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Shakespeare KS2 – How to teach William Shakespeare’s plays in primary school

Can primary school children really make sense of the Bard? Absolutely...
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By Sue Drury

Last updated 17 August 2020

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Key Stage 2 be or not to be? That is not really the question, actually. If you are asking yourself, when should a student learn about Shakespeare, the answer is that there is no real lower limit.

Given Shakespeare’s fabled inability to spell his own name consistently, you might think that you could even get away with it in KS1 where phonetically plausible spellings are more acceptable.

However, if you would rather not cry havoc, it’s probably best to stick to KS2, especially upper KS2, by which time they should have a broader vocabulary and a better understanding of figurative language.

Of course, you might already have an intimate knowledge of this area but, in case you don’t, here are some pointers towards Shakespeare resources and interesting ideas for getting the bard into your classroom.

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Shakespeare’s life fact file

Start with some basic facts about William Shakespeare. Who was this man that everyone raves about? Well, he was an English playwright who was born in the West Midlands in 1564 and died in 1616.

Add his life to any timeline you have on display in your classroom. After all, he must be as significant a personality in history as any king or queen. We could give you a lot of other facts and figures about his life but you could find those out yourself.

Here’s an idea, why not just watch the 1998 film Shakespeare in Love instead? If you’ve already seen it, watch it again. It might not be historically accurate but it gives a very amusing look at his life, his influences and the context in which he was writing. Sadly, it’s a bit too racy for primary kids, though.

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Shakespeare’s work

Not only did he give us some of the best loved plays in the world ever, such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear and The Tempest, Shakespeare also had a massive impact on the English language.

His vocabulary was greater than any other writer and when he couldn’t put his finger on the right word or phrase, he would just make one up. Many of his sayings are still very much in use today. See how many you can spot here.

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Shakespeare plays

As well as embroidering our language, he created stories that have put a twinkle in the mind’s eye of people ever since. Countless films have been made of his plays and still more have been created as modern reworkings of Shakespearian tales. What’s more, his works have influenced musicians from Leonard Bernstein to Dire Straits to Taylor Swift. There, that made them sit up and take notice.

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Shakespeare’s sonnets

Alongside a whole heap of plays, Shakespeare also wrote 154 sonnets – 14-lined poems with ten syllables per line. As well as being an important part of his output, they are also a great way to introduce pupils to his writing in shorter bursts. Why not use our Shakespeare sonnets resource to give your pupils a chance to explore a couple of his most famous poems before writing sonnets of their own?

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Shakespeare’s language

Short, snappy phrases that perfectly express a great deal with very few words were one of Shakespeare’s trademarks. These idioms were so enduring that we use many of them today, mostly without realising who first coined them. Lie low, good riddance and green-eyed monster are just a few classic examples. Give your class a chance to investigate them some more with our idioms worksheets, sorting packs and display packs. Even though SATs aren’t really the be-all and end-all, these might even help them lead a charmed life in comprehension tests.

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Shakespeare insults KS2

Now, no one wants to encourage anyone to be mean. But you have to admit, Shakespeare really did relish a good insult. Sometimes vicious, sometimes weird, they were invariably interesting and very often pretty funny. Your class will love them! So, if you want to get your poisonous bunch-backed toads and bolting-hutches of beastliness a good workout for their clay brains, let them loose on our Shakespearean insult resources. As well as stretching your pupils’ inference skills as they try to work out exactly what the bard was going on about with gems like stock-fish and cream faced loon, they will also provide a fun vehicle for exercising their own creativity.

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Shakespeare stories for KS2

In case you’re not totally familiar with his most famous plays, don’t fret! You can always get hold of a selection of child-friendly adaptations of Shakespearean tales to share with your class. And, when no one’s looking, skim through them yourself.

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Drama lesson – All the world’s a stage

If you’re feeling really bold, you could also try staging a child-friendly version of a Shakespeare play as your end of year production. Once again, there are some good ones available and it can really add an impressive climax to any child’s time at primary school.


Hey nonny-nonny! In one fell swoop, that’s a lot of bardish ideas with which to shake up your classroom. And if you can spot all the Shakespeare quotes in this piece, then all’s well that ends well.

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