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Innovation: Teaching Shakespeare to English-Learners

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Christina Porter is a literacy coach at Revere High School in Massachusetts and she's co-taught William Shakespeare's "The Tempest" and "Midsummer Night's Dream" to classes of English-language learners.

She writes about how she made the plays accessible to ELLs in the September issue of English Journal, published by the National Council of Teachers of English. If you're a member of that organization, you can access the article, "Words, Words, Words: Reading Shakespeare with English Language Learners," online. The students who studied the plays were in grades 9-12 and had a level of English proficiency just below that in which they'd be considered able to succeed in a mainstream classroom.

One technique Porter used is a reading-comprehension strategy called "chunking." Students break a scene into segments based on its changes in emotion or action.

Another technique Porter used was to pick out important lines from a scene and write each one on an index card. The students read the lines aloud to their classmates. She then collects the cards and asks students to write down as many words or lines as they can remember, including their own line. The students predict what the scene is about.

Porter writes: "English language learners experiment with their second language every day. This was one of the initial reasons that I thought Shakespeare, a word artist and inventor of language, would be an ideal writer to use to further their exploration of English."

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