We started working through Macbeth and the book (the text) that we are using is the RSC School Shakespeare version of Macbeth. It is actually the third play in this series that we have read and I must admit – I think this format is one of the reasons why Shakespeare is such a hit in our house, something that is not feared but actually something that the kids want to read and discover. In fact even though we have only just finished the first Act my daughter is already asking me which one of Shakespeare’s plays we are going to do next and suggesting that I need to buy the next one so it is ready and waiting for us to read.
So why do we like this format so much. Simply put it is all the extras that they have included which seem to weave a magical spell over the words and make them understandable and the entire play really entertaining and enjoyable.
They start by introducing Macbeth, which includes a really great 4 page summary (we highly recommend reading this first as it just helps the kids to understand the detail later on if they know the basics first).
Then you have the play itself followed by 13 pages called William Shakespeare and his world and then a glossary. This section called William Shakespeare and his world is a must read as it gives the kids context and explains a lot of the themes of the play. To really understand Shakespeare you need to understand the time period in which he lived and the current events which helped to form the characters and events in his plays. So both my daughter and I really appreciate the fact that they have included these pages and we actually think it helps to read these before you get involved in the detail of the play itself (or at the least if you a home educator I would suggest that the adult working through the play should read this section first).
Okay now the play itself. The play is set out in double pages where only one page is the actual text and the other page contains the extras. So yes this does mean that the book is thicker and it does take longer to read but it is these extras that we find help us to understand the words and actually bring his words to life.
On every double page they always include a photo of the scene being acted out. This is magic for us, pure magic. The vibrant photos of actors performing these words help the reader to visualise the play on stage and because you get this image in your head some of the confusing words or phrases just seem to make sense. I remember reading a version of Macbeth without the photographs and it really was not the same, I did not visualise the characters and events like we are doing with this version. I absolutely believe theses photographs are one of the key reasons why my daughter is so engaged in the play (and why she is really understanding it).
Okay so apart from the brilliant photographs each page of extra information will always contain a brief 2 or 3 line summary at the top of the page, a glossary and some activity ideas. The quick summary is written in modern English at the top of the page is a game changer for us (such a simple idea but the fact that they include it on each double page means you are constantly checking that you are still on track with your understanding) and the glossary is our other game changer. Yes there is a glossary at the end of the play but by including a glossary next to the text you are reading means you just check the words as you read and you are not constantly having to flip to the back of the book, which may sound lazy but for kids reading it does make a massive difference. In fact with us, I often read the text and as I am reading out loud my daughter quietly checks any words she is not sure of while I am reading so it still flows naturally.
The extras also include activity ideas – which you don’t need to do and sometimes just reading the activity idea and having a quick think about it helps to just cement what you have read. But they are there for ideas which is really helpful.
Then on some pages you also get other extras – things like explaining a key term, talking about something from the time period or even a bit about how actors would perform it. These can include some really important pieces of information like talking about Iambic Pentameter.
We really do enjoy this format, and I truly do believe it is one of the main reasons why Shakespeare has become such a popular writer in our house – because not only do the kids end up understanding his words but they actually engage with the play and start to really understand the characters.
Admin – Oxford University Press allowed me to chose some Free English resources for review purposes. I chose this Macbeth book because we had already used the Romeo and Juliet version and I knew we enjoyed the format. All opinions expressed are that of my daughter and myself.
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