the box is maintained by locals who are dedicated to keeping the box secure whereas Letterboxes are sometimes hidden by travelers and are essentially uncared for – causing many to go lost.

coastquests

We were able to complete our first Quest when we drove up to Oregon to visit family for Thanksgiving. We had hoped to complete a second during the same visit but just didn’t have the time and it was raining something fierce.

There are presently 26 Quests in three counties (Lincoln, Coos, and Benton) – one of which is in both English and Spanish! We are excited for this new challenge. Upon completing 10 or more Quests, we are eligible to receive a Oregon Coast Quests patch! If that isn’t incentive – what is?

The Oregon Coast Quests book is currently being updated and a new edition is expected to be published in the spring of 2015. Until then, you can purchase a 2013-14 edition from Oregon Sea Grant

Don’t Homeschool Without The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas

Whether  you are a new homeschool parent or a veteran, there are times when you just need a new idea or inspiration. The Big Book Of Homeschool Ideas is the perfect resource for those times. 55 homeschool moms share their expertise on 103 topics!

This post contains affiliate links.

big book homeschool ideas

Written by homeschool moms with years of experience, The Big Book Of Homeschool Ideas addresses 103 topics that affect homeschooling families. Some of the topics include:

  • homeschooling from pre-school to high school
  • subject specific ideas and resources
    • science
    • history
    • math
    • language art
    • fine arts
  • character development
  • homeschooling a large family
  • homeschooling during a move
  • homeschooling special needs students
  • budgeting & time management
  • tips for handling homeschool critics
  • field trip ideas
  • and much more!

The book is a whopping 500+ pages!

Get this amazing, resource-filled e-book download (including a chapter I authored on inquiry science for middle school) for just $10.99! Click HERE to buy or for more information.

Buy-it-now - Big Book of Homeschool Ideas

A Novel in Letters: Ideas to Integrate Letter Writing in Your Curriculum

We listen to a lot of audio books in the car. It is a wonderful opportunity to share in our love of literature and engage in dialogue about literary techniques, vocabulary, and genres of literature.  I try to select books that the kids wouldn’t normally select for themselves, particularly classics and authors whom they are not yet familiar.

letterwritingWhen I picked up Same Sun Here, I didn’t know what to expect.  I had not heard anything about it but the silhouette on the cover caught my eye and I brought it home. What a delightful surprise it turned out to be.

Synopsis

Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani is a wonderful novel told in letters, centering around an Indian immigrant girl in New York City and a Kentucky coal miner’s son.  They find strength and perspective by sharing their true selves across the miles, developing a friendship that builds a bridge between their cultures and the miles between them.

 

Meena and River discover that they have a lot in common: fathers forced to work away from home to make ends meet, grandmothers who mean the world to them, and faithful dogs. Yet, their lives are very different as well. As Meena’s family studies for citizenship exams and River’s town faces devastating mountaintop removal, this unlikely pair become pen pals, sharing their innermost thoughts as their friendship deepens. With honesty and humor, the duo defeat cultural misconceptions with genuine friendship.

I haven’t seen the print version of this book but I love that the audio was narrated in two voices, each voice distinctly articulated by these gifted authors. The kids and I laughed out loud and wept quietly as the protagonists shared their stories. As an adult, I loved the format of letters back and forth. This would be a great book to use to talk about the difference in cultures and how people who come to the US do not see it with the same eyes as a native. Additionally, the story is a wonderful reminder that once you get to know them, people who can seem very different have a lot in common.

Letter Writing in Social Studies

The book is wonderful but it does have a political spin. House has a cause. Anyone who is familiar with his work knows that he is strongly campaigning to stop the mining of coal by mountain top removal in Appalachian Kentucky.  As Oregonians now living in California, I was not previously familiar with this and thus the kids and I looked into a little more. As a result of this book, we talked about environmental causes – both locally and globally – that were important to us. We talked about ideas for how we, as individuals, can make a difference.

Letter writing, boycotting products (and companies), and protesting were discussed. My kids have had some experience with boycotting.  Since attending their first Roots & Shoots conference a few years ago, they have actively read the ingredients list of products and choose to avoid anything that has Palm Oil.  Additionally, they have learned to recognize brand names and try not to purchase anything by Nestlé. Relatedly, are also beginning to make a more concerned effort to purchase food grown locally.

Same Sun Here encouraged the kids to consider writing letters to companies to request they change their practices, suggesting alternatives to Palm Oil, for example.

STEMLetter Writing in Science

Relatedly, letter writing is also applicable in sciences.  In addition to writing persuasive letters about environmental issues, students should be encouraged to write letters to scientists in fields of interest.  If a child is interested in engineering, for example, seek out an engineer willing to mentor your child.  Better yet – attend conferences, for example, and encourage your child to seek out those relationships themselves.

My daughter recently attended a Women in STEM Conference and personally thanked each presenter.  In doing so, she made a point to ask specific questions and to express what she enjoyed most about her presentation.  She thereafter asked for contact information and is presently working to reach out to each woman scientist she met at the conference.

Letter Writing in Literature

My daughter loves to write stories modeled after her favorite books – Redwall and Warriors.  She engages in these creative writing without prompting from me and will occasionally share excerpts with me.  As a result of listening to Same Sun Here, she recently included a couple of  letters exchanged between two characters in her book.

In the past, I have also encouraged the kids to write letters to their favorite authors.  Jan Brett, Seymour Simon, and Jim Arnosky are wonderful examples of authors who love hearing from their readers.

52 Weeks of Mail

 

52weeksmailWe have always enjoyed writing letters to friends and family.  In the past, we have taken part in the 52 Weeks of Mail challenge but as life tends to do, we have been lead astray and haven’t been very consistent.  This book gave us new inspiration to do so.

I have a 52 Weeks of Mail Pinterest board where I pin creative letters and packaging.  Who doesn’t love to receive mail?  Especially when the cover is so beautiful?

Each of the kids have pen pals and I encourage them to write as often as possible.  I try to model this myself, but I have to admit it is so easy to let modern technology distract us.

BookBigIdeaSpring

Interested in more ideas for literature? Visit the iHomeschool Network’s A Book and a Big Idea Blog Hop.

Keeping a Nature Journal: Getting Started in 5 Exercises

Children are naturally inquisitive.  They are excited to learn about the world around them and to explore new things.  The media and advances in technology, however, threaten this natural curiosity.  Children today are more easily able to tell you more about the particulars of a Wii game than they can tell you about the plants or animals in the park near their home.

nature journaling in 5 exercisesI don’t ever want my children to lose their fascination with the natural world, to lose interest in a bird hopping along the sidewalk or squirrels chasing each other around a tree outside our window.  I want them to forever marvel at the water droplets glistening on branches after a heavy rainfall and to smile in delight when a dragonfly alights on their toes while floating down the river.

Rachel Carson said it well when she penned, “A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement.”

With intentional teaching of how to use a nature journal, children can walk away with life-skills that encourage scientific and aesthetic observations, creative and technical writing, perception and analysis, questioning, synthesis, focus, self-expression, and reflection. Clare Walker Leslies’ books are a catalyst to do just that.  She inspires, encourages, and mentors, even the most reluctant.  She gives you the feeling that everyone can be a naturalist and find success in using a nature journal.

Keeping a Nature Journal


Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie is one of my favorite resources for nature journaling. Her encouragement to slow down, observe, reflect, and embrace my connection to the living, natural world compelled me to read the book from front to back in one sitting.  I couldn’t put it down.  Her words were so encouraging and invaluable to me.  She conveyed “that drawing is at once a way to see … and the door to a deeper sense of affiliation with the earth.” 

Kids love to explore so why not combine this natural affinity with the life skills of writing, drawing, and sharing.  Nature journaling is very flexible – students can write poems, diagram an animal, describe a scene in prose, or press a beautiful leaf or flower within the pages of their book.  They can share it with family and friends and find joy in discovering the natural world together.

Art, science, writing, math, social studies and other fields of study can be interwoven within the pages of a student’s journal.  Walker’s book is a welcomed resource in encouraging easy and fun ways for getting excited about nature journaling.  Her descriptions are clear and easy-to-follow and beckon learners of all ages to become connected with their own places and landscapes.

getting started in 5 exercisesHere are a few ideas for getting started . . .

  • Choose a place near your house or school.  Spend twenty minutes or so sitting and paying attention with all of your senses to everything that surrounds you.  What do you smell?  What do you hear?   What do you see?  When you are ready, begin recording as many details as you can in your journal (Don’t forget to record the place, date, time, and weather at the beginning of your entry).   Return to the same place some time later and do the same exercise.  Do this throughout the course of a few weeks, months, or years and keep track of how your special place changes.
  • Sit in a place where you can see the sky without trees or buildings blocking your view.  Look up and draw the clouds as they float over your head.  Clouds do not stay the same shape for long so you will have to draw quickly.  Label the cloud images you see . . . my daughter once saw a dragon breathing fire on a castle — all in a cloud!
  • Park yourself near a bird feeder and write about/draw the birds as they come to eat.  Try to describe the flying style of different birds.  Describe the sounds they make.
  • Listen to the wind.  The wind makes some great sounds as it blows through different trees, a person’s hair, a flag, a boat’s sail, your baggy pants, etc . . . Try to listen to the wind’s various sounds and record them in your journal.  Try to imagine what the wind is saying to you.
  • Pick up a leaf and try a blind contour drawing.  Don’t take your eyes off of the leaf or your pen off of the paper as you try to draw the leaf’s details as accurately as possible.  When you think you are finished look down at your paper.  You may get a chuckle as the lines may only loosely resemble the leaf you thought you were drawing.  However, with practice your blind contour drawings will improve because your hand will learn to follow your eyes more accurately.  This kind of drawing without looking works well with trees too.  Blind contours of birds and squirrels and other creatures who don’t like to sit still to have their portrait drawn are more difficult.

Navigating Early … Connecting the Dots

Whether by coincidence or serendipity, my daughter recently recommended a book to me and I delighted in not only engaging her in a conversation about good literature, but I began to see connections in our own lives. Once I started paying attention,

Navigating Early is written by Newberry Award winner, Clare Vanderpool.  Her books fall within that special category of middle grade fiction that speak as well to adults as to children, capturing not only the magic of childhood but also the hard hitting realizations of growing up. This is an odyssey-like adventure of two boys’ incredible quest on the Appalachian Trail where they deal with pirates, buried secrets, and extraordinary encounters.

Connecting the dots.  That’s what Mom said stargazing is all about.  It’s the same up there as it is down here, Jackie.  You have to look for the things that connect us all.  Find the ways our paths cross, our lives intersect, and our hearts collide.

The story of friendship between a new kid at a Maine boarding school and a fellow student as they go on a journey together, all the while discovering things about themselves. What I loved about this book is that the two character studies are written in parallel. The narrator, Jack, is dealing with the recent death of his mother, while his friend Early Auden is dealing with the death of his brother Fisher.

Set just after World War II comes to a close, we come to realize that Early has Asperger’s syndrome, a high functioning form of Autism, though in 1945 he is identified only as strange. In addition, he is a savant with an instinctual understanding and interpretation of math that blurs into synesthesia. Early sees Pi as more than a number–he sees a story, and Jack is the one boy willing to ask Early the all-important question: “Who is Pi?”

pi

The story that Early tells to accompany an irrational number not only explains the connections in his life in an orderly, mathematical way, but Pi’s adventures also serve a dual purpose, on one hand allegorical to symbolize Jack and Early going on this journey to try to find their place in the world, on the other, as a sort of counterpart to their journey that cleverly foreshadows a lot of the events.

No one say anything about knowing the names of the stars. No, the sky, it is not a contest or an exam. The only question is, can you look up? Can you take it all in? As for the names of the constellations, they are not the be-all and the end-all.  The stars, they are not bound one to another.  They are meant to be gazed upon. Admired, enjoyed.  It is like the fly-fishing. Fly-fishing is not about catching the fish.  It is about enjoying the water, the breeze, the fish swimming all around.  If you catch one, good.  If you don’t … that is even better. That means you come out and get to try all over again!”

All the while reading this delightful book, in our own lives there were many parallels or coincidences:

  • Jack and Early meet up with an old Norwegian woodsman who reminded me of my father
  • The Norwegian teaches the boys how to fly-fish – not two weeks prior to reading this book, my daughter had just returned home from fish camp and while camping, my father taught my son how to fish
  • We recently learned that my nephew has been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, a form of autism
  • We encountered a medal plaque along the pier in San Francisco (pictured above) and the kids delighted in how the numbers disappear
  • Via a Google+ community, I discovered the  THE ART OF π – This is awesome!!

Part adventure story, part eulogy, part character sketch, and part coming of age, this is a book you can immerse yourself in and come out feeling the better for having read.