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Interesting Macbeth Classroom Assignments

Updated on December 13, 2015
Hand puppets for the three weird sisters
Hand puppets for the three weird sisters

Something Interesting This Way Comes...

As a high school English teacher, I'm always looking for ways to revert the damage that has unfortunately been done to students in classrooms of boredom and disconnection. Shakespeare's texts are often the tools used to kill the student interest. Yet, our approaches to these texts can instead be the tools to resurrect this interest. Following are a few things that I used to do in my classroom to engage and challenge students in our exploration of Macbeth. Because not all of the activities/assignments are of my own design, I try to give credit where credit is due.

Macbeth Soundtrack

Music and literature are often inseparable. The majority of these songs relate to the play mainly through their titles. For this reason, I used several of these as bellringer activities in which the students selected three from a list of five and wrote a 2-3 sentence explaining how each title relates to the parts of the play that we had read at that point. I enjoy this type of activity. Not only does it quickly provide feedback on the students' understandings but it also requires critical thinking and connection building, provides writing practice, and allows variety among answers based on the students' perceptions of the characters.

  • Double Trouble (Harry Potter soundtrack)
  • Smiling Faces Sometimes (Undisputed Truth)
  • Big Girls Don’t Cry (Four Seasons)
  • Walk Like a Man (Four Seasons)
  • Fly (Nicki Minaj) *contains the single use of m*********ing (can be muted over)
  • Trouble Sleeping (Corinne Bailey Rae)
  • No Moon at All (Mel Torme)
  • All Shook Up (Elvis Presley)
  • Be Prepared (Lion King soundtrack)
  • Crazy in Love (Beyonce Knowles)
  • Somebody’s Watching Me (Roxwell)
  • Trouble in Mind (Nina Simone)

Source

As an option for a final project, the students create a soundtrack for Macbeth. Essentially, after being trained in bridging connections between a song and a literary text, they will find songs that further link to the play. They compose developed paragraphs that clarify the connections while simultaneously using direct quotes from the songs and play. The following is an excerpt from a paragraph establishing the connection between Nicki Minaj's "Fly" and Macbeth.

“Fly,” performed by Nicki Minaj, relates directly to the character of Macbeth. Once he receives the title of Thane of Cawdor, he believes that the next step is King. However, when Malcolm is named the next in line, Macbeth refuses to give up. Duncan is “try[ing] to box [him] in” and prevent him from reaching the crown, but as the song says, Macbeth “came to win, to fight, to conquer, to thrive.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Other Project Ideas

1) Children’s Macbeth: Rewrite Macbeth in the form that would be understood by young children or pre-teens. Create illustrations in a type of bound book. The book must be at least 7 pages long. Include a title page. Have a picture and text on each page. The pictures must be drawn—freehand or traced— and fully colored. Remember that a younger audience must be able to understand your story. Stay true to the basic plot of the play, but feel free to make it more modern or child-friendly. If you want, you may add a moral to your story as well. You may even create your book as a graphic novel. Be original, creative, and neat

2) Poetic Macbeth: Write a ten-stanza poem summarizing the main events of each act of the play. There should be two stanzas per act. Each stanza should have five lines at least. Type the poem for the class, and be prepared to read the poem for the class. Include at least five quotes from the play. You should make clear use of alliteration and simile. Be original and creative in your way of retelling the story.

3) Lyrical Macbeth: Write and perform an original song/rap that describes specific scenes/events in Macbeth or summarizes the whole play. Include at least three quotes from the play. Type the lyrics. Either record yourself performing the song or be prepared to perform it live for the class. The recording should be in a playable format—cassette, mp3, CD. You can even create a music video for your song!

Character-quoting puppets for the three weird sisters
Character-quoting puppets for the three weird sisters
Front of puppet
Front of puppet
Back of puppet, revealing quotes
Back of puppet, revealing quotes

Character-Quoting Puppets

I recently came up with this puppet idea--though I didn't develop the puppet design. Creating the puppet is simple:

  1. Take a sheet of paper and fold it lengthways.
  2. Fold it lengthways again.
  3. Now fold it "shortways."
  4. Fold one flap (end) back to the crease.
  5. Flip over and fold the other end back to the crease.
  6. Got it? (Hot dog-->hot dog-->hamburger-->fold legs back to crease)
  7. To control the puppet, place fingers in the little pockets of the flaps.

Because of the simplicity of the puppets, students can easily create these with no supervision. Once the paper is folded, the students then draw a face on the top to represent a character. What's great about this design is that students can then select a few important lines spoken by or about the character and then write them on the back of the puppet. Now, the puppet is a reviewing tool.

Furthermore, since the selection of quotations is up to each student, you can then turn this activity to an informal/formal character analysis and justification assignment. The students could be required to share their line selections and explain why those lines are significant to the character at hand [What do we learn from/about the character? How would the exclusion of these lines affect the character/play? Why are these lines more important than (another set of line)].

Of course, since they are puppets, these paper creations can also be used to re-enact the play. In case, you have a classroom of shy students, perhaps they would be more willing to speak through puppets. Moreover, in small groups, the students could re-stage a scene in the play in modern/contemporary/colloquial language.

The possibilities are pretty much endless.

Writing Assignments

Good writing assignments are great ways to gain insight into your students' perspectives and development.

  • Discuss Macbeth’s crime in Act IV. Why does he commit it? How does it differ from his earlier crimes? Support your points with specific details and citations from the play.
  • Imagine that you are directing Macbeth. In Act V, Scene 1—the famous sleepwalking scene—would you direct your actor to play Lady Macbeth as a ruthless, evil queen or as a vulnerable woman? In 300-400 words, explain your decision using lines from this scene. Research further using other scenes/dictionaries as you see necessary to help support your choice. (TAKEN FROM STUDYSYNC). As part of this assignment, I have the students post their response to my class blog and require them to provide feedback to two others'--after reviewing the elements of specific, positive/constructive feedback.

In order to foster strong, well-supported arguments for the second topic, it may even help to show this SyncTV video made by StudySync.

Sociogram 1 for Hamlet
Sociogram 1 for Hamlet | Source

Sociograms

This is always interesting to do. When the requirements of creativity and originality are clearly expressed, these sociograms take on lives of their own as students put themselves into their work. Rather than have this count as a separate, inconsequential grade, I usually allow these to count towards bonus points on the next Macbeth test. This spurs the students' creative juices a bit. An assignment like this is especially helpful when you require the students to justify/explain their artistic decisions to you or the class. Even more helpful is asking other students to try to explain a classmate's artistic decisions.

Long story short, a sociogram is a visual representation of the relationships among characters in a literary text. You can make use of pictures, symbols, shapes, colors, and line styles to illustrate these relationships.

In a sociogram, the central character(s) is placed at the center of the page, and the other characters are placed around him/her. The spatial relationship on the page should in some way represent each of the character’s relationship with the main character, as well as with each other.

Lines/arrows are used to show the “direction and nature” of the relationship (e.g.,strength/weakness, friend/foe, dominance/submissiveness, etc.).

A number of conventions may be useful in developing sociograms:

  • Place the central character(s) at the center of the diagram
  • Let the physical distance between characters reflect the perceived psychological distance between the characters
  • Consider how the names should be written (size, shape, color, etc). Try to write a name in such a way that the letters show a characteristic of that character's personality. Enclose your character's name in a shape. Think about what shape would reveal something about your character. What color should this shape be? Let the size/shape/symbol of a character metaphorically represent each personality, importance, one’s power or lack of, etc.
  • Show the direction of a relationship by an arrow/line, and its nature by a brief label (the lines can be creatively applied: A jagged line, a wavy line A thick vs. dotted line
    • Perhaps represent substantiated relationships with a solid line and inferred relationships by a broken line.
    • Perhaps circle active characters with a solid line; circle significantly absent characters with a broken line.
    • Place the characters that support the main character on one side of a dividing line, and antagonistic characters on the other side.
    • Illustrate the tone and or theme of a piece by the use of color or visual symbols.

Sociogram 2 for Hamlet
Sociogram 2 for Hamlet | Source

Video Clips

For reinforcement, contrastive analysis, or a bit of humor, I include video clips into my discussion of Macbeth. Below you'll find a list of video clips that may be of use to you.

  • Animaniacs' Macbeth: A spoof of the Witches' brew scene
  • Macbeth: An impressive rendition of Macbeth prepared by a group of 1st and 2nd graders
  • CliffNotes Macbeth: An animated and humorous summary of the play, scene by scene
  • Sleepwalking Scene: An awesome rendition of Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene by Dame Judi Dench
  • MacHomer: A brief Simpsons' version of Macbeth

Many more can be found via Youtube.

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