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Teaching shakespeare's TWELFTH NIGHT through tableau, improvisation, and drama games!

During my Student Teaching at Deering High School, I was tasked with preparing the students in Drama/Speech class to attend a local college production of Twelfth Night and with creating a post-performance assessment for them. For many of the students, English was not their first language, and many had never seen a play before. I adapted lessons from the Royal Shakespeare Academy's Hamlet workshop, tailoring them for Twelfth Night.




Character & Theme Tableaux


Whole group in a circle: Make me...

A duke

A heartsick duke

A countess        

A mourning countess

Twins—a brother and a sister

A sea captain

A party guy

A silly sidekick

A clown

A serious clown

A maid

A devious maid

A butler

A cranky butler

Into small groups (4 – 6): Ten second images

In your groups make me a tableau of:



Romantic comedy

Mistaken identity


A practical joke


Countdown 10 - 9 etc

Activity: Twelfth Night Story Whoosh

A quick, physical, participatory telling of the story using text and action to establish consensual understanding and invite participants to play. Director (teacher or designated student) reads an abbreviated version of the story, covering plot and major characters, and directs the action with a magic staff. Players sit in a storytelling circle and are asked to jump in and create the pictures: characters, places and things for the story. When the circle gets too crowded, with a quick whoosh of the staff they are sent back to their place.

In our version, we also used key props and costume pieces to indicate characters.

Our story begins with Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, at his palace.

Sir Toby draws his sword on Sebastian just as Olivia appears. She breaks up the fight—mistaking Sebastian for Cesario.





Twelfth Night Circle of Love

Stand in a circle facing inwards. Recite lines in unison. Clap the rhythm to help students understand the rhythm of iambic pentameter. All eyes down on first line. All eyes up on second. Players who make direct eye contact with each other are ‘out’ and need to DRAMATICALLY DIE OF LOVESICKNESS. Continue until two players left. Players who are ‘dead’ continue to recite lines. Reciting lines in unison takes the pressure off any one student to master the language immediately. Creating a dramatic game from these lines brings out the drama inherent in the text without having to understand every single word.

Activity: Artist Renderings


Intro: “One of the themes of Twelfth Night that came from our Story Whoosh yesterday was LOVE in all its different forms. Today we’re going to look at artist renderings of different scenes where characters are expressing feelings of love from the play, and I’m going to ask you to recreate the scenes as tableau.”


1) Have volunteers model an example with the whole class. Ask for two volunteers to recreate image in tableau,  adopting the poses of the characters in the image. Ask volunteers to come up and adjust the actors’ body language and suggest adjustments to facial expressions to match the artist image. Reveal who the characters are and what scene in the play this is.


2) Divide students into groups of 3. Give each group an artist rendering. Ask each group to have two people create the tableau. The third person acts as the “sculptor” adjusting the body language and facial expressions to more closely match image. Third person can change places with each of the others so each can see what the tableau looks like.


3) Have "Museum Time" where each group gets to walk around and observe the other tableaux.

4) Each group presents their tableau to class for further study. Class answers questions...

- Who are the characters in the image?

- Where are they?

- What is their relationship?

- What kind of love is this?

- What part of the story is this?

5) Each group chooses a scenario for their characters and improvises a scene for the class starting from their tableau. Reveal who the characters actually are, what their relationship is, and what part of the story the scene comes from.


Assignment: Play Review of Twelfth Night Production

1)  Pick two elements to focus on from the following…







-Themes of the play/contemporary connections


2) PAY ATTENTION to these elements during the performance on Friday


3) AFTER the performance, discuss with your partner what you liked, what you didn’t like AND why. Write some notes.


4) Create a minimum 1-minute or 1-page review of the performance.

Acceptable formats: Video, podcast (audio), written, collage.


5) In your review, make sure to include the following…

--Name of play & author

--Name of theater presenting this production


6) BE SPECIFIC: When you give your review, you need to reference specific parts of the production in order to back up your opinions.


Specific: “The dark lighting was effective in portraying the somber mood of the play.”

What NOT to say: “They did a great job with the lighting.”

Twelfth Night Review - Hamza & Daniel
Twelfth Night Review - Raniah & Asma

Twelfth Night Review - Raniah & Asma

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