Shaking up Shakespeare. A Creative Approach to Teach Shakespearean Sonnets in the EFL Classroom

Term Paper, 2020

16 Pages, Grade: 1,3



Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Shaking up Shakespeare

2. Theoretical Background: Creative Approaches to Teaching Shakespearean Sonnets in the EFL Classroom
2.1 The Role and Benefits of Teaching Poetry
2.2 To Teach or Not to Teach? - Potential and Challenges of Teaching Shakespeare in the EFL Classroom
2.3 Creative Approaches to Teaching Shakespearean Sonnets

3. Critical Analysis of the Teaching Unit to Sonnet 116 in Green Line Oberstufe
3.1 Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare
3.2 Critical Analysis of the Teaching Approach to Sonnet 116 in Green Line Oberstufe
3.3 Application: An Alternative Creative Lesson on Sonnet 116

4. Conclusion

5. References


[The appendix has been removed by the editors for copyright reasons.]

1. Introduction: Shaking up Shakespeare

In North Rhine-Westphalia teaching Shakespeare is, as in other federal states, an integral part in the curriculum for the Sekundarstufe II in English and has equal to the prior years, in the upcoming Abitur 2021 Shakespeare in its standards. (Ministerium für Schule und Bildung des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen, 2020) However, in recent years the acceptance of Shakespeare in the classroom was highly discussed. In a survey, hold by Isolde Schmidt in 2004, more than hundred students, attending an English Leistungskurs, were asked about their acceptance with Shakespeare. Surprisingly, a large number of students expressed a positive association with Shakespeare, emphasizing the great importance of the author for the international cultural heritage. However, a lot of students were dissat­isfied with the applied pedagogical teaching approach. (Petersohn & Volkmann, 2006, p. 10)

Based on this decline of motivation related to the applied pedagogical teaching approach, the teaching of Shakespearean sonnets is complicated by the fact that the teach­ing of the genre poetry brings along its own challenges for the classroom. The resentment to poetry has also risen from the “one-sided teaching approach” in which the main focus is set on the “formalistic and analytic interpretation” gearing towards finding the right meaning. (Thaler, 2008, p.116) ) To prevent the total loss of motivation and interest of the students the focus of teaching should be shifted to creative approaches. (Nünning & Surkamp, 2010, p.67) With the implementation of innovative student-centred, process­and task-based methods using different media and referring to the environments of the students, traditional teacher-centred methods can be superseded and thus students' moti­vation can be awakened and maintained. (Petersohn & Volkmann, 2006, p. 10)

In order to show that the teaching of Shakespearean sonnets has not only to be limited to formalistic and analytic interpretations, this paper will demonstrate creative methods for teaching Shakespearean sonnets. The paper is divided into two parts. The first part deals with the theoretical background on teaching sonnets. Since sonnets belong to the genre of poetry, I will first outline the role and benefits of teaching poetry. After­wards, I will address the potential and challenges of teaching Shakespeare. Taking the barriers of teaching poetry and teaching Shakespeare into consideration, creative methods of teaching Shakespearean sonnets will be presented. On the basis of the theory, I will analyse a teaching unit to Sonnet 116 by Willian Shakespeare proposed in the text-book

Green Line Oberstufe, by first giving a brief summary of Sonnet 116 and then examining the teaching approach in the textbook on its creativeness. Finally, I will propose an alter­native lesson for Sonnet 116 with creative methods and activities.

2. Theoretical Background: Creative Approaches to Teaching Shake­spearean Sonnets in the EFL Classroom

2.1 The Role and Benefits of Teaching Poetry

In Germany teaching poetry is an inherent part of almost every language teaching. How­ever, when it comes to poetry, students and teachers lack motivation. Thaler (2008) ex­plains that because of its linguistic creativity and the strength of words the language of poetry seems complex and ambiguous to students, and thus it is experienced as something unfamiliar. (p.116) Being already a challenge in the mother tongue, there is no doubt that poems written in a foreign language pose a double barrier for foreign language learners, where they not only struggle with the nature of poetry but also with the foreign language it is written in.(Thaler, 2008, p.116) In addition to that, its strong self-referentiality makes it difficult for students to relate to the reality and their personal experiences and thus complicates their understanding of it. (Thaler, 2008, p.116)

According to Thaler (2008) this resentment to poetry has risen from the “one­sided teaching approach” where the focus is solely set on the “formalistic and analytic interpretation”. Students are exposed to “excessive analysis” of poems, where their only goal seems to be to find the right meaning of the poem. (p.116) Moreover, the choice of poems and their themes as well as dreary tasks lead to the unpopularity of poetry among students. To overcome these barriers the canon of poetry and the methodology of its teaching have to be broadened. (Thaler, 2008, p.116 f.) Different types of poetry, different themes and student-centred, innovative as well as creative teaching methods may change students' attitude towards poetry. (Nünning & Surkamp, 2010, p.85 f.)

In his book Teaching English Literature Thaler (2006, p.115 f.) proposes a table of benefits for teaching poetry in the foreign language classroom, in which he points out the benefits of each characteristic of poetry. According to Thaler (2006), due to their brevity, poems can be flexibly used for various goals and all levels e.g. for students of lower grades, where poems can be used as a first access to literary texts. (p.115) Addi­tionally, poetry's increased subjectivity helps students to emotionally engage in the les­son. Most poems give an insight into subjective life experiences, where topics such as identity, discovery, family, relationships, hopes and dreams are discussed. By addressing such topics, poetry often has the ability to reach the hearts of students and can contribute to their understanding of otherness and the confrontation with their own and another sub­jectivity. (Thaler, 2006, p.115) Poems can also activate students' different senses and can capture their student's attention and interest, as they are proximate to songs and thus many songs are suitable as teaching materials. (Thaler, 2006, p.115) The intensive self-referen- tiality, which most students perceive as a barrier to understand a poem, rather contributes to the students' personal growth as it broadens students' perception of reality and enables them to discover new views, cultures and traditions. (Thaler, 2006, p.115) Language wise one can say that poetry's structural, phonological, morphological, syntactic, and semantic complexity can not only be seen as a linguistic enrichment for students but also provide students with linguistic diversity, stylistic analysis skills and interpretational openness. (Thaler, 2006, p.116) A major advantage of poetry is its focus on creativity. It helps stu­dents to not merely reproduce but to creatively, think and write on their own. (Thaler, 2006, p.116)

Having considered all these benefits one can say that poetry is indeed an important component of literature teaching which should not fade into obscurity. With its acknowl­edgement and innovative as well as creative approaches students will be motivated and can be fostered on different levels.

2.2 To Teach or Not to Teach? - Potential and Challenges of Teaching Shake­speare in the EFL Classroom

To this day, Shakespeare is an inspiration for many writers, artists and musicians and has made a huge impact on different areas e.g. language, movies, theatre etc. It is no wonder, that Shakespeare has also impacted the EFL classroom in Germany, where for generations students of the Sekundarstufe II deal with his works. However, with the introduction of G8 and the focus on competence-oriented lessons slowly the question arises whether Shakespeare should be any longer on the curriculum. (Brusch, 2012, p.6) Many argu­ments make aware the immense potential of teaching Shakespeare and indicate that it should be continued further.

One of the main reasons for teaching Shakespeare is the universality of the themes and the characters in his works as they are a source of meaning and significance for every generation. Characters of fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, friends, lover, spouse offer students the opportunities to recognise and identify with the characters and aside from that help them explore other relationships. (Gibson, 2010, p.2) As they empathize with the depicted relationships, they engage with ever-present issues of life e.g. first love, friendship etc. and make immediate connection with familiar emotions like love, hate, fear, anger, despair, jealousy, courage etc. (Gibson, 2010, p.3) As students speculate, de­bate, predict and hypothesise about the actions, motivations, relationships and context of characters they develop a critical thinking accompanied by emotional and imaginative growth and thus are strengthened in personal attributes like empathy, imagination or judgement. (Gibson, 2010, p.4 f.) Another potential Shakespeare's works have and why they thus should be taught is the language of Shakespeare. Students learn how words have changed over time and how words which are now archaic are entirely appropriate in their dramatic context e.g. thou, thee, ere etc. (Brusch, 2012, p.90) Moreover, students become aware of Shakespeare's contribution not only in the English but also German language. He brought thousands of new words and idioms into use and will motivate students' cre­ativity with language with his inventive spirit. (Brusch, 2012, p.90) Besides that, his dif­ferent kinds of language game and powerful imagery provokes students' imaginations and inspires their own written expressions. (Brusch, 2012, p.90) One last reason for teach­ing Shakespeare exists in his otherness where “he blends the familiar and the strange” and contrasts different beliefs, values and ways of living. (Thaler, 2008, p.151) It is about “opening doors” and “encounter[ing] with otherness”, where students should not be lim­ited in their point of views of solely general knowledge and beliefs but learn about per­spectives beyond that. (Gibson, 2010, p. 6)

However, teaching Shakespeare in the classroom also brings along challenges. (Thaler, 2008, p.151) Shakespeare works have been written more than 400 years ago and thus due to their non-contemporariness students experience difficulties in comprehension. The historical and cultural distance, which is accompanied by the archaic language and complex rhetorical devices prevent students from “an open and relaxed study of [the] works”. (Thaler, 2008, p.151) Besides the author-related problems the methodology used in the classroom is mainly criticized. Analysing and finding the “true interpretation” has dominated the classroom and has weakened students' motivation through monotonous teaching. (Thaler, 2008, p.151 f.) To overcome these challenges teachers, need to embrace “the open, dynamic and polysemous nature of literary texts” which, with the help of cre­ative student-centred techniques, fosters students' interest and openness for texts. (Thaler, 2008, p.153)

2.3 Creative Approaches to Teaching Shakespearean Sonnets

Considering the challenges of poetry and Shakespeare in the classroom, teaching Shake­spearean sonnets in the classroom pose a triple barrier for many EFL students. With po­etry being already a “problem genre” in the language classroom, the historical and the cultural distance as well as the Early Modern English language with its complex allusions and imagery make the teaching of Shakespearean sonnets even harder for students to un­derstand. (Volkmann, 2014, p.17) However, creative approaches can awake students' mo­tivation for Shakespearean sonnets.

A lot of times creative approaches are rather used as a “spielerisches Plus” in the classroom, where at the end of studying a literary text, students can “recover” from the textual work and have some fun at last. (Nünning & Surkamp, 2010, p.67) Nünning & Surkamp (2010) point out that creative approaches can also make a huge contribution to the process of text comprehension and text analysis, if they are used from the beginning. (p.67) Here, it is important creative approaches should not only be applied on production- oriented methods where students solely do creative writing but also on task-based-learn­ing methods which develop students cognitive, affective and psychomotor skills. The use of authentic materials and different media can support a more creative way of teaching. (Nünning & Surkamp, 2010, p.67 f.)

The PWP approach, which consists of the three stages of text reading, namely pre­reading stage, while-reading stage and post-reading stage is an effective strategy to get students to engage with the text. (Thaler, 2008, p.117) In the following we will have closer look at some creative approaches for Shakespearean sonnets categorised by the stages of text reading. Due to space limitations of this paper, only some creative approaches can be presented.

pre-reading stage

In order for students to understand what they are reading they have to draw on their ex­periences with the topic and knowledge of vocabulary and prepare themselves mentally to understand the content being presented. (Nünning & Surkamp, 2010, p.71) A possible activity to prepare students for reading a Shakespearean sonnet is the use of visualized or acoustic media e.g. recitals and also performances of sonnets which can be shown in the classroom for students to the make first assumptions of the topic, content and to attune students to the Early Modern English. While listening to it students can make notes about any words or phrases they like, or anything that they notice. (Nünning & Surkamp, 2010, p.72) Moreover, a lot of famous songs which are inspired by sonnets are a great introduc­tion to the structure and scheme of the sonnet (e.g. Will Smith's “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, Queen's “Bohemian Rhapsody” etc). (Thaler, 2008, p.158) Teachers can pass out copies of the lyrics and ask students in pair or group work to find a pattern in the structure (three quatrains each with four lines of verse and a concluding couplet) and rhyme scheme (abab cdcd efef gg) of the songs. Since Shakespeare's sonnets revolve around different topics e.g. time, love, infidelity, jealousy, beauty and mortality, students can make a collective chain poem on the topic of the particular sonnet in class or in group work to refresh their knowledge but also to gain access to the different views of their classmates on this topic. (Nünning & Surkamp, 2010, p.73) It also serves as a great op­portunity to backup students vocabulary on the topic. (Nünning & Surkamp, 2010, p.75) Here teachers can pose different questions directed at the students' view and opinions on the topic to stimulate students' thinking. (e.g. How do you think about .? What comes to your mind when you think of .?)

while-reading stage

In the while reading stage the students are enabled to close read the text. It serves to increase students' text comprehension and also enables students to understand the text structure. Besides that, students can expand their vocabulary. (Nünning & Surkamp, 2010, p.74) One while reading activity is having students read the sonnet aloud, which is an adequate introduction for text analysis. Different ways of recitals (reading turn by turn, voice varying reading, rhythmic reading etc.) can not only be of fun for the students but also emphasize and help determine the sonnet's metre, line formation and rhyme scheme. (Nünning & Surkamp, 2010, p.98) This activity is suitable for groupwork, where students e.g. can present their recited version of the sonnet to the whole class accompanied by background music. Another creative while reading activity is the reconstruction of a son­net, where students are given jumbled lines of the sonnet and they have to bring the lines into a meaningful order. In order to find a meaningful order, students get motivated and may also employ their prior knowledge about sonnets. (e.g. rhyme scheme) (Nünning & Surkamp, 2010, p.91) Alternatively teacher can give students an incomplete sonnet (e.g. missing words, beginning of line etc.), which they have to complete with words or lines they consider appropriate to the context. (Nünning & Surkamp, 2010, p.95) In both ac­tivities the different results can be discussed with the whole class and at the end of the session the teacher can show the original sonnet to the class. Student can reflect upon the differences between their version and the original version and why Shakespeare has prob­ably decided for his version. (Nünning & Surkamp, 2010, p.91) Another activity for text comprehension and text analysis is to give each group of students one quatrain, which they have to summarize and analyse in a group together. With guiding questions by the teacher students are enabled to close reading and finally become experts of their quatrain. (Nünning & Surkamp, 2010, p.73) At the end of the group session each group can present their part of the sonnet whereafter the teacher can reveal the whole sonnet with the couplet to the class. Lastly, final discussion can be held, in which questions on the content and structure of the sonnet can be posed. (Nünning & Surkamp, 2010, p.76)

post-reading stage

The final step in successful reading comprehension is reflecting upon what has been read and self-monitoring for understanding. Rewriting or expanding the sonnet qualify as a creative post-reading activity (e.g. create another sonnet as a response or sequel to the sonnet or create a modern translation of the sonnet) By doing this, students are enabled to refer to their own reality and understanding of the topic and can also emotionally en­gage with the text. (Nünning & Surkamp, 2010, p.79) Rewriting the sonnet does not mean that it has to be rewritten into a poem, instead it can be converted into another genre e.g. narrative text or another poetic form e.g. shape poem. (Nünning & Surkamp, 2010, p.79) The descriptive language of sonnets with its different metaphors allow students to be cre­ative and visualize their interpretation (e.g. drawings, photo story etc.). Besides that, son­nets can be performed by groups (e.g. as poetry slam, a role-play, dialogue etc.) and in this way introduce students to different interpretations of the sonnet. (Nünning & Sur- kamp, 2010, p.79 f.) The results of these post-reading activities and many other creative activities can be presented or performed to the whole class, can be shared with other clas­ses, posted in the hallway for other students to see or even published on the internet (e.g. on the school web page) (Nünning & Surkamp, 2010, p.80 f.)


Excerpt out of 16 pages


Shaking up Shakespeare. A Creative Approach to Teach Shakespearean Sonnets in the EFL Classroom
University of Duisburg-Essen
Catalog Number
Shakespeare, Sonnet, Poems, Poetry, Didactics, Lehrbuchanalyse, Lehrbuch, Textbook, Gedichtsanalyse, Unterrichtseinheit, Lesson, Hausarbeit, EFL, EFL Didactics, Sonnet 116, PWP approach, teaching shakespeare, poetry analysis, Creative Approaches, Shakespearean Sonnets, Love Poetry, Thaler, Green Line Oberstufe, Teaching Unit, William Shakespeare, Critical Analysis, Creative Lesson
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Anonymous, 2020, Shaking up Shakespeare. A Creative Approach to Teach Shakespearean Sonnets in the EFL Classroom, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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