Children meet Shakespeare

Author, Author

November 28, 1999

Lois Burdett, author of today's read-aloud selection, is a teacher in Stratford, Ontario, a town that shares the name of Stratford, England, the place most often associated with playwright William Shakespeare.

The schools in Burdett's Canadian hometown are named after Shakespeare plays (she teaches at Hamlet Elementary School). But when she asked her second-graders who Shakespeare was, they didn't know. One child responded: "I don't know any of the big kids."

That was 20 years ago, and it inspired Burdett to set out to make Shakespeare's plays come alive for her students. Her series, "Shakespeare Can Be Fun!" introduces many of his most famous plays to the younger set: "Romeo and Juliet," "Macbeth," "Twelfth Night" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

In May, Curriculum Administrator, a professional journal for educators, asked Burdett how she introduces Shakespeare's plays to her young students.

"I begin by telling them a simplified version of the play, which I write in rhyme, a medium children particularly seem to enjoy. I don't tell them the whole story at once, as that would be overwhelming. I just share a little bit each day and involve the children in role playing. The response from the children is immediate. They love the suspense, the comedy, the intrigue and the romance.

"I believe young children's understanding goes far beyond the plot line of a play. They understand the essence of the story, and their grasp of the deeper meaning is incredible. For example, when we were studying the play 'Macbeth,' I asked my students what lessons could be learned. One of my favorite comments came from 8-year-old Morgan, who wrote in her journal, 'There is more to this world than trying to get to the top. No one will weep at your grave.' Another classmate, Ellen, also 8, wrote, 'I know I'm not perfect but it is better to be poor and true than rich and false!' "

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