Teaching Macbeth 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.

In this lesson, we will cover how to ensure ESL students are able to access and comprehend the complex text of ''Macbeth''. Using four different strategies, we will explore how to get ESL students actively engaged in the study of Macbeth while ensuring they successfully understand the vocabulary of the text.

Introduction to Key Strategies

''Fair is foul, and foul is fair, hover through fog and filthy air.'' Say what now? Can you imagine walking into a classroom in a country where they speak a different language, being asked to read literature in that language and then being expected to actually understand what you have read? Well, it happens everyday in many American classrooms. If you're familiar with the works of Shakespeare, you know even native English speakers find it difficult to comprehend the likes of ''My hands are of your color, but I shame to wear a heart so white.'' Come again?

Needless to say, comprehending Macbeth will be completely frustrating at times. It's written in Shakespearean English - it IS a completely different language. As the population of English language learners increases, so too must our toolbox of strategies to aid in assisting these learners to have access to and comprehend the same content as their native English speaking peers.

Use Visuals to Build Background Knowledge

In order to increase student engagement and interest, building background knowledge is essential. Don't assume students know or remember a lot about Shakespeare or Macbeth, especially your ESL students. Using visuals with simple language to give background information necessary to help become familiar with the author and understand the play will lay the foundation for increased comprehension. Whether you use videos, presentations, or infographics, ESL students are more likely to remember information that they can associate with graphics.

1. Introduce the students to the characters of Macbeth and the time period in a presentation of pictures. Allow them to see the costumes and the setting so they'll have visuals while reading.

2. Find clips of Macbeth performances and allow students to see stage directions in action.

Create an English Dictionary

Giving students a Shakespearean English Dictionary they can use during the study of the play is an invaluable resource for them. There are several ways to go about creating this dictionary, but keep instructions and steps simple for your ESL students.

1. First, choose common Shakespearean terms and provide the meaning and the modern day English translation. Encourage the ESL students to include their native language translation as well.

2. Then, instruct and model for students how to add to the dictionary by keeping a list of unknown words they encounter throughout the play.

3. Finally, provide your students with a list of terms specific to Macbeth dividing them by Acts. Give students time in class to work on their dictionaries either individually or collaboratively or both. Also, encourage students to work on their dictionaries at home.

For example, a list of terms from Macbeth, Act I might include: ''foil,'' ''harbinger,'' ''minion,'' ''peerless,'' ''gall,'' and ''frieze.'' Explicitly teach each term, providing visual cues and pronunciation keys.

Pre-Read a Specific Section

Preparation is everything for an ESL student. By giving an ESL student a section to study ahead of time, they are able to improve their comfort level with the language and define any unfamiliar terms before class. Not only are they more prepared to participate in class discussions, but it also further improves comprehension of the text.

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