Struggling with Shakespeare and his language is an autumnal ritual for students across the nation. Some students find it hard to even understand what's happening in his plays — what is to us beautiful writing may be indecipherable claptrap to your students.

Scaffolding can help these students reach the point where they can comprehend what's going on. Once students comprehend the action of the play, they can start digging into the language and begin to construct deeper analyses. But how do you bridge the gap? Where do you start?

Aiding basic comprehension

One of the best things you can do for students struggling with Shakespeare is show them a modernized rendering right next to Shakespeare's original. Whether you write the modern version yourself or you purchase an outside solution, this can be a great boon to comprehension.

Of course, it's important to note that a modernized version of any of Shakespeare's works should only be used to aid comprehension — if you want your students to perform any kind of legitimate analysis, they're going to have to study the original text.

The challenge of grammar

If you don't want to give them modernized text, another way to help students learn to read Shakespeare's works is to have them examine his grammar and syntax.

English is a subject-verb-object (SVO) language. Students are used to reading sentences that are structured much like the one you're reading right now. Shakespeare upsets this structure all the time. His unusual syntax is the #1 reason students get tripped up by his works.

To understand Shakespeare's sentences, students must be able to identify the parts of speech within. Once they know who or what is taking an action, what that action is, and who or what is on the receiving end of the action, they'll have a clearer picture of what's happening. Then they can move on to a deeper analysis.

Archaic or obscure words can muddy this process a bit; it can be hard for students to identify a word's part of speech when they've never seen the word before and it's in a sentence whose syntax is twisted around. This is where glossaries and line-by-line notes can really help.

How do you scaffold Shakespeare?

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