The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Close Reading Hamlet

Yes, you read that title correctly. My fourth graders have begun doing close readings of Hamlet. You know, the one originally written by William Shakespeare. Well, okay, we aren’t actually reading Shakespeare’s text. Yet. First we started with Bruce Coville’s excellent adaptation of the story, published in 2004. I decided to use Mr. Coville’s version first so that the students could familiarise themselves with the story and characters before tackling Shakespeare’s rich language.

I read the text aloud to the class over the course of two days a few weeks ago and then we have returned to it from time to time. Unfortunately, we had to take a break from Hamlet because of PARCC testing last week, but we returned today with a fresh close reading of the story. I gave the students a prompt to think about what they had read:

“What kind of person was King Claudius in Hamlet?”

The students shared a wide variety of observations, demonstrating an impressive recall of the details of the story. They described King Claudius as “kind of a jerk” and I asked them to provide evidence to back it up. I was told that he killed his brother, married his brother’s wife, and stole his nephew’s kingdom. After having a class discussion about Claudius, I changed the prompt and let the students do a quick write on their own. The prompt was this:

“What kind of person was Ophelia in Hamlet?”

We had two copies of the book in the classroom and some students chose to use them as references as they worked. While students worked, I was able to move around the room and check on what they were writing. I was impressed by what students remembered about Ophelia. Tomorrow I am going to give students more access to the passages about Ophelia directly so that they can go back to their quick write and look for additional details about Ophelia that they can add for further supporting evidence.

We will continue doing close readings of Shakespeare over the next several weeks, including A Midsummer Night’s DreamRomeo and Juliet, and As You Like It. This will all tie in to a cross-curricular unit with our Fine Arts teachers that was initially conceived by my fourth grade partner. It is pretty cool to see what students are capable of when we challenge them to rise to the occasion!

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