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Journal Prompts to Teach Shakespeare's Macbeth
Studying the works of William Shakespeare can be intimating for students. Their apprehension may stem from the difficulty of the language, the depth of themes, or perhaps just Shakespeare’s reputation as being difficult. Shakespeare need not incite panic in our students, however. I’ve found one approach that makes his works much more approachable: the use of journaling.
The benefits of journaling are profound. Because there is no single “right” answer and it is generally informal in nature, journals build confidence in the writing process and contribute to emotional development. Writing, just like any other activity, needs to be practiced with great frequency in order for improvement to occur. I’ve found journals a great opportunity to not only practice writing, but also to connect a piece of literature to students’ daily lives, thus making it more relatable and memorable.
Journaling and Shakespeare's Macbeth
One of my favorite plays to teach is Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth. Despite the plot of witches, countless murders, corrupt Kings and Queens, and ghosts, this play is much more relatable to students than it may initially appear.
Prior to a respective reading assignment in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, students respond to a daily, in class journal centered on one of the play’s themes. After a period of 10-15 minutes of writing, we discuss their responses.
Then, once the students read the assigned Act in Macbeth, the plays themes are not only more apparent, but the characters motivations are more relatable and understandable.
Macbeth Journal #1
Journal completed prior to beginning Act I of Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Explain the influence your peers have on your decision making.
Generally, do your peers positively or negatively affect your decision making? Explain.
Describe a time you have fallen to peer or parental pressure. What were the effects?
Macbeth Journal #2
Journal completed prior to beginning Act II of Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Imagine for a moment that you’ve just done THE WORST thing you could ever imagine YOURSELF doing. (NOTE: this is subjective—for one person it may be breaking curfew, for another if may be murder (though I sincerely hope not!!))
On your piece of paper, explain this act. Then, ponder the following:
To what lengths would you go to cover up this horrible act? Or…
Would you confess immediately? Explain. What role does fear play in your decision making?
Macbeth Journal #3
Journal to be completed prior to beginning Act IV of Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Do you agree or disagree with the following:
“Evil means justify honorable ends.”
Use experiences from your own life, or things you’ve observed to form the basis of your argument.