Ingenious introduction to Shakespeare


Children experienced an enriching first encounter with Shakespeare during its Book Week 2019.

As a school, Westbourne House values reading highly and Book Week is designed to create a focus on reading, provide a physical demonstration of the importance of reading, as well as celebrating the fun and joy reading can create. This year’s theme also brought Shakespeare to life for pupils.

Book Week activities were many and varied and the whole school was alive with Shakespeare-inspired learning including sessions practising insults in the bard’s words and concocting Shakespearian spells.

Mrs Pippa Sutcliffe, Head of English, summed it up saying, “We were delighted with the outcome: the school and the children have fizzed with enthusiasm for books and reading.  It was also wonderful to introduce pupils to Shakespeare. Shakespeare never meant his plays to be read behind a desk in a classroom – they were written to be performed. We aim for our pupils to love language and we asked pupils to learn and perform a few lines of Shakespeare. In order to do this, the children needed to comprehend fully the meaning as well as deliver the lines in a way that ensured the audience understood."

The younger Pre-Prep children learnt how audiences behaved back in Shakespeare’s time and when the Year 7 children performed Shakespeare for them, they booed the villains and cheered the heroes! Other performances during the week included the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, which was acted out – much to enjoyment of pupils and staff - by members of the school’s in-house maintenance team. A Macbeth scene was dramatically performed by English teachers and pupils at the ‘Shakespeare: This Is Your Life’ assembly, and Year 5 staged their adaptation of Julius Caesar in front of the pillars of main house for years 1 – 4.

Throughout the week pupils and staff also shared their favourite quotes from books, plays and poems, as well as reading on demand when a special bell rang out for the ‘drop everything and read’ sessions.  The Year 7 Happy Helpers, a position of responsibility in the school, read to the younger children in the Pre-Prep and Nursery as well.

The week culminated in a Shakespeare-themed dress up day, with fairies, spiders, romans and donkeys amongst the many colourful ideas.

Feedback from pupils was positive. Arthur Southall, Year 6, said, "I loved Glenn and Lloyd's [two of Westbourne House's Maintenance Team], performance of Romeo and Juliet using the stairs and balcony in the Main House. It was brilliant!"

Mary Bruce, Year 4, said, "I enjoyed writing and performing spells, like the ones in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The best bit was acting them out."

Harry Brown, Year 5, told of his favourite element of the week, "I thought the assembly about the life of Shakespeare was brilliant, where teachers and pupils performed famous lines."

Venetia McMorran, Tom Bosley and Bella Rank, Year 8, agreed, "We loved that the teachers got involved; it was fun to see them putting themselves out there, performing on stage."

Even down in the nursery the children were absorbing the experience. On day two, Georgie Jay, aged 3, was heard saying, "Shakespeare writes notes for plays".

When talking to pupils at towards the end of the week, I got a real sense of the love they have towards Shakespeare’s plays, whose incredible works have influenced our culture over the last 400 years.

Pippa Sutcliffe