Shakespeare’s Workshop

One of the more fascinating practices I learned from this previous year developing a PBL program is workshopping. As I type the word ‘workshopping,’ there is a red squiggly line reminding me that it is not  word–yet. Many of you probably understand what a workshop is meant to do. defines a workshop as “a seminar, discussion group, or the like, that emphasizes exchange of ideas and the demonstration and application of techniques, skills, etc.” There are plenty of workshops out there too. The Home Depot holds them all the time to teach participants how to tile a bathroom, build  a birdhouse, etc, and people gladly go to these workshops because they want to know. And there is the crux of one of our greatest educational issues–the want or desire to know. I found out for myself just how powerful the word workshopping really is in the classroom.

One of the challenges that faced me and my colleagues as we developed our PBL classroom was how to get supplemental material to the students that might not be covered in a project. We originally used what we deemed the ‘coffee chat’ to get ideas to students. I realized, however, that there was some material that would take more than just one mini-lesson to cover, so I decided to develop a workshop. This first workshop I labeled the Shakespeare workshop as I spent two and half weeks presenting interactive mini-lessons to the students that revolved around Shakespeare and his play The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. It was an immediate success.

I have no hard data to use as evidence, but just by using the word ‘workshop’ rather than lesson, lecture, or discussion, my students were immediately engaged in learning about Shakespeare. I’ve always had students who enjoy Shakespeare in a regular class setting, but this was the first that I had the attention of almost the entire class for over half a month.

The key was making each workshop simple, short, and interactive. We never spent more than thirty minutes on any lesson, and I used handouts, video, audio, and images rather than a text book to present the playwright, his life, and one of his classic tragedies. Some students used the workshop as a spring board for exploring Shakespeare more closely. A handful even read several of his other plays. Others discovered there was nothing to be frightened of in concern to his words and works, while even more students used his poetic style to create poetic work of their own.

By workshopping Shakespeare rather than lecturing him, I captured student attention and more of them enjoyed encountering the famous playwright. It is amazing what simply using a different word and using a slightly different approach can do for encouraging students want to learn.

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