Macbeth: Language KS3

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In these lessons, students will learn how to read and respond to the text of the play. This will help them to gain crucial close-reading skills. Tasks include: reading verse and prose extracts; finding examples of literary terms in crucial scenes; and performing a close reading of Act 5, Scene 1.

In order to benefit fully from these lesson plans, we recommend you use them in the following order:

If students are new to the play, we suggest you start with these introductory KS3 Lesson Plans. If you would like to teach the play in greater detail, use the advanced KS4/5 Lesson Plans.

These lesson plans are available in the Downloads section at the bottom of this page. To download resources, you must be logged in. Sign up for free to access this and other exclusive featuresActivities mentioned in these resources are available in a separate downloadable 'Student Booklet', also at the bottom of this page. The 'Teachers' Guide' download explains how best to use Teach Shakespeare and also contains a bibliography and appendices referencing the resources used throughout.

Key Questions for Students:

Do I understand how Shakespeare’s plays are structured and organised?

Do I understand the basic plot and structure of Macbeth?

Do I understand how to make cuts to the text successfully?

Key words: cuts, editing, genre, mini-saga, organisation, plot, resolution, script, story, structure


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Students should turn to the Story Mountain handout in the Student Booklet. This template has five blank boxes to illustrate the structure of the five act play and five cards showing summaries of each of the five acts to arrange in the correct order. Through feedback, you could elicit students’ reasoning as to the placement of the cards in the five boxes to create the arc of the story: beginning – build-up/rising action – problem – resolution/falling action - ending. By way of an extension activity, mix in some sets of cards relating to another Shakespeare play or more than one play. Students could then compare their findings and comment on similarities and differences; this could lead to a discussion of the similarities and differences between tragedies, comedies and histories.


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) Mini sagas

Ask students to summarise the plot of Macbeth as a mini-saga, and share and compare students’ different versions. Which parts of the play emerge from this exercise as essential to include in their own stage production?



2) In or Out?

When Bill Buckhurst directed Macbeth at the Globe in 2010, he had to cut an hour’s worth of material. Show students a scene by scene summary of the play and ask them to consider:

  • whether there are whole scenes they would cut, shorten or move, and/or
  • whether they would cut lines from lots of different scenes.

You may wish to prompt students to reflect on the following elements:

  • Act 1 Scene 1: Bill Buckhurst moves this scene from the beginning of the play to in between Act 1 Scene 2 and Act 1 Scene 3 in his version
  • Act 2 Scene 1: Some productions cut the Porter from the play entirely, though Buckhurst does not
  • Act 2 Scene 4: This scene does not really move the action on but how important is it? Would you cut it?

Students could then do a dictogloss activity in groups of four. Read the following text (a short passage from a longer section on cutting the text taken from Fiona Banks’ book Creative Shakespeare) twice. The first time, students should just listen and then the second time, students should make notes as they listen.

'It is very rare to see a Shakespeare play in performance that has not been cut in some way. Many Shakespeare plays would run well in excess of 3½ hours if they were not cut. How a play is cut always depends on the type of performance or production. Certainly each director of productions at the Globe will choose different lines to cut. Cuts are always influenced by the type of production that the director wishes to create. Sometimes characters can be cut completely if this serves the story a director wants to tell. There are very few rules; artistic interpretation is what drives the process of cutting.'

Students would then work in groups of four to reconstruct the paragraph. Finally, students should be shown Banks’ advice about cutting a text for performance in full. (The passage used for the dictogloss would be marked so that students can check their paragraph against the original.)

Writing a summary of the key points of Banks’ advice would be a useful resource for the next activity.


3) Director’s Edit:

Direct students to look at the Script Machine activities from the microsite, and opt for ‘Director’s Edit’. Divide students into groups and allocate one of the key scenes to each group: Act 1 Scene 3, Act 2 Scene 2, Act 3 Scene 4, Act 4 Scene 3, Act 5 Scenes 8 & 9. Students can see how numerous passages from the play have been cut for one past production. What conclusions can they draw about what has been cut and why? To what extent has Banks’ advice been heeded? If there is time, students could look at a scene, e.g. Act 2 Scene 4, and decide where cuts might be made.


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

What are the main events in the story of Macbeth?

What would audiences most enjoy about a production of Macbeth?

Where would I decide to put the interval and why?


Suggested plenary activity…

Encourage students to think about what they as an audience member most enjoy about going to see a Shakespeare play/or Macbeth specifically, and to distil their thoughts so they are left with just five points, e.g.

  • excitement and action
  • comic relief
  • an emotional connection with characters
  • hearing famous lines and speeches
  • not overlong

Compare students’ different ideas and identify any common emerging themes.


Asides: Further Resources

  • This quiz about the storyline of Macbeth could be a useful tool for consolidating textual knowledge, for retrieving information from the text and for revision purposes. It is also available in the Student Booklet, and the answers are available in the downloadable Lesson Plans at the bottom of this page.
  1. What sort of place is a ‘heath’? 
  2. What title is bestowed on Macbeth in Act 1?
  3. What do the witches prophesy about Banquo and Macbeth in Act 1 Scene 3? 
  4. By what mean does Macbeth inform his wife of his encounter with the witches and their prophecies? 
  5. Where in Scotland is Macbeth’s castle?
  6. What are the names of the King Duncan’s sons? 
  7. What is a chamberlain and what does Lacy Macbeth do to Duncan’s chamberlains? 
  8. Who returns the murder weapons to the scene of the crime and what kind of weapons are they? 
  9. Who opens the gate of Macbeth’s castle to Macduff and Lennox very early the next morning?
  10. Who finds Duncan’s body and cries ‘O horror! horror! horror!’? 
  11. To which two countries do Malcolm and Donalbain flee after the murder of their father? 
  12. Who becomes King and where does his coronation take place? 
  13. Whose murder is Macbeth plotting when he says ‘To be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus’? 
  14. How many murderers does Macbeth employ? 
  15. Who escapes the murderers in Act 3? 
  16. Where is Macbeth when he sees a vision of Banquo? 
  17. Who does the first apparition tell Macbeth he should fear? 
  18. What do the second and third apparitions tell Macbeth? 
  19. What happens to Macduff’s ‘wife, and babes’? 
  20. Who starts to act strangely at the beginning of Act 5? 
  21. Describe these strange behaviours. 
  22. Which two pieces of terrible news does Macbeth receive in Act 5 Scene 5? 
  23. Who turns out to have been ‘from his mother’s womb/Untimely ripped’?
  24. What does Macduff hold up for all to see in the final scene of the play? 
  25. Who becomes king at the end of the play? 


  • Some excellent resources to support students’ understanding of and engagement with the play’s storyline are Tony Bradman’s prose retelling, and the three differentiated graphic novel versions of the play (quick text, plain text, original text) produced by Classical Comics.


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

There are more materials within the Key Stage 4 lesson plans relating to the different genres of Shakespeare’s plays i.e. tragedy, comedy, history.

Key Questions for Students:

Can I reflect on my past experiences and confidence levels in relation to speaking and understanding Shakespeare’s language?

Can I try out a range of rehearsal room strategies for developing my skills and confidence in relation to Shakespeare’s language?

Can I reflect on my progress and set myself targets?

Key words: clarification, ensemble performance, language, rehearsal, rhythm, metre


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Set up a gallery around the classroom showing quotations (of varying length and complexity) about learning/speaking/pronouncing/working with Shakespeare’s language:

“I now like to imagine moving through soliloquies with an audience like you move through a landscape; over hills, round corners, to dead ends, backing up again, realising you have to go again through that river, there, then being wet for a few lines because you have gone through a river and you are in a different place. It’s the sense of taking an audience in the present through this text that becomes paramount.” - Mark Rylance (actor)

“Actors have many different approaches but for me, increasingly, the rhythm of the verse provides me with a blueprint for how to perform a scene. It is a starting point from which to explore the text and to create my interpretation of a character.” – Yolande Vasquez (actor)

“Sometimes you might work on a section of the play which rather than the words the movement of the character is telling that subtext. So you might work with that actor to create a string of movement...with movement or choreography, they might break into dance or a piece of movement which may be expressive of how they’re feeling. A lot of the time we use movement to storytell.” - Georgina Lamb (Choreographer)

“I think the relevance of something written in that age still astounds me.”
“I’m really enjoying that I’m understanding everything that they’re saying, because I was a bit scared!”
- Audience members

“Amazing ideas and methods – wonderful to be active and do rather than sit and listen, as the children often do. Freeing.” –  CPD Participant

Each student should have a few sticky notes, in two different colours. They should write down positive words and phrases about working with Shakespeare’s language on notes of one colour, and any words and phrases about the difficulties of working with Shakespeare’s language on notes of the other colour.

Students could then be asked to stand by the quotation they most agree/identify with. Take some feedback.

Support the class in collating these into a simple table of two columns or in a slightly more advanced SWOT analysis table (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). Summarise key findings and stress that the approaches the class will be using are active and fun!


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) Ensemble performance

In her book Creative Shakespeare, Fiona Banks suggests a heavily edited version of Macbeth that a class could perform before, during or after more detailed study of the play (see the Student Booklet). This activity gets all students involved in speaking Shakespeare’s language and gives them an experience of working from a script as the basis for a performance.


Macbeth: whole play performance edit


Witches: Macbeth [x 5]

Witches: All hail Macbeth that shall be king.

Witches: King! [x 3]

Lady Macbeth: He brings great news. (from the side of the circle)

All: He brings great news. [x 2] (echoing Lady Macbeth)

Macbeth: I have done the deed – this is a sorry sight. [x 2] (holding the two daggers)

All: I have done the deed -  this is a sorry sight. [x 2]

Lady Macbeth: A foolish thought to say a sorry sight.

All: A foolish thought to say a sorry sight.

Lady Macbeth: Out damn spot, out I say.

All: Out damn spot, out I say. [x 2]

Macduff: Turn hell hound turn. (a single student on the centre of the circle)

All: Turn hell hound turn.

Macbeth: I will not yield.

All (as Macduff): My voice is in my sword. [x 3] (all slay him)

Macduff (to Malcolm): Hail, King of Scotland! (a single student should play Malcolm)

All: Hail, King of Scotland! [x 2]



In Fiona Banks’ book on pp.187-90, there are more detailed notes and questions providing areas for discussion and interpretation with the class.


2) The rhythms of Shakespeare

There are many drama activities that can support students’ confidence with reading and speaking Shakespeare’s verse and developing an understanding of metre, e.g. 

  • creating a series of repeated movements, e.g. clapping or something more dynamic like a hakka to accompany the rhythm, emphasising the stressed syllables
  • galloping around the room and clapping out the rhythm of galloping, and then feeling their own heartbeat or pulse and clapping out that rhythm (de-dum, de-dum, de-dum)
  • improvising their own modern scenes using iambic pentameter
  • walking and reading a speech out loud, changing direction whenever they reach a punctuation mark (this would work well with Macbeth’s dagger speech in Act 2 Scene 1, for example)

Whether students attempt one or more of these, students’ reflections during and after each activity will support their knowledge, understanding and confidence about applying these insights in practice. A ‘Rehearsal Diary’ section of the Student Booklet is provided for this purpose.


3) Conversations

Divide students into groups and assign each group of students one of the following extracts (which are available in the Student Booklet), e.g.

  • Act 1 Scene 6, lines 10-31 (two speakers)
  • Act 2 Scene 2, lines 14-56 (two speakers)
  • Act 3 Scene 3 (four speakers)
  • Act 5 Scene 8, lines 3-34 (two speakers)

Students could fill in a table that has the following questions down one side:

  • Q) How many characters are present in this scene? Would you call this scene public or private?
  • Q) How many speakers are there? Who are they? How well do they know each other? What is their relationship?
  • Q) What are the characters speaking about?
  • Q) What does each character want in this scene? What is motivating each character to behave and speak as they do?

(In a class of thirty, you might have three groups working on each scene. Depending on the number of students, you could use different groupings to focus students’ reflections, e.g. they could be grouped with other students who have looked at the same scene and/or they could be grouped with students who have looked at a different scene.) 


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

What barriers or challenges can readers and performers of Shakespeare encounter?

What knowledge and skills can I bring to reading and performing Shakespeare to help me bring the language to life?


Suggested plenary activity…

Students could write advice for a class of students (perhaps from a younger age group) who will be studying Shakespeare for the first time.


Asides: Further Resources

  • David and Ben Crystal’s Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary contains over 4000 Shakespearean words with examples from the twelve most studied plays including Macbeth.


  • This matching activity will support students’ understanding of some words from the play that we don’t use in modern English, though some have developed into words we know today. This is provided in the Student Booklet and in the Modern Meanings PowerPoint (available in the Downloads section at the bottom of this page).

hautboy (pronounced hoh-boy)
a wind instrument


brownish with streaks of another colour


small or young owl


hilt or handle of dagger


bell-ringer (who announced deaths)


  • Students might like to try this matching activity to support their understanding of the language of Macbeth. All of these words look reasonably straightforward for 21st century readers. But what exactly do they mean in the play? This is provided in the Student Booklet and in the Modern Meanings PowerPoint.


​Words & Meanings

‘I require a clearness’  
freedom from suspicion

‘no speculation in those eyes /Which thou dost glare with’
power of sight 

‘the nea’er in blood,/The nearer bloody
 causing bloodshed

‘It is the bloody business which informs/Thus to mine eyes.'
appears in a shape

‘Tonight we hold a solemn supper.’


Students should reflect on the clues they used to help them in this activity, including analysing the word itself and considering the word in context. They could also devise their own matching activity, e.g. to support understanding of a particular scene.



Epilogue: Teacher's Note

Having answered the questions for Activity 3: Conversations, students could then annotate the scene with directions for the actors playing each part. This could be an extension or homework activity and could be the basis of an assessment task.

Key Questions for Students:

Can I identify passages written in verse and passages written in prose?

Can I find examples of language techniques and comment on their effect?

Key words: alliteration, assonance, character, effect, metaphor, onomatopoeia, prose, repetition, rhyming couplet, rhythm, simile, verse


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Draw two spider diagrams – one with the word ‘verse’ in the middle and one with the word ‘prose’ in the middle. After some thinking time to make notes, students suggest ideas for the two brainstorms, focusing on:

  • the differences in the way prose and verse are written
  • the ways verse and prose look different on the page
  • ideas about when Shakespeare uses verse and when he uses prose, i.e. is it about subject matter? Character? Situation? Status? 


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) Text detectives: verse or prose?

For this close reading activity, a scene which features passages in both verse and prose is necessary and so Act 5 Scene 1 of Macbeth works very well (this is included in full in the Student Booklet). The scene should be broken down into three chunks of roughly 25 lines each.

  • You should model close reading and analysis of the section labelled A. Be very explicit about the questions you are asking as you explore the text, and what you notice about the use of verse and prose.
  • Support students who now work in pairs, applying the same questions to the section labelled B.
  • Finally, pairs should merge to make groups of four who apply what they have learned to a close reading and analysis of the section labelled C.

Alternatively, Act 2 Scene 3 could also work well for this activity.


2) Language features

Revise the meaning of the following literary terms: alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, rhyming couplet, repetition, simile and metaphor. (The quick matching activity provided here might support you in gauging students’ prior knowledge in this area.) Share Rex Gibson’s ‘Macbeth miscellany’ with students, which is included in the Student Booklet. This is a list of quotations from Macbeth in which Shakespeare uses another language feature: the list. 


Macbeth – a list of lists!


"Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake:
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth, boil and bubble."

"Sons, kinsmen, thanes"

"The innocent sleep;
Sleep that knits up the raveled sleep of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast"

"King, Cawdor, Glamis, all"

"Hounds, and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs,
Shough, water-rugs, and demi-wolves"

"the swift, the slow, the subtle, the housekeeper, the hunter"

"cabined, cribbed, confined, bound in"

"Approach thou like the rugged Russian bear,
The armed rhinoceros, or th’Hyrcan tiger"

"Maggot-pies, and choughs, and rooks"

"Though you untie the winds and let them fight
Against the churches, though the yeasty waves
Confound and swallow navigation up,
Though bladed corn be lodged and trees blown down,
Though castles topple on their warders’ heads
Though palaces and pyramids so slope
Their heads to their foundations, though the treasure
Of nature’s germens tumble altogether
Even till destruction sicken"

"The net, nor lime, the pitfall, nor the gin"

"each new morn
New widows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows
Strike heaven on the face"

"I grant him bloody,
Luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful,
Sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin
That has a name."

"Justice, verity, temp’rance, stableness,
Bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness,
Devotion, patience, courage, fortitude"

"honour, love, obedience, troops of friends"


Students should look for examples of the seven language features they revised earlier, and then choose one to read dramatically accompanied by a tableau. Conclude this activity with a discussion of the dramatic effects of each of the different features used – not forgetting lists!




3) Script machine

For this activity, students need access to the Script Machine on the Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank microsite for They should access it on five different screens, e.g. on tablets or laptops or at five different stations in a computer room. Students need to work in groups and each group should be assigned one of these five features or pair of features: alliteration and assonance; onomatopoeia; repetition/lists; rhyme/rhyming couplet; similes/metaphors/imagery. Groups should move in a carousel, visiting each scene and using the Script Machine feature to identify examples of their particular feature or features. (The scenes are Act 1 Scene 3, Act 2 Scene 2, Act 3 Scene 4, Act 4 Scene 3, Act 5 Scenes 8 & 9). Now allocate to each group of students one of the scenes and ask them to carefully read that scene in its entirety. Students should move their discussions on to the effect of the techniques used in the context of the particular scene.


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

Shakespeare wrote his plays to be heard. What kinds of effects might Shakespeare’s language choices have on me as an audience member?


Suggested plenary activity…

Pick an example of a technique from a particular passage and explain its effect. Use the 'pose – probe – bounce’ technique to help students extend their answers and build on each other’s answers.


Asides: Further Resources


  • Look for examples in these quotations of the following techniques: alliteration, assonance, metaphor, onomatopoeia, repetition, rhyming couplet, simile. This activity is provided in the Student Booklet and in the Literary Terms PowerPoint (available in the Downloads section at the bottom of this page).


What are these,
So wither’d and so wild…


…this filthy witness…


Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d.


Rhyming couplet
I throw my warlike shield: lay on,
Macduff; And damn’d be him that first cries, ‘Hold, enough!’


O horror! horror! horror!


They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly
But bear-like I must fight the course.


O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!


  • Rex Gibson writes that Shakespeare followed the stage conventions of his time* about when prose should be used – but reminds us that ‘Shakespeare never followed any rule slavishly’!

    *1. In proclamations, written challenges or accusations, and letters. 2. For lines spoken by low-status characters such as servants, clowns or drunks. 3. To express madness. 4. For comedy.


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

Students could log their ideas about acting particular scenes and playing particular characters in the Rehearsal Diary pages of the Student Booklet. This could be the basis for an assessed piece of work.


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