Shakespeare: Visual Summaries

Teaching Hamlet at A level has been one of the best experiences of teaching to date. I’ve been blessed with a very pleasant and mostly enthusiastic class and they seem to really enjoy the play (yay!). However, Hamlet is undeniably long, complex and at times confusing. To add to this, the examination is closed text and therefore students need to know Hamlet very well. I decided from the start of teaching this text that I did not want students to have to revise this play – I wanted them to really know it and to avoid the chore of learning quotations by rote before the examination. There are a couple of ways I’ve tried to achieve this.

 Firstly, from the very first scene we have worked together to select quotations that we think are significant. They may link to an emerging theme or reveal something about a character. These quotations have been noted alongside a sentence or two about their significance and have been discussed regularly. I can now pick almost any of these quotations and students can tell me who said them, when and what the significance is (often commenting on the language). Whilst I would not want this process to become overbearing, I do feel that a little bit of this regularly will enable students to have a good bank of quotations that they know rather than having to revise them just before the exam. I’m also hoping that this will enable them to feel more confident about a closed text exam and about discussing the significance/relevance of the evidence they use.

 Today I tried something else to help students remember and visualise the play. Students were asked to draw boxes or fold their paper into four or eight. In each box they had to write the Act and Scene, draw a memorable image from that scene and write a key quotation underneath it. Here is one for Act 1 Scene 1 of the Tempest which I am also currently teaching to year 12:


 What I found was that students were selecting images that really captured the essence of the scene and the act of squashing it all into one box was forcing them to do this. The quotations they selected were either useful summatively or were highlighting a significant theme in the play. What I’m hoping is that these visual summaries will help them to remember the events of the play and also support their understanding with something visual. Obviously this may prove most beneficial to visual learners. Other things I have tried have included headlines for scenes and 10 word summaries but I think that this may prove to be one of the most successful summary activities.

 As Hamlet says… ‘Whilst memory holds a seat in this distracted globe. Remember thee!’


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