Monday, March 8, 2010


February, 2010

I know it's a big hit series on ABC. Let me tell you it's also a big hit in the Shakespeare Club. Sometimes, like Lady Macbeth, we harbor secret wishes, and like Hermia in a forest, we can feel a little lost.

My system for teaching kids how to scan iambic pentameter verse is to give them each a copy of a Hermia speech from "A Midsummer Night's Dream." The character has run away into a forest with Lysander and wakes up in the dark from a terrible dream, only to discover her boyfriend has split and left her alone. I'm tempted to teach that lesson, but perhaps it's a tad early in their development.

"Here is one of the ways Shakespeare is so darn smart. He tells us how he wants us to act the roles by showing us which words are the most important in a line. We want to squeeze a little more juice out of those words."

I use the images of a cup of cocoa ("U") and a sword ("/") for them to mark the syllables in each line as they clap out the ten beats. They catch on pretty quickly, with some actually drawing steaming cups of chocolate. They are always, count on it, always hungry.

For journal writing this day I gave them a choice. Lady Macbeth has a secret wish to be queen: Write about your secret wish. Or, what might it be like to be lost in a forest? What would you eat, where would you sleep and how would you feel?

"I'm never going to make anyone do this, but think about finding your courage and, if you haven't shared your writing before, maybe today's the day."

Lizzie decided today was her day and bravely stood up in front of the group to read about her secret wish.

"My secret wish is for my dog can come back becouse I miss him. I don't just miss him I love him. He wosn't just my dog he was my best frend. Every day I always wish—"

It happened suddenly. Her tears came in a rush. She looked back at me with panic on her face.

"I can't...I can't read..." and the sobs came fast.

I stepped up and took her journal to finish reading for her. I held her wet face pressed against my waistline and smoothed her tangled, brown hair.

"Good girl. You did very, very well reading a story that is so personal and so very sad for you....It's okay,'re's okay."

The room was quiet. The kids leaned forward in their chairs and forced a tsunami of empathy across the room to Lizzie.

"I think we know what Lizzie is writing about. I think maybe we can think of something or someone we have lost and can't get back and how hard that can be."

I scouted the room for tissues as I spoke and Rachel handed me a bundle.

I got Lizzie settled and back in her chair. Dominick knelt in front of her.

"It's okay, Lizzie, I know how that feels..." and he went on to describe an event of losing his puppy and how he put up signs in his neighborhood.

Millie took Lizzie's hand. "I know it's so sad, Lizzie. I know how that feels."

Sometimes Shakespeare's genius lies in his being the catalyst. Poor Hermia, lost in a forest, abandoned by her boyfriend. Poor Lady Macbeth, bored out of her mind, with little else but aspirations. Poor us.

Take comfort, as Lizzie did that day, in knowing you are not alone.

CHILDREN'S WRITES: Journal Entries
If I was Hermia I would cry pools of water. Because I would be my-self. I would make a hut and make food from acorns. Then I would make a map.
—Phoebe, 4th grade

My secret wish is to be a pixe. I would do anithing to be one! ANITHING!.
—Millie, 3rd grade

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