Teaching Hamlet to ESL Students

Instructor: Cynthia Roberson

Cynthia has been an English Language Arts, ELL and Writing educator for over a decade on a secondary and collegiate level. She has a Master's degree in Secondary Education.

This lesson will help you help ESL students comprehend the challenging text of Hamlet. We will explore various ways to engage ESL students in Hamlet while deepening their understanding of the text.

Strategies for Success

There is no one way to help ESL students understand Hamlet. However, trying multiple and diverse strategies will ensure that you reach all of your ESL learners. The key is to provide the ESL learner many opportunities for success and to conduct frequent checks for understanding to confirm that a particular reading comprehension strategy is working. Let's look at some ideas your can implement to help your ESL students studying Hamlet.

Use a Parallel Text

Parallel texts are useful when teaching Hamlet, as they help ESL students see the language of Shakespeare and modern-day English side by side throughout the entire text. Not only do parallel texts allow the students to gain a sense of new vocabulary in context, but they also assist in scaffolding. These texts allow ESL students to confidently translate text into their native language when necessary without having to guess the original meaning, because it has already been provided.

Using parallel texts for Hamlet makes accessible a text that is generally considered to be challenging and inaccessible to ESL students. Moreover, parallel texts can be used by ESL students with limited vocabulary and low-level oral speaking capability or by those with an extensive vocabulary and high-level oral speaking capability.

Show Movie Clips

Movie clips of Hamlet are a great way for ESL students to gain a sense of the tone that goes along with a passage. Because they are focused on reading for comprehension, ESL students often neglect to consider the tone of a passage or may not be familiar enough with the language to understand the implied tone. Showing movie clips will deepen their comprehension of the text and give them a more authentic understanding of the time period, as well as providing an opportunity to visualize the characters of the play. It will also eliminate the necessity of reading the play in its entirety, which can prove quite challenging to less proficient ESL students.

Incorporate Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers are a great way to scaffold learning, create study guides, and check for understanding. There are numerous options to choose from for reading comprehension, teaching new vocabulary, analyzing tone, theme and style, and characterization and plot. Some of the more common graphic organizers used are:

Venn Diagram

This organizer can be used to do a comparison/contrast. In the case of Hamlet, two characters, such as Hamlet and Claudius or Gertrude and Ophelia, can be compared and contrasted. This would help students determine foil characters or focus on traits of a protagonist versus an antagonist.

Plot Diagram

Asking ESL students to fill in a plot diagram focuses their attention on the sequence of significant events in the story and requires them to follow the plot more carefully. ESL students then have to pay careful attention to the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution of Hamlet in order to fill in each stage of the plot.

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