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Journal Prompts to Teach Shakespeare's Macbeth

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

Studying the works of William Shakespeare can be intimating for students. Their apprehension may stem from the difficulty of the language, the depth of themes, or perhaps just Shakespeare’s reputation as being difficult. Shakespeare need not incite panic in our students, however. I’ve found one approach that makes his works much more approachable: the use of journaling.

The benefits of journaling are profound. Because there is no single “right” answer and it is generally informal in nature, journals build confidence in the writing process and contribute to emotional development. Writing, just like any other activity, needs to be practiced with great frequency in order for improvement to occur. I’ve found journals a great opportunity to not only practice writing, but also to connect a piece of literature to students’ daily lives, thus making it more relatable and memorable.

Journaling and Shakespeare's Macbeth

One of my favorite plays to teach is Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth. Despite the plot of witches, countless murders, corrupt Kings and Queens, and ghosts, this play is much more relatable to students than it may initially appear.

Prior to a respective reading assignment in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, students respond to a daily, in class journal centered on one of the play’s themes. After a period of 10-15 minutes of writing, we discuss their responses.

Then, once the students read the assigned Act in Macbeth, the plays themes are not only more apparent, but the characters motivations are more relatable and understandable.

Macbeth Journal #1

Journal completed prior to beginning Act I of Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Explain the influence your peers have on your decision making.

Generally, do your peers positively or negatively affect your decision making? Explain.

Describe a time you have fallen to peer or parental pressure. What were the effects?

Macbeth Journal #2

Journal completed prior to beginning Act II of Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Imagine for a moment that you’ve just done THE WORST thing you could ever imagine YOURSELF doing. (NOTE: this is subjective—for one person it may be breaking curfew, for another if may be murder (though I sincerely hope not!!))

On your piece of paper, explain this act. Then, ponder the following:

To what lengths would you go to cover up this horrible act? Or…

Would you confess immediately? Explain. What role does fear play in your decision making?

Macbeth Journal #3

Journal to be completed prior to beginning Act IV of Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Do you agree or disagree with the following:

“Evil means justify honorable ends.”

Use experiences from your own life, or things you’ve observed to form the basis of your argument.


iheartkafka (author) on August 12, 2012:

What an excellent activity, Elise-Loyacano! Thanks for sharing!

Elise-Loyacano from San Juan, Puerto Rico on August 11, 2012:

This is an excellent approach. It also gets the student into thinking mode so they are ready to read critically, and because it sends the message that their ideas are important, they will feel (and read) more intelligently. (In other words, it's a nifty psychological trick to prime them for intelligent thought.)

Here's a post-reading exercise that is meant to help a student go deeper in analyzing a work in a way that isn't intimidating. I really liked using it in the classroom (I can't remember the name of the book I got this from. My apologies for the lack of a source.)

1) After the students read the text, have them take out a piece of paper and use a pen or pencil to divide the page in 4 equal parts. Tell them to choose one scene that impacted them.

2) Give them 30 seconds to draw the scene.

3) Then give them a minute to describe the scene in words.

4) They then get a 3 minutes to pretend they are college professors. They need to write out a lecture about the scene. (This is where they really get analyzing.)

5) Finally, they get 2 minutes to do a creative exercise based on the scene. (They can do a crossword puzzle, a poem, a word collage. Whatever gets their creative juices flowing.)

Even older students really enjoy this exercise, and it helps them get ready for intelligent class discussion.

SPK5367 from Pennsylvania, USA on August 10, 2012:

Great ideas here. I am hoping to work through The Taming of the Shrew with several homeschooled children (including my own). Journaling sounds like a great way to help them connect with the text. Thanks!

iheartkafka (author) on August 09, 2012:

Those are excellent suggestions, gekeye! Thank you so much for sharing!

gekeye on August 09, 2012:

Some very insightful and thought-provoking questions.

Having taught Macbeth, one question sure to generate varied and interesting response would pertain to belief in the supernatural. (I have used this as a proposition for an in-class debate before reading Hamlet and it fuels some very animated discussion!)

Other issues from Macbeth worth delving into are those of guilt (pertaining initially to Macbeth and later to Lady Macbeth) and invinsibility as Macbeth believes the prophecies of his demise are impossible.

Donna Hilbrandt from Upstate New York on August 09, 2012:

Great ideas here. I use journals in my classroom as well, and they really do allow students to connect to the major themes. Doing this with a work of Shakespeare is always helpful. Voted up and sharing.

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