Georghia Ellinas, Head of Learning at Globe Education, explains how Shakespeare’s stories can be used from an early age to develop engagement with oral and written narrative – and a whole lot more…

Narrative is a central element in the National Curriculum – for good reason. Storytelling is at the heart of human identity, communication, and our understanding of the world. Through the telling and interpretation of stories, learners develop not only their vocabulary and command of language, but also their cognitive skills, empathy, sense of self, and engagement with moral and emotional issues.

Good stories also prepare learners for engaging with the range of literature they will encounter throughout their school careers and in their personal reading. That is why it is important to offer them interesting stories from the start.

And what greater storyteller than Shakespeare to engage learners of all ages and abilities?

The power of performance

There’s a common misconception that Shakespeare is too challenging for young children or for those coming to English as a second language. In fact, the perceived difficulty of Shakespearean language is irrelevant when children are motivated to learn and use it, through immersion in role play and oral exploration of the plays.

Inviting learners to act out the stories – putting themselves inside the minds and predicaments of Shakespearean characters at key moments in the narrative – provides a first-hand immersive experience which means they use language in a much more powerful way.

This performative, oral phase is an essential precursor to developing learners’ writing skills. The written work they go on to produce is much more creative and confident, grounded in a real emotional engagement with the story, characters and language. Having had that immersive experience, learners are motivated to challenge themselves, and you get that wonderful language development that takes place when children hear and use very rich language.

Shakespearean philosophy for children

Beyond the development of speaking and writing skills, Shakespeare challenges learners to grapple with moral and emotional issues. By choosing the right plays, and presenting them in an engaging way, this can be made accessible to learners of all ages and abilities, starting right from the early years.

For very young children, consider a play like The Winter’s Tale. This is about jealousy – irrational jealousy – exploring the counterproductive and destructive side of being possessive of your friends. For slightly older children, a play like Twelfth Night looks at bullying – the way that, when we don’t like somebody or think they need taking down a peg or two, we gang up on them – and how unfair that is, no matter how difficult that person may be.

All of this gives learners a foundation they will build on throughout their education, up to GCSE and beyond – understanding story structure, analysing characters and their motivations, describing contexts, assessing moral dilemmas. It also gives them tools for life, developing attributes such as empathy, which are essential for a happy life.

Children as Storytellers

These goals and principles underpin Globe Education’s Children as Storytellers project, launched in 2012 to support primary schools in developing learners’ storytelling skills using Shakespeare. Running over a course of 10 weeks, the project offers interactive workshops for learners, CPD for teachers, and an interactive storytelling session in their school. Hearing the story together is the best way to build a shared understanding of the characters and what happens to them.

In the first half of the course, Globe Education Practitioners use role play-based workshops to inspire learners to start using the language of the play, exploring the characters’ motivations, and thinking about the structure of the story. The second half of the course is led by school teachers, building on the use of performance and oral storytelling to develop learners’ reading and writing skills, with support from the Globe team. Over the last year we’ve also extended the project to run sessions for family members, engaging them in telling stories, asking questions, and developing their child’s critical thinking.

Headteachers and teachers involved in the project highlight its capacity to stretch and challenge not only their learners, but themselves as well – giving them fresh tools and approaches with which to unlock Shakespeare, and prompting them to rethink what they can offer even their youngest learners.

How to get involved

NACE is delighted to be working in partnership with Globe Education this year, to support NACE members in providing challenge through all phases of the English curriculum. To access free resources to support teaching and learning using Shakespeare – including lesson plans, revision guides, videos and interactive online tools – visit The Globe’s Teach Shakespeare website.

To find out more about the Children as Storytellers project, and to discuss running the project at your own school, contact the Globe Education team on +44 (0)20 7902 1435 or email

Keen to experience a Globe Education workshop for yourself? Join us at the English for the More Able conference in York on 15 March 2018 – now open for online booking.

The Globe is also hosting a free member meetup event for NACE members in the summer term 2018. Details will be announced via the members' area of the NACE website (log in here) and in our monthly email newsfeed. To ensure you receive the newsfeed, and/or to request a reminder of your login details, complete this form.

View all upcoming NACE events.

Image credit: ​Cesare De Giglio 
Friday, December 1, 2017