We are huge fans of Shakespeare, of course - firmly believing in the power of experiential approaches to his works. And we also love the process of creating, crafting and performing poetry. Over the years, we have taken our interactive Shakespeare and Poetry workshops to tens of thousands of children and young people, both nationally and internationally - so we were delighted when the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust asked us to combine the two to provide both pupils and teachers with creative ways of exploring Shakespeare's plays - and write poems about them! This was all to link in with the phenomenally successful Shakespeare Week - the brainchild of the Trust.
The initiative was launched in Birmingham's Mapledene Primary School in November 2017, where we spent a hugely enjoyable day working with three groups of pupils - followed by a Teacher Twilight with staff from a number of different schools.
We introduced Year 2 to The Tempest by leading a whole-group enactment of the backstory - the expulsion of Prospero and Miranda from Milan. Then, taking our cue from the bard himself ("the isle is full of noises!") we worked with the pupils to create two soundscapes: the tempest itself - and, back on the island, the calm after the storm. And the children themselves then harvested the fruits of their labours by writing six-line Soundscape Poems, full of descriptive language.
Year 4 wanted to look at A Midsummer Night's Dream - and our unique mash-up of a RunAround Quiz and Turning-Point Tableaux allowed them to go right through the narrative by looking at such key moments as Puck's initial mistake with the love potion and Titania's infatuation with the donkey-headed Bottom. We then introduced them to the clerihew, a poetic structure culminating in a four-line poem with a strict rhyming structure - before inviting them to write their own. Again adhering to the clerihew rules, these looked at specific characters from the play.
Year 6 were keen to explore the great tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, so, after letting them meet some of the principal characters through an activity we call The Art Gallery, we worked as a whole group to act out our version of the Masqued Ball - the crucial scene in which the title characters meet for the first time. Not only did this allow the children to place the characters they'd met in context, but it also gave them the opportunity to get their tongues round some Shakespearean language! With all this knowledge in place, we took them through the process of creating Personification Poetry (and we're indebted to Michael Rosen for this, having adapted techniques that he showed us at a workshop that we were lucky enough to participate in a few years ago!). Their poems, moving and humorous by turn, recalled the scene they'd explored - but from the point of view of the chandelier rather than one of the guests!
The day ended with a Teacher Twilight for more than thirty teachers from both Mapledene itself and some of its neighbouring schools. We introduced participants to the Resource Handbook that we had created for the Trust - and then led them through a range of the methodologies we have developed to interest pupils in Shakespeare, explore his plays - and write their own poems (including the use of iambic pentameter).
A little while after, in January 2018, we were invited to attend The Big Shakespeare Poetry Performance, an event celebrating Mapledene's partnership with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, presented by none other than Baroness Floella Benjamin and premiering "Thanks, Will!", a new rap that children had written with The Sonnet Man. A centrepiece of the event saw the Yorkshire Bard, Ian McMillan, introducing six of the children we had worked with as they performed their poems live - and beautifully. A specially made film of the event will soon be available on the Shakespeare Week website.
And the partnership between the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and as creatives doesn't end there, because we'll be visiting Nottingham's to run a full day of Shakespeare Poets workshops for a number of classes - and, once again, sharing our approaches at a follow-up CPD event.
"The children absolutely loved the work you did with them and produced such fantastic work...The CPD session was spot on, too” Sally Gray, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust