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Teaching Shakespeare to Year 1 pupils with English as an Additional Language

Leeds Meets Shakespeare was a partnership project delivered by The University of York, Leeds Playhouse, Tribe Arts, ArtForms Arts Development team, and the 5-11 Learning Improvement team, Leeds City Council. This project was based on work created and supported by Globe Education, Shakespeare’s Globe. It was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).   The project explored the impact of teaching Shakespeare through drama on the attainment of Year 1 pupils with English as an additional language.

In 2017/18, six primary schools in Leeds worked with professional drama practitioners, Anthony Haddon and Louise Clark, to explore The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale, using drama strategies and approaches as a way to understand the stories and themes within these plays.

Andy Patrick, Year 1 Teacher at Carr Manor Primary School and an SLE for EYFS shared this thoughts about the project:


"I was one of two teachers from Carr Manor Primary School involved in delivering the Leeds Meets Shakespeare project in 2017-2018.  It was a project that I and the children really enjoyed. I can’t wait to teach it again and I can’t imagine us doing literacy any other way from now on.

The project started with a CPD day for teachers.  Project partners gave clear messages, and a great deal of information and energy came from the practitioners about creative approaches to teaching Shakespeare.  The training increased my confidence in using drama strategies to teach Shakespeare with my Year 1 pupils, so I felt excited, rather than apprehensive, when I started preparing my lessons on The Tempest.  

The school based work was split into two halves:  Part One focused on The Tempest and I worked alongside drama practitioners, Anthony Haddon and Louise Clark.   For Part Two, the play was The Winter’s Tale and this time I was flying solo, applying the strategies and learning I had developed with Anthony and Louise.
By half way through work on The Tempest, I could see that drama was a fantastic driver in the classroom. The children had become familiar with the approach and knew what was coming next.  We tried to marry up acting opportunities for them, so they could do small tasks as individuals in literacy lessons,  then we’d reserve one session a week where we’d deliver a piece as a whole group. As the project developed, the children’s acting became more skilful and sophisticated.  We put the onus on them to take some responsibility for their learning, which worked well and they rose to the challenge.

The depth of Shakespeare’s stories and the complexity of his characters helped the children develop their emotional literacy.  The characters are far from one dimensional, they develop and change over time, so nobody stays just the same.  The children learnt that if characters do bad actions, they behave that way for a reason.  Exploring this helped to unearth layers in the children’s use of language to describe feelings and emotions.

One of the great things about Leeds Makes Shakespeare was its cross-curricular nature, in which different types of learning braided together in interesting ways. The second part of the project focused on The Winter’s Tale.  We used an app to recreate how Hermione would have aged over 16 years of imprisonment.  We then recreated an art gallery with her portraits.  Music was used to set the scene in Bohemia and we went on a mission to Sicilia, complete with imaginary passports.  All of these experiences contributed to the children’s diary writing.

Children just want an invitation to play, especially at Key Stage 1. Simply inviting them into the storyline was all it took to get them involved: they were so willing. We could empower them by saying, ‘You’re doing Shakespeare. Children in high school learn this, and you’re learning it’. This gave them a sense of pride and of responsibility. They’re not sitting on chairs being talked at; instead, they are part of it and are invested in it. 

I can’t imagine how we used to teach in any other way before this project started!"

For more information about Leeds Makes Shakespeare, there are resources available here.

08 Mar 2019

Jane Zanzottera
ArtForms Arts Development
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