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Shakespeare and his Sonnets (MS & HS ELA)

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

This exercise is:

  • Designed to integrate into a curriculum that introduces students to Shakespeare.

  • Ideal for classes of any size on a digital platform, such as Zoom or Webex, but can easily be adapted for in-classroom instruction.

  • Is approximately one hour in length.

It’s believed that Shakespeare wrote some of his best work during the plague. While it’s impossible to know for sure, his sonnets may be among the stunning poetry he penned while in quarantine.

Regardless, they are great tool for exploring poetry with students via a digital platform - either for the first time or as deep analysis.


The Lesson in 6 Steps

  1. Have students read Sonnet 30 on their own time. If they are poetry novices, encourage them not to worry about “getting it”. Instead, ask them to write down five to ten words and/or images that stand out to them the first time they read it.

  2. Using or a similar website to create a word cloud. If you haven’t used this service before you can find details here.

  3. Evaluate the word cloud with the class. Ask them each to create a one to two sentence poem, using mostly the words in the word cloud. Have them paste each poem into the chat box.

  4. Pick a few poems to highlight - looking for creativity and clarity.

  5. If you haven’t already, now is the time to introduce the poetic elements used by Shakespeare in the sonnet. This storyboard activity is great for that.

  6. Watch this video of Alley Resident Acting Company member Elizabeth Bunch reciting Sonnet 30.


Discussion time!

  • What changed when they listened to an actor reciting the sonnet, rather than reading it on a page?

  • Which poetic elements are more obvious when spoken by an actor?

  • How does your interpretation change when watching a woman in modern clothes perform the poem?


Extension - Write Your Own Poetry

Have students draft a few lines of their own poetry, utilizing two of the poetic elements used by Shakespeare. As homework, have them record themselves reciting those lines, drawing on the focus and clarity of Elizabeth. Have them email them to you ahead of time, and curate a showing of the videos for the class!


Meet the Artist

Alley Theatre Resident Acting Company Member

Elizabeth Bunch is a member of the Alley Resident Acting Company. She has performed in over 75 productions with the Alley including Marianne in Constellations, Aimee in The Humans, Olivia in Twelfth Night, The Pilot in Grounded, Paulina in The Winters Tale, Rosalind in As You Like It, Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion, Desdemona in OthelloThe 39 Steps, Dry Powder, Good People, Dracula, Other Desert Cities, The Elephant Man, Clybourne Park, August: Osage County, Our Town, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Doubt, Proof, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? New York and Regional credits include Playwrights Horizons, Guthrie Theater, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Keen Company, and The Flea Theater. Elizabeth spent six summers with the Middlebury Bread Loaf Acting Ensemble. Some favorite performances there include Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Viola in Twelfth Night, Isabella in Measure for Measure, and Stella in Streetcar Named Desire. Elizabeth has taught at the University of Houston. She is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

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