Year 6 – Using drama to analyse a Shakespeare text

Learning objectives for the lesson

  • To deduce meaning from Shakespearean language.
  • To make inferences based on what is happening in the plot.
  • To explore interpretations of text and arrive at a personal understanding.

Lesson opener

Explore the opening scenes of Act 1 of The Tempest and focus on the shipwreck. Act 1 Scene 1 is full of the action of the storm at sea and lends itself to using segments of text to make sense of the action and consider what atmosphere introduces us to the play. Some well-chosen extracts (see some examples below) will enable groups of children to adopt an investigative approach to the text to find clues for what is happening.

Suitable segments of text to explore in Act 1 Scene 1

[On a ship at sea]: a tempestuous noise of thunder

and lightning heard.

  • Enter mariners.

 −Take in the topsail. Tend to th’ master’s whistle.

  • A cry within. A plague upon this howling! They are 

−louder than the weather or our office.

− Have you a mind to sink?

− … though the ship were no stronger than a nutshell …

 −All lost, to prayers, to prayers! all lost!

  • A confused noise within: “Mercy on us!”

 −Let’s all sink wi’ th’ King.

Having introduced the theme of magic through looking at Prospero’s conjuring up of the storm with the help of the spirit, Ariel, the children can free themselves up for some prediction activities without being bound by the realms of common sense and logic. The plot has elements of the unknown and the supernatural, which is the perfect theme to use as a springboard into creative ideas about what might happen next. Some plot developments and ‘back story’ will need to have been shared by this point to ensure that the children are aware of the ill-feeling that Prospero has for Antonio, who usurped his place as the Duke of Milan. Discussing how this would make us feel, particularly if a family member had treated us this way, will be useful in laying some foundations for these predictions.

You may choose to put the children into groups with a key question to consider together. The act of collaborating about this, hypothesising and speculating about characters’ reactions or actions, will engage the children with their ideas. There may be some disagreements and the children can be encouraged to explain their viewpoint and defend their prediction to their peers. 

Main lesson


At this point the children should be sitting in a circle with no desks. They should be aware that they are going to explore some of their predictions through drama. You will need a volunteer to play the parts of Prospero, Ferdinand, Miranda and Ariel.

Explain to the children that Ariel evokes more magic – but this time for Ferdinand, son to the King of Naples. Ariel sings a song convincing Ferdinand that his father has drowned at sea. As Prospero and Miranda listen, they hear Ferdinand commenting on the music:

Act 1 Scene 2, Lines 408–410

The ditty does remember my drown’d father.

This is no mortal business, nor no sound

That the earth owes: – I hear it now above me.

This will be the cue, with some well-chosen music, for the children to begin their exploration of what happens next. The four characters in the scene can be placed in the middle of the circle and positioned where the children think would best suit this point in the plot.

Ask children who were predicting what would happen when Ferdinand and Miranda met about their ideas. Ask the rest of the class if this would change the positions that the characters are standing in. Have some strips of card ready with segments of text either printed or written in a large font. Working flexibly with the predictions that you receive from the class, add in a new segment of text for the class to consider. Depending on the ability level of the children, you may want them to have some paired discussion for one or two minutes to think through some initial reactions.

There will be a layering of text presented to the children which will ask them to

(a) deal with the challenges of some possibly unfamiliar language,

(b) consider the development of plot and changing relationship between characters, and

(c) consider why Shakespeare crafted the plot this way.

You will want to plan in advance what questions you might challenge more able children with in order to develop their critical thinking further.

Segments of text to explore in Act 1 Scene 2, Lines 408–504:

Miranda: What is ‘t? a spirit? (412)
Prospero:  No, wench; it eats and sleeps and hath such senses

As we have, such. (415–16)

Miranda: I might call him a thing divine. (420)
Ferdinand:  Most sure the goddess

On whom these airs attend! (424–25)

Ferdinand: I weep: myself am Naples …

The King my father wrack’d. (437–39)

Prospero: [aside] At the first sight

They have chang’d eyes. Delicate Ariel,

I’ll set thee free for this. (443–45)

Prospero: They are both in either’s pow’rs: but this

swift business

I must uneasy make, lest too light winning

Make the prize light. (453–55)

                        Prospero (to Miranda): Follow me.

Speak not you for him: he’s a traitor. Come. (462–63)

Miranda:  O dear father,

Make not too rash a trial of him, for

He’s gentle, and not fearful. (469–471)

Prospero (to Miranda): Thou think’st there are no more such shapes as he,

Having seen but him and Caliban: foolish wench! (481–82)

                        Miranda (to Ferdinand): Be of comfort;

My father’s of a better nature, sir,

Than he appears by speech. (498–500)

Prospero (Ariel): Thou shalt be as free

As mountain winds: but then exactly do

All points of my command. (501–03)

Ariel: To th’ syllable. (503) 


Using some of the recorded predictions regarding what would happen if Miranda and Ferdinand met, play these to the class. Ask them to revisit these predictions in light of what they have discovered now. Is this what they expected? Did the four characters in this part of the scene behave as they thought they would?

Anticipate moving the plot forward next lesson and ask them where they think the other passengers from the ship have gone. How will this impact on Prospero, Miranda and Ferdinand differently? 

Assessment (measuring achievement)

Assessment for learning

The balance between planning for teacher questioning and being flexible enough to listen to and respond to different ideas is significant in lessons such as these. You will need to think about the types of questions that are asking the children to move their thinking on: Why did Prospero react the way he did? Did you expect Ferdinand and Miranda to fall in love? How do you think Ariel feels? What might happen to the young couple now? What do you think the ending of the play will be like? 

Assessment at the point of learning

The opportunity to watch and listen to children you know well, with a new and challenging text, is an ideal time for the teacher to move with the flow of learning; being ready to pounce on that exciting or insightful comment can be a way of harnessing learning and pushing the children to new realms of thinking. However, this does not happen without careful planning of the structure of the lesson and a good understanding of how teacher questioning is linked to better critical reading.

Assessment of learning

The reflection on this lesson is imperative if you are going to get the pitch of the next lesson right. Not only will valuable learning be lost if there is no meaningful link between lessons but, more importantly, the pace and engagement levels will fade. Ensure that you know how the children have coped with the plot developments and the new interactions between characters. How have they responded to the language? Is now the time to spend some time experimenting with just a few segments to consolidate progress from this lesson?


The challenge in ‘doing’ Shakespeare includes the archaic language and forgetting that some of the complexities of plot were never intended to be read, but to be seen enacted on stage. The main premise is that the teacher understands this at the outset and looks to embrace both of these challenges with a creative, active and collaborative approach to text, exploring the wonderful stories within. 

For more lesson inspiration and for the theory behind how to develop good lessons, see the Lessons in Teaching Series.