Surfing with the Bard Lesson Plans

Teaching A Midsummer Night's Dream Connecting the Mind and Body
to Educate the Whole Person

Submitted by:  Amy Ulen
Date:  August 1994

The 1994 National Institute on Teaching Shakespeare helped me name that which I have suspected for the past four years of my teaching career. As the lead teacher of the Moscow Alternative School Center (MASC), I strive to create a family atmosphere in my classroom. MASC students know that they play a valuable role in the daily operations of the school, from helping develop policies to cleaning the classroom every night. In her lecture at the Institute, Jane Roland Martin called this the "moral equivalent of home." At MASC, we are taking the best qualities of "home" and applying them to school. During Martin's lecture on "Schoolhome," I realized that what had come instinctively to me deserved more of my attention through research. As a jumping off point, I will begin with that which was named for me at the Institute--the connection between mind and body to educate the whole person.

The state of Idaho requires students to complete 42 credits to earn a high school diploma. These 42 credits are broken down into the core requirements of English, math, speech, and reading. Additional requirements include science, social studies, humanities, health, and physical education. The majority of required classes ask students to use only their minds as their bodies sit quietly at their desks (with the exception of P.E. and speech). As an English teacher, I have always found a way to incorporate movement into my classes. Many of my colleagues attribute this to my theatre training and my youth. Regardless, my students were learning and having fun at the same time. Then, at the Institute, I was handed the following definition:

Applying Movement to Learning: the movement work promotes the brain wave patterns and states of awareness that are more conducive to learning. One's mind is clear, quieter and less judgmental of one's self and of others.

Finally, a concise definition to substantiate what I had been doing in my classes for years. Yet, the members of Shakespeare & Company took it far beyond a simple definition. At the Institute, they provided me with the tools I needed to teach my students how to make that mind/body connection for themselves.

With these tools in hand, I returned to school and began implementing the voice and movement training I had received at the Institute. I've been surprised at how receptive the students have been to the different activities. From their journals, I discovered that students appreciate doing something different even though it made them feel strange at first. The following journal entries were written after our introduction to Milling and Seething.

I think the exercise was valuable because people were making eye contact. That is something that doesn't happen very much today. I also made some observations. I noticed that when my jaw was tense my breathing was more shallow. When I relaxed my jaw my breathing was more deep and I felt more relaxed.
- Genevieve

Starting off I felt really stupid and I thought the whole thing was pointless, but it got to be kind of entertaining. I noticed that when we picked up the pace, I started breathing through my mouth and breathing deeper. I also started feeling more comfortable and the expressions on other people's faces made it seem like they were becoming more comfortable too.

When we began I heard a couple of people giggle and I figured it was probably from embarrassment, but when we started walking funny, it sounded more like giggles of enjoyment. It was almost like a bonding session for the entire class.

I'd imagine that when people do this sort of thing in a group, that group of people would be able to open up to each other or at least feel closer to each other and help them to feel more relaxed and apt to be a part of the group.
- Cliff

These two students made keen observations of themselves and their classmates. In one short lesson, they began to put the pieces together and see themselves as whole people (mind, body, and emotion). For the majority of my students, it will take longer to make that connection.

To help the students make that connection, we will continue with the voice and movement work through the study of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The following list of activities will be used to help students see how voice and movement can be integral to the learning process.

  • Introducing A Midsummer Night's Dream by Holly Singleton and Katie McKnight -- Four groups of students will present four scenes from Midsummer that illustrate the relationships between the four lovers (Lysander, Demetrius, Helena, and Hermia). Students will deliver lines from the play at four different points and mini-sculpt the relationship between the four lovers. Once the students have read their lines, another student will have the opportunity to sculpt the tableau of the lover's relationship. After all groups have gone, the class will begin to tell the story of the lovers' plight in their own words.
  • Relationship role-play adapted from a lesson by Erik Johnke and Amy Ulen -- In pairs, choose an A and B. The couple creates a brief history of their relationship. They will then be given three scenarios dealing with teens in love. The first couple is in love, but her father wants her to marry another man. The next situation finds A in love with B, but he loves her best friend. The final situation has B in love with A, but she is in love with someone else. The students then role-play the situation. Discuss what came up for the different couples. In groups of six, enact Act I, scene 1, lines 128-251 (three people will feed-in the scene). Discuss how the characters handle the situation. How would you handle it? Journal Writing -- choose a character and write an entry in his or her journal about this situation.
  • Sound Ball activity adapted from a lesson by Brendan Desilets and Susan Weingarten -- using the scene between Demetrius and Helena (2.1.188-244), the students will experiment with line interpretations. Begin by placing 20 key words from the scene on the board. As the students throw the ball, they will say one of the words. After the ball has made several rotations, the teacher will tell the story of the lovers up to this point in the play. The teacher will then distribute key lines from the scene to the students. The student will memorize his or her line. The student will say his or her line at least three different times before throwing the ball. The teacher will ask questions that may change the interpretation of the line. After each student has a turn, the class will split into groups of four and put the scene on its feet (one pair feeds-in the lines). After each pair has a turn, the teacher will ask for a group to show the scene. After the scene, discuss the different interpretations of the lines. Each student will then choose a favorite line and present it to the class. In their journals, the students will write a letter to either Demetrius or Helena about his or her behavior toward the other person.
  • Status Games adapted from a lesson by Mark Sheppard -- To introduce the students to the idea of status, four students will be given a number from one to four (one being high status and four being low status). Without showing their number to the other three members of the group, they will improvise a scene in which a decision must be made. After the improvisation, the group members will try to guess the numbers of the others. The students can also do this activity by secretly choosing their status numbers. To apply this activity to the text, the students will be split into two groups. The first group will look at the opening court scene and determine the status of Theseus, Egeus, Hermia, Lysander, and Helena. The second group will look at the first mechanicals scene and determine the status of Bottom, Quince, and the others. The students will also be asked if the characters status changes during the scene. After they have an opportunity to run through the scene (choose student actors and students to feed-in), they will present the scene to the rest of the class.
  • "Set Your Heart at Rest" Word Plays adapted from a lesson by Viki Oliver -- Divide the "Set your heart at rest" speech (2.1.121-137) into single words (number the words). With students in a circle, hand out the words in order. Students will make up a "play" using the 3 or 4 words received (putting the words in any order). When they have created their "play," go around the circle and perform it. Then put the words in numerical order and go around the circle several times saying the words in order (first time include the action from the "play," then get rid of the action and say the words trying to create one voice). Hand out the entire speech and discuss its meaning. This is the passage that all students will memorize.
  • Isolate one plot line lesson created by Michael Cremonini -- Students will work in groups to perform the Mechanicals scenes from the play. Each group will work on one section of the plot line. The class will be given enough time to read the scene, decide on student actors and who will feed-in, create costumes and props, and get ready for performance. The scenes will then be performed in order for the class. If time permits, this could be done for all the plot lines in the play.
  • Dropping-in a line adapted from a lesson by Terry Flynn and Viki Oliver -- Drop-in Oberon's line (4.1.64-66) "May all to Athens back again repair,/ And think no more of this night's accidents/ But as the fierce vexation of a dream." Dictate the line as the students write it. In groups of three, students figure out what they think it means. Students share responses. This activity occurs before reading Act IV, so the teacher will ask the students who they think would say this line. Why would the character say this line? Journal Writing -- what came up for you in the dropping-in, who do you think said the line and why? What is going to happen in Act IV?
  • Telling the Story lesson by Michael Cremonini -- At the end of each Act, the students will review by telling the story of that Act. The group will sit in a circle, and the storyteller will stand in the center with the storyteller's scarf. Only the person with the scarf is allowed to speak (unless giving a quote -- see below). The speaker must say "I was there . . ." to begin this portion of the story. The speaker, having told his or her portion of the story, passes the scarf to anyone sitting in the circle. This person cannot refuse to speak. He or she must enter the circle, either continue the story or say "I was not there . . ." and then pass the scarf to another person. Those listening to the story are encouraged to have their books in hand so that they can read or enact key quotes from the play. As the story continues, if a person makes a mistake or tells the story out of order, anyone may enter the circle and gently take the scarf. After the correction is made, the speaker sits down. This continues until the story is told.
  • Dream Motif adapted from a lesson by Brendan Desilets and Lynne Konstant -- After reading the play, the students will break into small groups and find three quotes in which the image of a dream is associated with different feelings or concepts. They will write excerpts of the quote on the board, and as a group, eliminate the duplicates. The teacher will assign one quote to each group. The group will create a tableau for the quote. While the tableau is shown, class members respond to what they see in their journals (teacher's aide will take photographs of the tableaus). Discuss how what they have seen and created constitutes a motif in this play. When the photos are developed, the students will create posters with the pictures and quotes from their journals.
  • Scene Performance -- The students will perform memorized scenes from the script. They will be given ample class time to rehearse and prepare for the final performance.
  • Video Production -- Many of the class activities done in this unit will be video taped as will the final performance. This tape will then be edited--including voice overs--and shown on our local public access channel.

By exploring the text through voice and movement activities, I believe my students will become more aware of themselves as whole people. By carefully observing their personal and educational growth through these activities and by continuing to conduct my own research, I will be able to support the thesis that "Theatre should be the center of education." Jane Roland Martin made this statement during her lecture, and it was supported by the entire teaching staff of Shakespeare & Company. By placing theatre at the center of education, and by creating a "schoolhome" atmosphere, students will have the opportunity to make the connection between mind and body. They will be allowed to use all that they are--mind, body, emotion--to learn and grow. And that is what school is all about--educating the whole person.



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