black and white photo of Hamlet holding a skull to his cheek

Act I - Entry Events

Entry to project: Podcasting is all the rage with adults, but our English 10 students needed a little introduction into the phenomenon. As a class, we listened to a portion of Isaac Lidsky’s TED talk on TedRadioHour where he described how going blind can actually give you vision. Students identified what Lidsky described as living and then created anchor charts where they differentiated between living and existing.  

Entry to text: In order to engage students into a text that oftentimes feels daunting, students were asked to participate in an improv skit of a scene in the play. Students were randomly assigned in groups of 3-5. Each group drew a piece of paper with a very vague scene from the play (e.g., a man finds out his mom married his uncle). Groups were given 10 minutes to brainstorm how they will act out that scene, and then presented it to the class. This is a very short and low-stakes activity that brought some laughter into the classroom!

student response to the prompt "Living is" written in colorful inks.


Act II - Digging into text

Before we could really kick off the project itself, we needed to get students deep into the text to begin answering our driving question—what is the difference between living and existing? In order to get to that higher-level thinking, students had to understand the basics of Shakespearean language. While reading the play, students were asked to annotate a LOT! They needed to track their thinking throughout the play, including what they thought the characters were saying, how he/she was saying it, and why he/she was saying it. This simple three-question assessment allowed students to work down the scaffolded skills to get to the expected depth of analysis.

Students participated in jigsaw activities that intertwined the text and the project. In groups of four students of smaller, students moved from stations that required them to do various tasks, from analyzing a quote and pulling evidence from the text to support a claim to brainstorming what living means to Hamlet and to themselves. In addition to the jigsaw activity, students participated in a seminar which included seminar bingo to increase student engagement.

Act III - Assessment of skills

After every Act of the play, students were assessed on the skills they worked through on their own while we read. Students were asked to annotate a quote for understanding (what does the character say?), analyzing the quote in context (how is it said?), and analyze how the quote could function in the play as a whole (why is the quote included at all?).  They used their analysis skills to participate in a Paideia Seminar to further their understanding while giving each student a voice to ask questions and share their personal connections to the text.

Act IV - Brainstorming

Once we felt students were grasping the skills and reaching proficiency on the standards, we let them begin to brainstorm what Shakespeare believes is the difference between living and existing and what they believe is the difference. We gave each student a brainstorm sheet that allowed them to begin thinking about their own core beliefs about what living actually meant to them. This was the starting point of outlining their podcast.

student notes on organizing a podcast


Act V- Podcasting

Applying the themes of Hamlet is no small feat. We supplied students with some inspiration using companion pieces like Hamlet and the Power of Beliefs to Shape Reality by Maria Konnikova.  With a little encouraging, every student found their voice to answer the driving question, and we enjoyed listening to their answers. They live for their friends and family connections, they live to wake up each day and have a reset, they live for challenge, and they live to reach their potential. The podcasts were made public on the class website and parents were encouraged to listen. A YouTube video featuring photos of the project process and including a line from each student on what living is can be found at Check it out!

Tara Harvey, Innovation & Learning Coach, Liberty North High School, Liberty, MO
Alexis Leggett, ELA Teacher, Liberty North High School Liberty, MO