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Teaching Guide

Teaching King Lear

Shmooping the Bard.

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King Lear might be Shakespeare's greatest tragedy. The second-greatest tragedy? Going in to teach it unprepared. We can help you avoid becoming that kind of statistic.

In this guide you will find

  • an activity for students to tell the story of King Lear through art.
  • an activity for students to create a King Lear podcast.
  • pop culture connections, featuring modern updates and adaptations starring everyone from Jessica Lange and Ian McKellan to Krusty the Clown.

And much more.

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• 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students.
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• Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
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Instructions for You

Objective: Students work in small groups to create and perform a condensed audio podcast of King Lear. By paring down Lear to a performance lasting no longer than five minutes, students learn about the importance of the play's language, explore the performative possibilities of the play, and learn to relate the most salient features of the plot. This assignment can span one week, including a portion of one class period to introduce the assignment and a full class period for students to share their original work.

Materials Needed: Teachers should make arrangements to play students' recording in class. Students may save their work as a digital audio file to play from a computer or iPod, or they may burn their audio to a CD. Students should also be given the option to perform live in class.

Step 1: After reading the full version of the play, the teacher discusses the parameters of this assignment and organizes students into small groups.

Step 2: Students listen to the Reduced Shakespeare Company's 34-second version of King Lear.

Step 3: Working in small groups, students create a condensed (five minutes or less) audio podcast of King Lear.

Step 4: In class, students perform live or play audio CDs for their classmates. They should also turn in a script.

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: Speaking Applications 2.3, 2.4, 2.5; Listening and Speaking 1.1, 1.3.)

Instructions for Your Students

Ian McKellen (a.k.a. Gandalf), one of the most famous actors to play the role of King Lear, says that physical sets and props aren't necessarily important in the staging of King Lear because the language is what makes the play. In a March 2009 interview for PBS's Great Performances, McKellen advises us, "listen to what [the actors] are saying and you'll get all you need, I think, out of the play."

Naturally, we wonder if this is really true. To test McKellen's theory, you'll be performing a little experiment. In this activity, you'll listen to an audio podcast of the Reduced Shakespeare Company's 34-second adaptation of King Lear. (What? We don't have all day here!) Then, you'll work in a small group to produce your own condensed audio podcast of King Lear.

Step 1: Listen to the Reduced Shakespeare Company's 34-second adaptation of King Lear, compliments of our good friend, NPR.

Step 2: As smart and funny as this 34-second King Lear adaptation may be, you can do even better. Working in a small group, create a condensed audio performance of the play. Just about anything goes as long as you follow a few basic rules:

  1. The piece should last no longer than five minutes.
  2. Think of yourselves as a group of performers and educators. Your goal is to entertain, sure, but you also need to leave your audience with a strong sense of what King Lear is all about.
  3. Remember, this is an audio performance so you should focus on the play's language and any sound effects that you think might enhance your production.
  4. Your group should hand in a script, which, of course, means that you'll need to write one.

Psst. If you need some help deciding how to shave down the plot, check out these resources on Shmoop:

Step 3: Perform your piece live in class or play your pre-recorded masterpiece for your teacher and classmates.

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Common Core Standards  

The following standards are covered in this course:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.6

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