By: Cass Foster and Lynn B. Johnson
Publisher: Five Star Publications
Publication Date: 2004 (sixth edition)
Reviewed by: Pamela Victor
Review Date: December 2009
Do you work with children to whom you’d love to introduce Shakespeare’s work but are uncertain how to go about it? Shakespeare: To Teach or Not to Teach may be the answer to your dreams. According to Foster and Johnson, “These methodologies work with teachers that have had absolutely no experience with Shakespeare. Nearly every teacher we have observed began with a great deal of anxiety and doubt. In most cases both those elements were eliminated after the first session…” The authors provide simple and straightforward guidance for introducing Shakespeare to children as young as second grade all the way through high school. This book is meant to supplement Cass’s other quality books, Shakespeare for Children and The Sixty-Minutes Shakespeare series, though they can be applied to any classroom introduction to Shakespeare.
Foster and Johnson clearly have put great thought and care into providing educators with all the tools they need to introduce children to the Bard. Furthermore, the authors provide the information in brief snippets highlighting the most important elements in a way that won’t feel overwhelming. Background on the Middle Ages, the English Renaissance, Elizabethian England and theatre, and a biography of William Shakespeare are supplied in 1-2 page, bite-sized pieces. In the core of Shakespeare: To Teach or Not to Teach, the authors provide lesson plans for six days reading the play, including discussion questions, that include plenty of options for finding the best fit for your group. In addition, there are wonderful theatrical warm-up activities and a great variety of Shakespeare-themed activities that draw from all the strands of the curriculum, such as writing, music, art, social studies, and science. For example, there is a writing exercise in which the students pretend they are a newspaper reporter on assignment to interview a person from Shakespeare’s time, such as a character from the play, a stagehand at the Old Globe in 1603, or Shakespeare himself. Or for science/health, the authors suggest that teachers can use a discussion of the death scene in “Romeo and Juliet” to segue into a lesson on CPR.
When you’re feeling ready to get your production up and running, Shakespeare: To Teach or Not to Teachprovides succinct suggestions about casting, rehearsing, scenery, costumes, and even how to promote your production in the local press. Foster and Johnson understand what an endeavor it can be for a teacher to begin a new area of study and especially to commit the time and energy to mounting a production. They counsel, “You are a pioneer and unfortunately all too many of us in education are much too comfortable staying with the same lesson plans, lectures, exams and expectations. Preparing for this unit will take a fair amount of time and commitment but your willingness to explore this realm will reap far-reaching and far-lasting rewards.”
When you’re contemplating whether to teach or not to teach Shakespeare, feel free to go ahead and teach! This book will guide the way.
Quill says: Shakespeare: To Teach or Not to Teach provides the basic tools for anybody (even you!) to introduce children to Shakespeare’s great works.