King Lear: A Common Core Unit

"King Lear and the Fool in the Storm"...

I teach one section of 12th graders, and rather than read the normal Macbeth play for our Shakespeare unit, I choose King Lear.  Lear is probably one of the most commonly relatable plays for my particular culture because over half of my students come from broken homes or live in single parent households. 

Here are the bare bones of the unit.  You may add to or modify as you like.

1.  Improv – I introduce the play by having them improv the main plot of the play.  Students are given a scenario where a dying father is wanting to give away his wealth to his three children so he asks them how much they love him.  One of the children pledges their love to him, so he grants her a third of his property.  The second child says that she doesn’t need all that land and that her love for him is enough.  Then the old father turns to his third child whom he loves the most and asks what she/he can do to top that.  The third child simply says “Nothing”.  Give each of them something to say without telling anyone else what they are to say.  See how it plays out.

2.  Watch the Play – At the outset, I have my students watch the play at home on the internet. provides a free viewing of the play here.  I assign groups of students a main character: Lear, Regan, Goneril, Cordelia, Gloucester, Kent, Edgar, Edmund, the Fool, King of France.  Each group or individual is to record at least five character traits about that character when they view the play.

3.  Blogging – I use this instead of students writing in solitary journals.  Students have to sign up for a free blog on WordPress or Blogger and then they have to post at least 6 questions with their paragraph answer to the questions during the course of reading the play in class.  I take about three weeks to go through the play, and during that time they are also to leave at least 6 comments on fellow classmate’s blogs.  This works much better than a solitary journal because it allows them to discuss the play outside of class as they are reading it. (Plus it covers the technology requirments of Common Core).

4.  Collaborative Paper – Students use the blogging exercise to prepare for this.  Students will pair up.  They will look at each other’s blog and pick one of the questions they wrote to write a debate paper about.  One of them will create a new page on their blog and use that to start a back-and-forth conversation about the question using text evidence to support their opinion.  Each of them needs to write at least 300-500 words for each entry with one of them starting it.  They should write at least 3 conversation chunks of 300-500 words each.  When they finish this, they need to transfer it to an MLA format with proper citation for their evidence. 

5.  Multi-Media Presentation – Students will be placed in groups and that group then chooses a scene to perform via film production.  The great thing about the current technology is that they have everything they need to do this on their smart phone.  Here is a sample method for leading them through the steps of this process.

  1.  Edit –
    1. Make copies of the scene’s text for everyone in the group.
    2. Read the scene aloud going around the table.  As you read, circle any words and phrases you don’t understand.
    3. Get definitions for those words
    4. Read again, deciding together what each speech means.  Read again, deciding on the objective of each character.
    5. Decide how your passage fits into the context.
  2. Cast –
    1. When everyone has a comfortable understanding of the scene, cast parts.
    2. You may have members double.
    3. Decide whether to appoint a director to oversee the whole production or to act together in making all decisions.
  3. Characterize –
    1. Read through your lines silently and aloud many times until you are sure you understand every word, phrase and sentence.
    2. Identify your objective in the passage.
    3. Decide what words, phrases, or ideas need to be.
    4. Decide where pauses are appropriate and indicate them on your script.
    5. Read your part aloud many times so that it’s comfortable.
  4. Sound Effects and Music –
    1. Read through the scene, noticing the setting.  Imagine background noise or music that would help listeners imagine the setting, and think about how you might produce and record that.
    2. Read through the scene, noticing character entrances and exits.  Decide how you might signal these with appropriate sounds.
    3. Read through the scene again, noticing any other movements or actions that might suggest noise.  Plan for ways of producing these sound effects.
    4. Read through the scene with the planned sound effects and music clips several times.
    5. Note any extra props that you might need to produce the sound effects.
  5. Rehearse –
    1. Rehearse your scene several times.
  6. Record –
    1. Use your smart phone to record scenes. 
    2. Go to the App Store or to the Android App Store and search for “video editing” and you will pull up several free video editing apps that will allow you to edit video right on your phone.
    3. Examples: Splice Video Editor (iPhone); Magisto – Magic Video Editor (Android).
    4. Upload the video to YouTube for presentation in class and e-mail the link to the instructor (provide your e-mail here)
    5. Presentation – Your multimedia presentation will be shown in class in order of appearance in the play.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

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