Tag Archives: Module B

Comfort Zones

22 May

I recently read an article online about comfort zones.  This article sought to challenge the conventionally accepted wisdom that we should try move beyond our comfort zones.

While reading the article I couldn’t help but think of Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’.  In this poem, the persona desires to “disturb the universe” and challenge the boundaries of the unknown, but is unable to do; he is crippled by his anxiety and indecision.  In other words, he does not venture beyond his comfort zone.  For him, however, being stuck in the bubble of his comfort zone is not a good thing – when in his comfort zone he is not living to the fullest.  In fact, he is not living at all!

A novel about difference

18 Nov

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is often billed as a novel about difference.  For HSC Standard English students studying this text in Module B, this idea of ‘difference’ is significant.  Why?  Well, because it is through this lens of difference that the narrative is filtered.

There are a number of different ways to get the students thinking about what ‘difference’ means in the context of this narrative (see, for example, here and here).  This article and the accompanying Autism Spectrum Australia video, is yet another way in for students.  The video in particular is helpful as it clarifies some of the behaviours demonstrated by Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and, by extension, can be used to explain why the narrative is written the way it is.

As an added bonus, the video might remind our students to be accepting of difference.

Hamlet (Module B) questions

5 Jul

Below is a list of sample  Module B: Hamlet questions.  Questions are not arranged in any particular order.  The list will be updated as I come up with new questions.

  1. Hamlet is, in essence, a play about obligations.  To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
  2. Hamlet is about more than conflict.  To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
  3. Hamlet is a play about unmet expectations.  To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
  4. Characters in Hamlet are preoccupied with the past.  How does your personal response to the play support this proposition?
  5. It has been suggested that Hamlet is not the most important character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Assuming that this is correct, who do you think is the most important character in the play and why?
  6. The appeal of Hamlet transcends time and space.  In what ways is this true?
  7. Is the assertion that Hamlet is about “carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts, / … accidental judgments, casual slaughters, / [and]… deaths put on by cunning” accurate?  Justify your view through close analysis of Shakespeare’s play.
  8. Is Hamlet’s ability to avenge his father’s death accidental or the product of planning?  Justify your response through close analysis of the language, structure, characterisation and dramatic features of Shakespeare’s play.
  9. Hamlet’s tendency to think is central to the development of the play’s plot.  To what extent do you agree with this proposition?
  10. Explore how ideas about sickness and healing are used in Shakespeare’s Hamlet to shape how audiences understand Hamlet’s character.


21 Dec

I have written previously about teaching Hamlet as a play, rather than a written text.  One way to get students thinking about how lines are delivered is to get them to create their own 15 second rendition of their favourite lines in one of Shakespeare’s plays.

As is evident in the student-spoken examples of Hamlet featured in the New York Times, interpretations of the play’s most iconic lines vary dramatically.  By encouraging students to perform their own interpretation, you are paving the way for a discussion about perspectives, readings and personal responses to the play.

Performing Hamlet

2 Dec

Often at HSC level we treat Hamlet as a text rather than a play.  In other words, we analyse based on our reading of the play rather than our performance of it.  In doing so, we cause our students to miss the meaning conveyed through performance.

This point is made well in the clip below.  When exploring a performance of Hamlet’s famous ‘To be, or not to be” soliloquy, we can hear how the sibilant sounds lengthen words causing words to hang in the air.  We can also hear the contrast between the hard consonants and the softer vowels, and are thus better able to appreciate rhythm and pace.  This contrast also helps us to better appreciate the distinction between decision and indecision.

In a classroom context, the video can be used as a model, with students then tasked with performing and analysing other significant soliloquies/conversations in the play.  For less dramatically inclined classes, the task could be modified so that students find and analyse professional performances (relevant clips can be found on YouTube).

Creating Elsinore

30 Nov

The National Theatre does more than produce spectacular plays.  The National Theatre Discover videos, for example, provide theatre goers and students with the inside scoop on context and staging decisions.

This background information has value in and of itself.  However, in the context of Advanced English Module B: Hamlet, it also provides students with concrete examples of how one text can be interpreted and re-interpreted over time.  A great example is this National Theatre’s video entitled ‘Creating Elsinore in Hamlet‘:

In the video above, the focus is on ‘reading’ and representing Elsinore (the setting of Hamlet).  What I like about this video is that the textual inspiration for artistic choices is often flagged.  For example, when explaining his conception of the play Richard Eyre quotes Hamlet, noting that “Denmark’s a prison.”  Equally, when Vicki Mortimer describes Elsinore as very “passageway, corridor-y,” she subtly references Hamlet’s observation that “there are many confines, wards and dungeons.”

Using this video as a model, students could be tasked with dissecting and evaluating other adaptations of Hamlet, perhaps using theatre reviews and YouTube clips as a starting point.

Hamlet the musical

21 Nov

A post on Making Curriculum Pop about adaptions of Shakespeare’s Hamlet got me thinking about ways to help students better understand what is happening in the play.  After all, we cannot except students to write inspired responses to the play if they do not understand the events and characters.

One approach is, as suggested on MCPop, is to encourage students to engage with the story in more familiar settings.  One of the easiest ways to do this is to screen segments of the Hamlet episode of The Simpsons (here).  Another option would be to note parallels between the Hamlet plot and elements of beloved Disney movies (here).

There are also opportunities to shift the focus so that students are creating the adaptations.  For example, students could represent key elements of the Hamlet plot to the tune of a well known song.  Youtube provides two great parodies: ‘Hamlet Style‘ to the tune of Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ and a Hamlet-ified version of Macklemore’s ‘Thrift Shop‘.

A simpler, but still student-driven, activity would be to task students with selecting a song that best captures the mood/character dynamic at key moments in the play.  Students would have to justify their choices in writing, thus demonstrating that they have thought about the emotions, moods and dynamics captured in their allocated/chosen moment.

Students could then be tasked with dramatizing the melding of music and Shakespeare as shown in this clip.  If the activity is organised so that all of the play’s key moments are covered, the moments could then be stitched together as ‘Hamlet: the musical’, with a screening for the grade and/or parents.

“To be” a reflective educator

14 Oct

Today, my year 12 students write their first English exam.

For me, the day of the first English exam is a bit stressful as I know their strengths and their weaknesses; I know what kinds of questions they are hoping for, but I don’t know exactly what they will be asked.

It is also a day that makes me reflective, thinking back on what worked during my year of teaching and what needs to be changed to better meet the needs of future students.

One thing I need to do better is finding methods for getting students to think critically about the ways Hamlet is constantly reinterpreted.  Part of the solution is making a bit more time for reflecting on critical opinion, and the other part is introducing my students to sources which discuss acts of reinterpretation.  As my students often struggle with critical material, one approach might be to introduce them to theatre reviews which discuss how directors and performers play with the play, reinterpreting it to foreground certain ideas and to engage contemporary audiences.   Although I won’t teach Hamlet again until next year, I have started compiling a playlist of  Hamlet theatre reviews which I can use to stimulate critical discussion and engagement.   Now I just have to decide how to incorporate this resource into lessons… perhaps, before making that decision, I should get to know my new HSC students!

Introducing Hamlet

2 Aug

Students often have difficulty with Shakespeare.  For many, length and language render the text inaccessible.

To make the language accessible, I highly recommend ‘No Fear Shakespeare’.  Here, Shakespearean English appears on the left hand side, and the contemporary English translation is present alongside.

I am, as the name of this blog suggests, also a huge fan of the punny introduction.  Imagine breaking the ice NOT with a reading of Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy, but by a series of visual puns.  Slide one would be of a picture of two bees, and slide two would have a picture of less/more than two bees.  The captions would read: ‘two bee’ and ‘not two bee’ respectively.  Alternatively, you could present images of two apartment doors.  The first door would, of course, be labelled ‘2B’, and the other ‘not 2B’.

On a more serious note, one of way of introducing key ideas in Hamlet is to treat the critical debates as entry points.  Is Hamlet mad or sane?  Is he loyal or disloyal?  Is he comfortable with assuming the mantle of revenge or not?  Is Hamlet better characterised as a man of thought or a man of action?  Does Hamlet delay?  If he does delay, is that delay justified?

Students should consider all sides of the debate, adding evidence to each position as that evidence is discovered in the text.  It is often helpful for students to visualise the way that evidence in favour of particular positions mounts up.  Accordingly, using giant post-it notes on the wall of your classroom, you could map the evidence for each of the debates as you go.  Alternatively, you could task students with creating Powerpoint presentations which interrogate each moment studied with a view to extracting evidence which supports the various identified positions.  You, or better yet your students, could also create a series of Prezis which flag the various ways in which key moments could be used to support the identified positions.  Students in need of extension could also be tasked with examining how evidence can be used to refute certain viewpoints.  Asking students to identify and justify the extent to which they believe a certain view is validated by the text also introduces new challenges to the task.