Literacy Lesson: To Read or Not To Read

Using the CCSS, the following lesson was created in collaboration between theatre arts and fine arts content areas to incorporate multiple strategies in literacy instruction; the lesson incorporates strategies that are based in constructivist interpretation, visual interpretation, and performative interpretation. (Follow this link to see the evolution of this lesson from a fail to finesse)



Standard CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.4Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone
Central Focus (CF) To interpret the question posed by Hamlet, “To be or not to be…” by using expressive gestural images of actors, the original text written by Shakespeare, and actor created interpretive performances.
Academic Language Interpret, Gesture, Emotion, Voice, Physicality
Learning Target (LT) To interpret Hamlet’s question “To be or not to be” by looking at images of actors, and performing one line as a group.
Lesson Part Activity description / Teacher does Students do
GOAL Introduction of learning target and pre-assessment. Self-assess on Hamlet’s Question
1A Pre-reading: Dramatic Expression in Images Students explain thoughts about images that use dramatic expression and gesture.Students complete worksheet that asks them to interpret then respond to other students’ interpretations of the gestural & emotional images supplied.
1B Informal Assessment: Presentation of scaffolded syntax sentence. Students share, respond to and invent further performed interpretations of emotions.
2A Practice: Jigsaw of Text – Interpret Meaning Students work in groups to construct meaning by combining collective knowledge of a small piece of the text.
2B Informal Assessment: Self-assessment Students share translations with the class.
3A Extended Learning: Match text to images with a performance of interpretation. Students create original performances that are matched to a section of the text by selecting voice and physical choices that correspond to the text and their interpretation.
3B Summative Assessment: Student Performances (group assessment; teacher assessment on Rubric) Students self-assess their performance on the exit ticket.



Introducing the Learning Target
GOAL Teacher Does:Write [LT] on board.
Teacher Says:FIRST: tell me now if you think you can interpret what Hamlet’s question is. Show me a fist of five.
5 – I have an excellent idea of what the question is and what it means4 – I have a good idea of what it is, but I think there is more I could know.

3 – I have a basic idea, but I’m sure there are bits I am missing

2 – I am unsure about this.

1- I’m more than unsure, I’m lost.

Students Say:

FIRST, students silently respond to both the self-evaluation “fist of five” prompt.

Pre-reading: Frontload with Images (p. 100)
INSTRUCTION (1a) 1. Teacher asks students to divide into pairs.
NOTE: Review definitions of academic language organically throughout lesson. When word comes up in discussion, pause to write the definition on the whiteboard. Interpret, Gesture, Emotion, Voice, Physicality
2. Teacher asks – what is emotion? Teacher writes 3 examples on whiteboard. Ask for one emotion example from each pair of students. Then, ask pairs to add an adjective before their emotion.
Examples: intense curiosity, overwhelming joy, life-shattering despair, mind-numbing boredom. (Anger, Fear, Confusion, Malice, Revenge, Desperation – These would fit with Hamlet really well).
3. Teacher writes examples of emotions on whiteboard.
Teacher tapes 8 images/printouts from productions of Shakespeare plays on a table in a large circle. The images should display a wide variety of emotions that occur within Shakespeare productions.
There is a worksheet attached to each image. (see attached).

  1. What emotion does the gesture in the picture convey? Give evidence to support your opinion.
  2. Do you agree with the previous comment or do you disagree? Write specifically about the gesture of the actor.
  3. If you had to perform the gesture in the printout, how would you do it? What would your body look like if you were feeling that emotion?
Students divide into pairs.Students respond with one emotion example per pair.

Students invent adjective to make their  emotion more dramatic.

Pairs choose an image and answer the first question on the worksheet.
Each pair to take a couple of minutes to write response to question number one. Pairs then move to another image and take two minutes to answer number two.The same procedure is used to answer number three.

Group Sharing
INFORMAL ASSESSMENT (1b) Teacher Says:FIRST, Secretly choose an emotion to perform from the list on the whiteboard. DON’T TELL ANY OTHER PAIRS! THIS IS A SECRET!
Now, pretend that you are an actor and are in a Shakespeare play. What kind of gesture would you use to communicate that emotion? Practice that gesture with your partner for one or two minutes. Be as dramatic as you can! Let me model this for you: Teacher models acting out a gesture.
Pairs secretly choose which emotion to perform.Pairs practice performing that gesture for the rest of the class. The class guesses which gesture that they are trying to communicate.
If the class cannot guess the emotion, a volunteer can come up, read the emotion and take a stab at performing the emotion.
Jigsaw and Sketching My Way Through the Text (p. 131)
PRACTICE ACTIVITY (2a) Teacher Does:Pass out the mini-texts (see attachment at end of lesson).
Teacher Says:Read the small segment to your group. Do two things with the segment.
FIRST, respond to the small segment by trying to translate the words from Shakespeare into words that you would use. Write out your translation under the text on your page. Pool your collective knowledge to construct an interpretation of the text.
SECOND, in three minutes or less, to brainstorm with pictures without judgement, draw an image, or series of images, that you think represents the small piece of text. This does not need to be a professional piece of art. Rather, it should express the idea of the text. Stick figures, cartoon drawings, scribbles, loose sketches, and original artistic interpretation are encouraged. Three minutes starts now!
THIRD, match the image(s) that you drew to a similar image from the first part of this lesson.Teacher Does:

Observe and work with individual groups.

Students Do:

Students collaborate to pool collective knowledge and understandings to find language that is accessible for all students.

Students quickly sketch a pictorial representation of their translation.

Students match the images

INFORMAL ASSESSMENT (2b) Teacher Does:Pass out full text to class with indicated jigsaw pieces and space to write out the translation from each group.
Teacher Says:FIRST, we will now share out our text, I am passing out the full text that the class has examined in pieces. Next to the original text, there is space for you to write down the translation.
SECOND, each group will share their translation with the class. We will go in sequence so that we can hear the text in full. I will read the original and a representative from your group will read your translation. You should write down the interpretation of each group as we go. Be sure to speak slowly so that everyone can catch every word you say.
THIRD, after the readings, we will have a quick period of time for group comments and questions about the text or translations.
FOUR, Now that we have practiced interpreting, tell me now if you think you understand what Hamlet’s question is. Show me a fist of five.
5 – I have an excellent idea of what the question is and what it means4 – I have a good idea of what it is, but I think there is more I could know.

3 – I have a basic idea, but I’m sure there are bits I am missing

2 – I am unsure about this.

1- I’m more than unsure, I’m lost.

Students do:Students share their work with the class as directed.

Students discuss.

Students self assess with a fist of five.

EXTENDED LEARNING (3a) Teacher Says:FIRST, Now that we have created a translation, you have the opportunity to perform your translations for the class. Please work as a group to speak your section of the original text. As you speak select one or more vocal choices to perform (pitch, quality, tone, prosody)
SECOND, Students will identify one or more gestures and or movements by looking at both their drawings and the images from the first part of the lesson.
THIRD, Practice presenting the text as a group. You should speak and move in unison.
Students Do:Students prepare as directed.
SUMMATIVE AND FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT (1b, 2b, and 3b) Teacher Says:FIRST, We will now observe group performances. After each performance, please give a clap of respect, on my cue, to each group.
SECOND, Following the performance you will complete a group-assessment, on your exit ticket, of your performance; you will also receive teacher based summative assessment. Each assessment will utilize the same rubric.
Students Do:Students observe and perform as directed.


4. Supporting Development through Language
a. Language Function: What verb appears in your learning target that represents the language function?
Language Function: To InterpretStudents will interpret the text in multiple ways. Interpretation includes a background understanding (identifying what students know), an applied understanding (accessing learning through what the students want to know), and personalizing the interpretation for individual meaning. To break the task down further, there are several sub tasks to interpreting:

  • Gather and observe associated information:

Students must closely and mindfully look at a gesture and identify the emotion associated with it; they will use images that represent what an actor may do while performing the text to understand how actor expression influences the meaning of any text.
2) Translate the text into modern language and construct meaning through group definitions:

Students must pool collective knowledge and understandings to find language that is accessible for all students. They must build a mutual understanding by defining words, discussing meanings, and brainstorming associated ideas. Doing this will enrich the experience of both watching and performing the original text.
3) Personalize the text through creating images and performances

Through performances, students can express their interpretation by using vocal (quality, tone, pitch, and prosody) and physical choices (gesture, movement, body position) that convey deeper meaning.

b. Language Demand: What learning activities or products will students write, speak, or do to represent the language demand and an opportunity to practice the language function?
This lesson uses multiple strategies for students to practice interpretation. First students will frontload with images (1a). This tactic will allow the vibrant and powerful images of actors in performance to inform what the reader might imagine or look for when interpreting the text of “To be or not to be.” This visual hook will serve as an anchor for students to use as they tackle this difficult text.
Second, students sketch their way through a portion of the text (2a). This allows them to access both multiple intelligences and avoid being caught up on the large portion of new words and, essentially, a new language for them to translate. Using the jigsaw approach, students can interact with the text in a way that remains accessible.
Lastly, students perform their understanding (3a and 3b). This dramatic role play allows students to express their understanding of the content in the way that actors would also present their understanding of the content. This is a simple performance that the students can create of a master-text. By engaging the entire class in this exercise the students are both connecting with the entire text and they are making the text personalized to their own experience.
c. Additional language demand: How will students practice content vocabulary words shown in the learning targets?
In addition to the strategies described in the previous response, throughout the lesson, students turn and talk (1a, 2a, 3a). This strategy gives students the opportunity to practice and check their understanding of the lesson content and language demand of interpreting the text. By using this strategy, students can review key elements of the lesson, identify points of personal connection, and allow multiple students to work with multiple partnerships.
d. What learning activities enable students to practice using symbols or abstract representations of information (syntax), if these are part of the lesson?
I am choosing to respond to this question by focusing on how the teacher will clearly explain the discourse rules. During (1b), the teacher will explain that the students are to stay with their pairs and secretly choose an emotion to perform. The teacher explains that the emotion does not have to be the one that they originally invented. The students are told to keep this emotion secret and to practice it for a minute or two. After the teacher models a performance, the students are then asked to perform their emotion. The class votes to choose which emotion is being performed. If the class does not correctly guess the emotion, the teacher will ask for volunteers to take a stab at acting out the emotion. This will continue until the class is able to guess correctly. The steps/rules to this discourse game will be posted on the white board as a semantic map.
e. How is discussion (discourse) structured in activities?
Discourse is structured in a variety of ways in the activities. This entire lesson can be thought of as almost all discourse between students as a large group and through working/responding/interpreting/creating in pairs. Some examples are: (1a) invention and descriptive dramatization of emotions; and completion of discourse worksheets, (1b) Creation and performance of emotional gesture; whole group (1b) – acting out gestures in front of class and class responding to whether they understand emotion being performed. Further discourse is created by the whole class guessing the emotion as well as fine tuning performances when gesture does not communicate clear emotion, written response and reflection (1a) completion of worksheet where students interpret images and respond to each other’s opinions. (2a) Students collaborate to pool collective knowledge and understandings. Discourse is also structured in a less conventional way by having the students communicate with the class through the performing of gestures to express understanding of the academic language function (interpret) and response by the rest of the class of whether that language function was achieved. Students can further the discourse by performing the emotion for the original performers (in front of the class) as a communication/model of a deeper understanding of the language function. This further builds their skills necessary to interpret Shakespeare passages.
f. What other writing or speaking activities enable students to practice vocabulary and the verb shown in the learning target?
Students are asked to invent emotions and interpret them gesturally as a way to show evidence of understanding of the academic language. Students are also asked to complete worksheet that prompts them to explain their understandings of the academic language. Students work in groups to construct meaning by combining collective knowledge of a small piece of the text. Students verbally share translations of the text with the class. Students create original performances that are matched to a section of the text by selecting voice and physical choices that correspond to the text and their interpretation. Students self-assess their performance on the exit ticket.



Author: David Orace Kelly

International Teacher - Arts and Education Leader

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