Reflection on Close Reading Projects for Hamlet

April Peebler as Hamlet, Ambre Lee as Polonius, photo by Deborah Gascon

The readiness is all-Hamlet.

While I’ve always loved that line, I’ve never had a chance to use it in my own writing (until now).  During the summer of 2015, I was extremely fortunate to participate in the Folger Summer Academy -an intense study of Hamlet.  At that time, I taught 9th/10th–but all of the teaching strategies transfer nicely to Romeo and Juliet and Othello.  Due to fate or providence, this year my teaching schedule changed to 11th/12th–which was obviously a mandate to share Hamlet with my new classes.

We did many of the activities I learned at the Folger Institute: two or three students act out a scene, while other students direct the actors, students formed groups and prepared a scene for the class.  We did a “To be or not to be” face off where the lines were divided into two characters and 1/2 the class read one character, and 1/2 the class read the other character.

While the Folger philosophy is one that is a practice of students facing the language head-on and experiencing the plays directly, as an SDC teacher, I feel I need to apply further techniques to ensure close readings and understanding of the text.  I will share four activities I did with different classes.

sonnet study

Sonnet Study

I always begin a new Shakespeare play by looking at sonnets and having the kids do various activities to show their comprehension.  This year, the students completed 4-panel graphic narratives that had to visually represent what was happening in the first three quatrains and the concluding couplet.  The results were delightful and in order for the  students to illustrate it, they had to reread and determine what was happening in the sonnet.

Sonnet Graphic Narrative

vocabulary study

I must admit, finding an effective approach to vocabulary is my Achilles’ heel. So much so, that for each act in Hamlet, I tried something different.

The Poster
Vocabulary Study

We’ve all done the poster with image and definition–and that is usually my first attack; however, the students end-up learning one word really well.  I think the next time I use this strategy (because the kiddos like it)-I will display the posters as a gallery walk the next day and students will have  to create a sentence for each word.

Inside/Outside Circles

This was the most effective vocabulary strategy I tried; however, it would become tedious/repetitive if it was used too often.  I first encountered Inside/Outside circles in my Methods of Teaching Special Education class with Sally Spencer @sallyatwood. After dividing the class in 1/2, the first half forms a circle facing out, and then the second half forms a circle around the circle, facing in–facing a student.  For vocabulary, students each had one word that they had to teach to every student.  This is always a fun activity because you can go outside and students actually enjoy teaching each other.


I’ve tried Quizlets for vocabulary and it is not the best fit for my students (however-it is perfect for the kiddos finals review).  I’ve tried where I make the Quizlet and add pictures, definitions, parts of speech, sentence examples–and also where the kiddos did the same on their own.  Neither produced very good results.  Students would play the game in class to study—but quickly it became a race to finish–not a race to learn.

Picture and Definition On the Script

After the Quizlet failure, I was not willing to waste all of the time I spent into creating them.  In the next vocabulary adventure, students used the Quizlets I made to get the definition and an understanding of the word; they proceeded to define and create an image directly on the script.  The next day, most students could retell the meaning of the word; when we started reading, the definition with an image was already there. I will definitely use this method in the future!






character poster

Character Poster

By the time we wrapped-up Act III, I realized Hamlet is a lot more complex than any of the previous Shakespeare plays that the students have been exposed to in class.  The next project was to create a character poster that included each character’s relationship to Hamlet, the specific character’s motives in the play, and a quote to represent the character.  This was an amazing experience because students were forced to go back into the script and analyze character motives.  The visual representations helped students to remember the relationships all the way through the play.

elizabethan travel brochure

Elizabethan Travel Brochure
Elizabethan Travel Brochure






Finally, the last project I would like to share is the Elizabethan Travel Brochure.  I got this idea from my husband, a 5th grade teacher, who had his students create travel brochures for their study of Argentina during Hispanic Heritage month.  I’d already had two classes complete partner research on the Elizabethan era and present to the class.  While I enjoyed their presentations, I was excited to try something new.

Since not every student loves drawing, I also created a digital template that students could choose to complete the assignment.  The results?  The students who created physical brochures turned in a much better product, including more thorough information and attention to detail.  While I prefaced the assignment with reminding students about plagiarism and explaining what could not be done, the digital brochures were plagued with cut-and-paste issues that I had to address with individual students.  I will definitely use this assignment in the future, but I seriously have to rethink the digital option!


What activities have you used to help students engage and understand Hamlet?  How would you use some of the above strategies for different texts?


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