Saturday, December 18, 2010

Motif Project: Macbeth

My Senior English class just finished studying The Tragedy of Macbeth. We spent a great deal of time analyzing the motifs that show up throughout the play: Blood, light, darkness, sleep, nature, and the theme of deception.

The students were placed into groups of 3-4, and each group was assigned a motif to follow throughout the play. After each act, they recorded instances of their motif in a class wiki. Click here to view an example. This part of the project helped them see how many times Shakespeare included those motifs throughout the play, and they started to see what characters were associated with the different motifs.

That was a great exercise, but the culminating project blew me away.

For the final exam, students came up to the whiteboard one at a time and wrote a motif, character or idea from the play. They then had to connect that items to any other items on the board and explain why they were linked together. This is what it looked like:

The class was actively engaged in helping each other make the connections between items. Once we were finished, we had an outstanding discussion about what this play is really about. We also talked about who or what should be at the center of this word web (Power or Macbeth was the consensus). 

I saw REAL learning and understanding taking place during this activity. Many students commented to me that they felt like they actually understood Shakespeare for the first time, beyond just basic plot points. I felt like this assessed student's understanding far better than any multiple-choice or essay test that I could construct.


  1. One "trick" I did was we would read each scene out loud, then we would stop at the end of the scene and discuss and paraphrase what exactly happened in 2 sentences or less. In this way we created our own class specific "Cliff Notes". I used these notes to create the test. This was a way for me to make sure I was checking student learning in class. I could also give a particpation grade. We had a class scribe who kept notes for the class (the scribe changed every class.) It was also an easy way for me to catch someone up who had missed the discussion, they just read our class notes. Students also had to create Shakespeare Traking Cards which had a drawing of the character on the front and biographical data on the back. Usually, Name, title, family, firends, enemies, outcome, best line....students filled these out as they read and could use them during class and tests. The cliff notes were allowed as well. The tests were mainly discussing themes within the text, mainly in essay form, things students should have discussed in class but wouldn't be in their Cliff notes or Shakespeare cards.

  2. Coach - I really like both of those ideas. I am doing Caesar this month with my sophomores, so I think I will try them out. Thank you!

  3. Awesome activity! Angie and I want to use blogs or wiki's this semester with our Lang students. Be prepared for us to hunt you down for help :)

  4. I just stumbled across this blog this morning, and I love this idea of the word web on the board. Could you elaborate more on the actual activity and procedure? I am having a hard time picturing how the word web builds from the beginning.