Sixth graders participating in the Huntington School District’s SEARCH program recently spent 12 weeks studying William Shakespeare and the playwright’s impact on the world.
The youngsters studied aspects of Shakespeare’s life that often go unnoticed. “They learned how Shakespeare lived during and under the reign of Queen Elizabeth, which in many ways molded the way in which Shakespeare wrote his many plays,” said Maryann Daly, SEARCH chairperson-teacher. “The children discussed the themes in Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, and a Comedy of Errors and experienced first-hand and in-depth the true interpretation of the diverse personalities in Julius Caesar.”
The weekly SEARCH (Scholastic Enrichment and Resource for the Children in Huntington) pull-out program involves the top ten percent of students in both the fifth and sixth grades in the district. Students qualify for participation as a result of their respective percentile rank on state assessments and the OLSAT.
“As many writers will do, Shakespeare wrote about human nature, jealousy, greed, love and hate, mistaken identity and the tragedy of not preventing a death before it happened,” Mrs. Daly said. “Even though this curriculum is not normally delivered until the students are older, they absolutely understood and appreciated this skilled playwright and his plays.”
SEARCH sixth graders studied William Shakespeare.
Mrs. Daly found the material especially meaningful for the fall of 2016. “Appropriately, during this contentious election year, some of lessons the children participated in when studying Julius Caesar included becoming campaign managers for a character they wanted to convince the people of Rome to elect as their next king or queen,” she said. “They created posters and presented their candidate to the citizens of Rome (other class members) and we then voted on which character we wanted for our leader.”
The entire process made for a fun learning experience for the sixth graders. “After reading through the play and analyzing the characters involved and the roles they played in the assassination of Caesar, the students were given the task of choosing one to become,” Mrs. Daly said. “After completing a character analysis Q & A they were given a plain white paper mache mask, which they decorated in the likeness and personality of their character.”
Presentations of the masks to class members followed. Students were asked to guess the character based upon how the mask was decorated and the answers to their probing questions.
“Many times, we were fooled when the student chose a little known personality who had a small role in the play,” Mrs. Daly said. “As an English major in college who studied Shakespeare, I learned how important it was to give students a background on a poet and playwright like William Shakespeare so they could better understand how and why he wrote the way he did. I am certain they will more completely grasp and appreciate the works of Shakespeare in a clearer way as they study his plays during their English classes.”
Teaching artist Heather Thorgersen was brought in to complement the unit with a pair of “Chill with Will” workshops. One session focused on stage fight choreography, which can be found in many of Shakespeare’s play. A second “created scenes from Julius Caesar that displayed emotion and the turmoil that existed before and after Caesar’s death,” Mrs. Daly said.
Workshop groups learned the skills Shakespearean stage actors are trained to perform. These actors repeatedly practice the techniques in order to make the fight scenes found in Shakespeare’s plays appear believable and real to audiences.
The SEARCH sixth graders will kick-off 2017 by studying Edgar Allan Poe and his background, poems and stories.