Macbeth: Language KS4/5

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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: an examination of Macbeth's soliloquies and what they reveal to the audience; using cross-referencing to trace the significance of a single word throughout the text, 'safe'; and a list of practice exam questions with an emphasis on language.

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

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

Can I analyse quotations to establish what is being said and the context in which it is said?

Can I use textual evidence to support my view about how a character develops in the course of the play?

Key words: address, character development, compliment, epithet, imply, infer, insult, name, textual evidence, title, verdict, viewpoint


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Students are given a set of cards with a number of words and phrases written on them, all things that characters say about other characters in Macbeth. Printable cards are included in the Lesson Plan download at the bottom of this page. Students should think creatively and find ways to group them, e.g. who they are said about, who says them, whether they are saying positive things or negative things, whether they are official titles or more personal and familiar ways of addressing each other, etc. Take feedback about pairs’ approaches and findings.


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) What the others say

Students could do a language investigation into one of the main characters in the play: Lady Macbeth, Macbeth, Macduff, Duncan, Banquo, the Witches. Students should write quotations from other characters in the grid in the Student Booklet. These could include:

  • official titles (e.g. king) and styles (your majesty)
  • compliments (used in that character’s presence)
  • insults (used in that character’s presence)
  • descriptions of a character (not used in their presence).


2) Where on the line?

Fiona Banks suggests that students should be asked to imagine a line down the middle of the room. The opposite ends of the line represent ‘Warrior’ and ‘Murderer’. Students then ask at regular points in the play (e.g. at the end of each act) ‘Is Macbeth a warrior or a murderer?’ Show students how powerfully they can express their ideas if they argue for their particular view of Macbeth at that point in the play by drawing on evidence to support their thinking. Students could then be asked to write evidence in the form of quotations on paper or on mini-whiteboards to support their claims. This activity could be repeated for other characters using appropriate words.




3) A judge’s verdict

Students are to imagine that Macbeth has been imprisoned rather than killed by Macduff, and is awaiting trial and sentencing. Based on the evidence students have gathered about Macbeth in the previous activity, students could write three paragraphs using the evidence they have collected from different points in the play:

  • Paragraph 1 would give the case for the prosecution
  • Paragraph 2 would give the case for the defence
  • Paragraph 3 would give their verdict as a judge 


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

How do the characters in the play address each other and talk about each other?

Why is it so important when writing about a quotation to think about who says it, who they are with, what the circumstances are, etc.?


Suggested plenary activity…

Students could play around with the idea of nicknames and epithets, perhaps drawing on some of the evidence they have gathered from the activities here, and think of the most apt nicknames or epithets for the various characters in the play. How might these change as the play goes on? 


Aside: Further Resource

  • Students could stage a trial as preparation for ‘A Judge’s Verdict’. Choose students to form a jury who would decide on the verdict and then the judge would pass the sentence.


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

The trial activity could be the basis for an assessment of speaking and listening, reading and/or writing. This learning sequence can be used to build on the text detective activities in the Key Stage 3 materials. It can also be linked to other Key Stage 4 materials that look in detail at Macbeth’s character and language.

Key Questions for Students:

Can I identify a range of literary techniques and consider their effects?

Can I identify a variety of effects Shakespeare achieves through his use of iambic pentameter?

Can I make interesting and subtle comments about the techniques used and the effects created?

Key words: antithesis, caesura, enjambment, feminine ending, hyperbole, iambic pentameter, personification


Prologue: Opening Discussion

An activity revising some of the literary techniques that were focused on in the Key Stage 3 Language Lessons would be useful here: alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, repetition, list, rhyming couplet, simile, metaphor. Students should draw a grid with all eight terms and space for students to record an example from the text. Assign students a particular scene or scenes to investigate and find quotes from; provide examples on strips of card depending on students’ confidence with scanning and skimming the text. 


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) Iambic pentameter

Fiona Banks writes that ‘We can use our knowledge of the verse structure to look at the verse diagnostically’. She suggests a number of activities that support this kind of investigation into the variety within Shakespeare’s use of metre and the different kinds of effects that can be created:

  • plotting findings about the number of syllables in each line of a speech in a graph that looks like a heart trace print-out, and relating this to what is happening and being said in each line
  • listing and analysing the first and last stressed syllables of every line; compile them in a chronological list and look for progression or patterns
  • noticing where the rhythm is more varied, e.g, more or fewer syllables, use of a trochee  (dum-de) or a spondee (dum-dum), the very different patterns of the witches’ speech
  • ‘walking the line’, i.e. foot up on unstressed syllables and down on stressed syllables, and noticing and commenting on irregularities, in Act 2 Scene 1 for example
  • exploring how shared lines work using five pieces of paper (each representing an iamb) as stepping stones, with two characters speaking their syllables within the line and therefore meeting in the middle

Students could make notes in the Student Booklet about how these activities have helped them to analyse a particular speech or scene.


2) Script machine

For this activity, students need access to the Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank microsite on six different scenes (, e.g. on tablets or laptops or at different stations in a computer room. Students need to work in groups and each group should be assigned one of these six features: feminine ending; enjambment; caesura; hyperbole; antithesis; personification. Groups should move in a carousel, visiting each scene and using the Script Machine to identify examples of their particular feature. Each feature is not present in every scene so students should also use their time at each station to revise metre. (The scenes are Act 1 Scene 3, Act 2 Scene 2, Act 3 Scene 4, Act 4 Scene 3, Act 5 Scenes 8 & 9.) At the end of the carousel, students could report back to the class about two things they have discovered:

  • the literary term of which they have found an example or examples, including a comment about the effect of this technique in this scene
  • something interesting they have noticed about the way Shakespeare uses iambic pentameter in this scene (if they have been looking at caesura, feminine endings or enjambment, their two answers might be closely connected!)


3) The language of the witches

Explain to students that a very dramatic way in which Shakespeare varies the metre in Macbeth is by making the witches speak in a different way to the other characters.

Students should now look at the quotations in the Student Booklet. The class could compile a brainstorm of anything they notice about how the witches’ language is different, e.g. tetrameter (four stressed beats), rhyming couplets, riddles and paradoxes, repetition, alliteration, shared lines, unusual words, etc. Model a close reading of the first quotation, paying particularly close attention to metre and language techniques and their effects.

Students could then work in groups reading the rest of the excerpt, marking their texts with anything they notice about metre and language techniques and their effects.






Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

How regular or irregular is Shakespeare’s use of metre and why?

What connections can I make between the metre and the meaning?

How do I think the audience would be affected by the witches’ use of language?


Suggested plenary activity…

Students should take one of the techniques that they have learned about today, find an example of it from Macbeth, and write a sentence or two to explain what they think the effect of this might be in the context of the play. Take feedback.


Asides: Further Resources

  • Giles Block describes Shakespeare’s verse as being ‘based on two things: a line length that corresponds with our breathing, and an underlying rhythm that corresponds with our heartbeat’.


  • Students could also look at passages from other Shakespeare plays where tetrameter is used, such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear. Why do they think Shakespeare chooses to write certain passages in tetrameter?


  • One of the witches’ linguistic techniques is to say one thing but mean another. Catholic plotters’ use of ‘equivocation’ during the investigation into the failed gunpowder plot was big news when Shakespeare was writing Macbeth. The word is also used in the Porter scene.


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

Ideas to support students in preparing for this learning sequence and which also involve the script machine can be found within the Key Stage 3 materials. An introductory activity on metre can also be found there. This learning sequence returns to the rhythms of Shakespeare’s verse and focuses in more depth on the intended effects of the language being used.

Key Questions for Students:

Can I investigate Macbeth's and Lady Macbeth’s language to help me understand their various states of mind before and the murders?

Can I explore layers of meaning in a scene through a range of drama techniques?

Can I extend my explanations about the meaning and effects of language? 

Key words: analyse, annotation, explain, duologue, interruption, opposites, pronoun, rehearsal


Prologue: Opening Discussion

The activities in this learning sequence focus on scenes featuring Macbeth and Lady Macbeth on stage together: Act 1 Scene 5, Act 1 Scene 7, Act 2 Scene 2 and Act 3 Scene 2.

Begin by playing students (or showing them a transcript of the podcast) in which two of the actors who have played Macbeth and Lady Macbeth at the Globe talk about their scenes together. Ask students to make notes based on what the actors say about the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and discuss findings.


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) Rehearsal room approaches

The following activities from Fiona Banks’ book Creative Shakespeare will give students some interesting entry points to these scenes. This could be done as a carousel, but it might work better for all students to attempt each exercise together and then reflect on what they learned. Each activity has been matched to a scene, but you can combine the activities and scenes in any way you see fit:

  • Pointing on the pronoun: Read Act 1 Scene 5 in pairs, pointing to the relevant person or thing on every pronoun. (Students can be creative with this, e.g. Lady Macbeth might stab at the letter from Macbeth with her finger as she is reading it.)
  • Word before: This activity helps students to listen to and focus on what the other character is saying. Students should read Act 1 Scene 7 and before they deliver their own next line, they should repeat one word from the other character’s previous lines.
  • Interrupting and pausing: Read a passage from Act 2 Scene 2 in such a way that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth keep interrupting each other with their next line. Read another passage from the scene, leaving a 5 second pause before responding. Among other things, this is a great activity for thinking about the pace of dialogue in a scene.
  • From here: Students think about the place and position from which they want to deliver their next line to their fellow actor. Before they say their line, they say ‘From here’ as they move into position. Try this with Act 3 Scene 2. 

For each scene and each exercise, the same reflective questions could be asked:

  • Q) How would you describe the states of mind of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth at this point in the play and how could this be conveyed to the audience?
  • Q) How would you describe Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s relationship at this point in the play and how could this be conveyed to the audience?




2) Annotated script

Students should work in groups of three and assign themselves the following roles:

  • Actor playing Macbeth
  • Actor playing Lady Macbeth
  • Director

Students need a copy of Act 2 Scene 2 to annotate. They should be given a considerable amount of rehearsal time to prepare this scene for performance.  They should:

  1. Have an initial read through
  2. Read the text again making annotations about how they interpret character and language
  3. Make their own cuts to the text
  4. Rehearse the scene in different ways drawing on exercises like the ones featured in Activity 1 above
  5. Make notes about their voice, position, movement, etc. at various points in the scene
  6. Rehearse and perform (they don’t have to be ‘off the book’ for this!)


3) Reflections

How have these exercises and experiences of rehearsing and performing Act 2 Scene 2 deepened students’ understanding of character and language in this scene? Students should choose either Lady Macbeth or Macbeth and write about their different emotions throughout this scene, and how this is reflected in that character’s language.


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

What have I noticed about Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s language before, during and after the killing of Duncan?

What clues can I find in their language about their states of mind and about their relationship as the play progresses?


Suggested plenary activity…

Students pair up with someone from a different group and compare their Revision Diary entries. This ‘pairing and comparing’ could be repeated two or three times. Take feedback on how students have interpreted the language and performed the scene differently and celebrate these differences!


Aside: Further Resource

  • To find out more about actors' thoughts on the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, students could visit the Adopt an Actor archive, read Harriet Walter’s Macbeth, or research reviews and interviews with actors who have played these parts on stage or screen.


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

Worthwhile links could be made to the Text in Performance activities about the role of the director within the Key Stage 3 materials, and to activities within the Key Stage 4 materials about the role of the stage manager. 

Key Questions for Students:

Do I understand what is meant by a soliloquy and an aside?

Can I explain how the soliloquies in Macbeth can help the audience to understand characters’ complexities and vulnerabilities?

Key words: aside, character, complex, monologue, soliloquy, speech, vulnerable


Prologue: Opening Discussion

What does soliloquy mean? The students could break down the word to its roots: solus (to oneself) + loquor (I talk). Ask students to think about who has soliloquies in Macbeth and who doesn’t. Ask students to consider why this might be the case. What are soliloquies for? Students could also be shown the following quotation by Patrick Spottiswoode, the Director of Globe Education:

‘In the Globe during soliloquy there exists a special relationship between actor and audience. It is when the audience becomes complicit with the character and when the character and the actor become most vulnerable. Vulnerability is really interesting. As an audience in the Globe we are drawn to characters who share their vulnerabilities with us in soliloquies. Macbeth, Richard III, Iago and Hamlet are all good examples. In the Globe, during soliloquy, characters share private thoughts publicly.’

Clarify the meaning of ‘vulnerability’ and ‘complicit’ with students. Ask them what they think Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s biggest strengths and vulnerabilities are. These ideas could be recorded on something that will help students to remember the meaning of the word, e.g. on colour-coded sticky notes.


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) Speaking his mind

Students could be given five cards containing passages from the play when Macbeth is speaking. Two cards feature soliloquies and two cards feature Macbeth speaking ‘aside’, leaving one card that is neither. This one is a speech that appears to show the audience Macbeth’s reflective tender side. Students should consult their texts to ensure they are viewing the passage in context:

  • Passage A: Act 1 Scene 3 lines 128-end
  • Passage B: Act 2 Scene 1 lines 33-end
  • Passage C: Act 3 Scene 1 lines 47-71
  • Passage D: Act 4 Scene 2 lines 144-156
  • Passage E: Act 5 Scene 5 lines lines 17-28

For each card, students should answer the following questions in the table that is featured in the Student Booklet:

Q1) Does Macbeth speak these words alone on stage or are other characters present? If so, who are they?

Q2) Are his words spoken within hearing of the other characters or are some of the words spoken as an aside (i.e. ‘under his breath’)? [write ‘A’]

Q3) Which two cards have soliloquies written on them? (write ‘S’)

Q4) What do you notice and predict will be the difference between Macbeth’s language in his soliloquies and in his other speeches?


2) Whose line is it anyway?

Give each student a line from Macbeth’s soliloquy from Act 2 Scene 1 lines 33 - 64 on a strip of paper. Ask a few questions to get students thinking about what’s written on their strip of paper, e.g.

  • Who’s got the line where Macbeth takes out a real dagger?
  • Who’s got the line where Macbeth describes what he can see on the dagger and its handle?
  • Who’s got the line where he worries that his footsteps might give the game away?

Now read through the entire soliloquy, with each student reading his or her line.


3) Staging It

The following link - - will take students to ‘Staging It’, a resource that has been designed to help students take an active role in thinking as a director or actor. Students should follow the instructions provided on the website. You will also find some additional tasks that explore character and motivation in Act 2 Scene 1 in more depth. These can be found at


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

How does a soliloquy guide us through a character’s thought process?

How can this be brought out in performance?

What effect might this have on the audience?


Suggested plenary activity…

Ask students to sketch a simple diagram of the Globe stage from above. Students should work out where on the stage their line from Macbeth’s soliloquy should be delivered and why. Ask students to consider and make brief notes on:

  • their relationship with the audience, and perhaps with part of the audience in particular, during that line
  • their physical position/stance during the line
  • the part of the line that resonated with them most


Aside: Further Resource

  • Students can listen to an original pronunciation version of Macbeth’s ‘Is this a dagger which I see before me’ speech on David and Ben Crystal’s Original Pronunciation CD.


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

As a possible discussion point, students could debate whether Lady Macbeth’s speech is a kind of soliloquy, because she doesn’t know that the doctor and waiting gentlewoman are present. A comparison could be made with passages from Hamlet or from Much Ado About Nothing, for example, where characters think they are alone but someone is eavesdropping.

Key Questions for Students:

Can I explore the significance of words that are frequently used in this play?

Can I write about how Shakespeare uses particular words in the play and about the effects created in an insightful way?

Key words: concordance, context, diction, effect, tone, vocabulary


Prologue: Enter the Players

Which words are used most of all by Shakespeare? It will come as no surprise to students that the most common words in Shakespeare’s plays are very short useful words: the, and, I, to, of, a, you, my, in, that, is, not, with, me and it. Students can find the exact statistics at Ask students to jot down what they think the commonest words in Macbeth are, leaving short words like pronouns and characters’ names aside. After giving students a few minutes for this activity and taking some feedback, show students a Wordle-generated word cloud showing the 100 most commonly used words in Macbeth.


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) Word cloud

Assign one of the most commonly used words to a pair or group of three. Students have a certain amount of time to find as many examples of that word in use in Macbeth as they can, either using an online concordance or scanning the text. Suggested words to use: good, king, fear, death, heart, done, night, time, blood, sleep, make, air. Then take feedback about the word’s meaning or meanings in the play. Students could choose how they do this feedback, e.g. dramatic presentation, choral speaking of important quotations, mindmap or poster with commentary by the students.


2) Close reading: Act 1 Scene 3 lines 90-158

Ask students to read this extract and place it in context. Explain that this activity is not about language features so much as diction, i.e. Shakespeare’s word choices. As students read they should look for the same words they searched for in the previous activity. How many of them can they find? Perhaps students could do what Fiona Banks calls ‘thematic heckling’, echoing the word to draw attention to it!

Then divide the extract up into five sections of ten lines each. Students should pick out what they feel are the three most important words within their assigned section.

Students should then go beyond the twelve words they looked for in Activity 1 and pick out the other words they feel are particularly crucial in this passage. Which words (or closely-related words, e.g. dead/death, man/manly) are repeated? What effects does this repetition achieve?


3) A critic’s view

What do students understand by the word ‘safe’? Students should work in pairs and draw a word-web incorporating their ideas.

Ask students to think about what ‘safe’ might mean if it is said:

  • by someone who is lying through their teeth?
  • by someone who is reading a story to a very young child?
  • by someone who is not telling the whole truth?
  • sarcastically?

Students could develop role plays in modern English to flesh out these scenarios. Use this activity to help students think about the importance of establishing the context in which something is said and the tone that is being used in order to interpret possible meanings.


Now – with reference back to the use of the word in the previous activity - ask students to focus on the word ‘safe’ in Macbeth (and also words which have ‘safe’ as a root-word such as ‘safely’ and ‘safety’). Can they think of or find examples of this word in the play? What do they think it means? What does it mean to different characters in the play? 

Now give students a handout featuring an extract from Nicholas Royle’s book How to read Shakespeare, in which the author takes one word from seven of Shakespeare plays and devotes a chapter to each word.

Even on the first appearance of the word ‘safe’ in this play, Shakespeare seems to be playing with safety regulations: ‘safe’, in other words, seems untroubled, ironic, unsafe. Having in an earlier aside entertained the thought of regicide – a ‘thought’ of ‘murder’, however fanciful or ‘fantastical’ (1.3.138) – Macbeth tells Duncan of his duty towards the King and his concern for ‘doing everything/Safe toward your love and honour’ (1.4.26-7), in other words doing the utmost to secure his safety and be deserving of his love and honour. There is thus already a lurking suggestion here that to be ‘safe’ is to be dead. It is as if Macbeth (and the reader or audience) could already foresee the moment in Act 3 scene 4 when Macbeth, seeking confirmation that Banquo had been done for, asks ‘But Banquo’s safe?’, and the First Murderer replies: ‘Ay, my good lord: safe in a ditch he bides; (3.4.25-6).

Discuss the ideas Royle raises here. Ask students to bear in mind as they read that a short and seemingly simple world can withstand very thorough analysis!


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

Which words have I noticed Shakespeare uses repeatedly in Macbeth?

What are the potential effects of this on the audience?

What conclusions can I draw from this about the play’s atmosphere and mood, and about its themes and issues?


Suggested plenary activity…

Students choose one word from Macbeth they have looked at today that could in some way be said to have more than one meaning or a more complex meaning than they first thought. Students should write down a few sentences about their word, and then a range of words and commentaries can be shared.  


Asides: Further Resources


  • Wordle ( can generate a variety of word clouds to support analysis of Shakespeare’s use of language in Macbeth, e.g. the commonest words in the whole play or in particular scenes or speeches, the language used by different characters, how Macbeth’s language changes.


  • Ask students to consider how many characters die in Macbeth, at which point in the play, and whether the deaths occur on or off stage. Students will find a gruesome top five of Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays in the blog post ‘Shakespearean tragedies by body count’ at


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

The close reading of the second part of Act 1 Scene 3 can be linked to the close reading of Act 1 Scene 3 lines 1-89. This can be found under KS4/5 Language.

Key Questions for Students:

Can I remember key quotations and who said them?

Can I choose and incorporate short and appropriate quotations into my planning?

Can I draft a coherent paragraph that makes effective use of quotations?

Key words: character, draft, key words, language analysis, plan, quotation


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Ask students together as a class to create a brainstorm showing everything they already know about using quotations in essays.

At this point in the lesson, some of the following issues will come up, whereas others can be integrated into the lesson subsequently as appropriate: appropriateness/relevance, length, key words, use of speech marks, use of ellipsis, use of square brackets, use of integrated quotations, direct v. indirect quotation.


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) Who said what?

Students should first of all match the character to the long quotation:


“What should be spoken
Here, where our fate, hid in an auger-hole,
May rush, and seize us? Let’s away:
Our tears are not yet brew’d.”


Lady Macduff  
“His flight was madness: when our actions do not,
 Our fears do make us traitors.”


“Some holy Angel
Fly to the court of England, and unfold
His message ere he come, that a swift blessing
May soon return to this our suffering country
Under a hand accurs’d!”


“Norway himself,
With terrible numbers,
Assisted by that most disloyal traitor,
The Thane of Cawdor, began a dismal conflict”


Old Man 
“Threescore and ten I can remember well;
Within the volume of which time I have seen
Hours dreadful, and things strange, but this sore night
Hath trifled former knowings.”


“The time approaches,
That will with due decision make us know
What we shall say we have, and what we owe.”


“A great perturbation in nature, to receive at
once the benefit of sleep, and do the effects of

Students should then choose from each long quotation a memorable shorter quotation (between 1 and 8 words in length) and highlight them in the Student Booklet.


2) Analysing quotations

Model for students the analysis of a more minor character from the play: Lady Macduff. You are going to be modelling the process the students will be doing for themselves in the next activity:

  • zooming in on the appropriate section or sections of the text, in this case Act 4 Scene 2
  • picking out three short quotations that will support you in answering the question, ‘How would you describe the role and significance of Lady Macduff in the play?’ and recording them
  • annotating these quotations and planning out your answer, then drafting your paragraph, ensuring that the success criteria described below are met.

Success criteria:

  • Begin with a topic sentence
  • Make at least three points
  • Include textual evidence to support your points
  • Analyse the language of the quotations: meaning(s), techniques used, effects on audience.
  • End with an insightful sentence that draws a conclusion from the evidence you have gathered. 




3) Drafting a paragraph

Students should choose another relatively minor character from the play (e.g. Donalbain, Lennox, Rosse, Siward, Seyton, Doctor) and write a paragraph assessing their role and significance in the play. 


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

Which study skills do I need to identify key quotations and learn them when revising for an exam?


Suggested plenary activity…

Peer assessment of paragraphs using success criteria. Students could use ‘two stars and a wish’ or WWW (what went well) and EBI (even better if) as a structure for feeding back to their partner.


Aside: Further Resource

  • As well as searching for words, students can also search by character and create a print out of all of a particular character’s lines at


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

The next two pages take students through the process of writing an essay about Macbeth.

Key Questions for Students:

Do I know what the examiners are looking for and what the question is asking me to do?

Can I generate ideas for my essay?

Can I organise my ideas into a coherent structure?

Key words: coherent, conclusion, essay, evidence, example, feedback, introduction, organisation, paragraph, planning, quotation, structure, success criteria


Prologue: Opening Discussion

A word is missing from each of these short quotations:

  1. “But screw your [courage] to the sticking place” (Lady Macbeth, I.vii)
  2. “When the [battle’s] lost and won.” (2 Witch, I.i)
  3. “Till he unseam’d him from the [nave] to th’chops.” (Captain, I.11)
  4. “In the great hand of [God] I stand.” (Banquo, II.iv)
  5. “[safe] in a ditch he bides” (Murderer, III.iv)
  6. “Be bloody, bold and [resolute]” (2 Apparition, IV.i)
  7. “Bleed, bleed, poor [country]!” (Macduff, IV.iii)
  8. ‘What will these [hands] ne’er be clean?” (Lady Macbeth, V.i)
  9. “Out, out, brief [candle]!” (Macbeth, V.v)
  10. “this dead [butcher] and his fiend-like Queen]” (Malcolm, V.ix)
  11. “Let not [light] see my black and deep desires” (Macbeth, I.iv)
  12. “This castle hath a [pleasant] seat” (Duncan, I.v)
  13. “To beguile the time,/[Look] like the time” (Lady Macbeth, I.v)
  14. “I dare do all that may become a [man]” (Macbeth, I.vii)
  15. “I heard the owl scream and the crickets [cry]” (Lady Macbeth, II.ii)
  16. “The sleeping, and the [dead],/Are but as pictures.” (Lady Macbeth, II.ii)
  17. “The [root] and father of many kings” (Banquo, III.i)
  18. “O! full of [scorpions] is my mind, dear wife!” (Macbeth, III.i)
  19. “And on thy blade, and dudgeon, gouts of [blood]” (Macbeth, II.i)
  20. “To be thus is [nothing], but to be safely thus.” (Macbeth, III.i)

Students should locate the quotations and insert the correct word in the spaces in the Student Booklet. How many words did they know without looking? Students could then discuss in pairs how they would go about committing short quotations such as these to memory. Share strategies as a class. 


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) Identifying success criteria

The focus now moves from writing a brilliant paragraph to writing a brilliant essay! Write on the board a brainstorm of students' ideas about what makes an excellent response to an exam task. The teacher should tailor the discussion as appropriate to cover insights drawn from the syllabus, specification, curriculum documentation, examiners’ reports, etc. Broadly speaking, the success criteria should include criteria from the following areas:

  • exam skills
  • textual knowledge and understanding
  • ability to advance an argument
  • language analysis skills
  • written expression

(A more detailed version of this checklist is provided in the Student Booklet, but you may wish to do this brainstorming exercise before looking at the more detailed version.)


2) Task bank: language

The following tasks can be used in the modelling of planning and drafting written tasks, as well as for students’ more independently produced work for assessment:

  1. Choose a soliloquy from the play and write a detailed analysis of what it reveals about that character’s thoughts and feelings.
  2. How does the language of the witches in the play mark them out as different to any of the other characters? What effects do you think Shakespeare achieves in these scenes?
  3. How does Shakespeare use language to convey to the audience the nature of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s relationship? Choose three scenes in the play from which to draw your evidence.


3) Planning

Model for students the planning process, comprising:

  1. generation of ideas, e.g. by creating a spider diagram or bulleted list
  2. working out the best structure for the answer, including identifying the main ideas
  3. introduction/conclusion
  4. logical organisation of ideas





Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

How do I work out what to include and what to leave out of my essays?

Why is it important to plan my essays?

What level of detail do I need in my essay planning?


Suggested plenary activity…

Peer assessment of plans using success criteria. Students could use ‘two stars and a wish’ or WWW (what went well) and EBI (even better if) as a structure for feeding back to their partner.


Aside: Further Resource

  • The tasks in the question banks can be used as the basis for devising further tasks to suit the needs of your own class, curriculum and syllabus.


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

The following page continues to work through the process of writing an essay about Macbeth.

Key Questions for Students:

Can I draft an essay using my plan as a basic structure?

Can I ensure each paragraph contains detailed language analysis that supports my overall argument?

Can I review my work and make effective use of constructive feedback?

Key words: conclusion, constructive, essay, feedback, introduction, plan, review, structure


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Students could return to their peer/self assessment feedback from the previous learning sequence. This will help them to focus on their individual strengths and targets as they draft their essays. You might find this a helpful point at which to guide students through the ‘My 5 skill areas for writing a brilliant Shakespeare answer’ checklist in the Student Booklet.


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) Planning my essay

Following on from the modelling of planning in the previous learning sequence, students could plan their essay with your support as appropriate.


2) Language analysis

In the Student Booklet, students can read paragraphs written by two students to examine how effectively each student has analysed the language of the play. They should think about:

  • their understanding of the language used
  • the argument they are advancing in that paragraph.




3) Getting started

Using an interactive whiteboard, flipchart or visualiser, now model the first part of the writing process of an essay. This should include the introduction and the first sentence or two of the next paragraph where the first main point is introduced. Ensure that your writing process explicitly demonstrates for students:

  • that you are continually going back and forwards between your plan and your essay in progress (it’s helpful to have your plan displayed so that the students can see this process in action)
  • that you are answering a specific question and are therefore echoing key words from that question
  • that you are selecting words that are appropriately formal in tone for an essay


4) Drafting essays

Students can now begin to draft their essay using the following structure:

  • introduction
  • main body of essay
  • conclusion

Students should consistently be encouraged to review their work in progress against success criteria and individual targets. The ‘My 5 skill areas for writing a brilliant Shakespeare answer’ checklist is a useful tool for reflection and target-setting throughout this process.


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

How helpful was my planning when it came to writing my essay?

Where am I meeting the success criteria and where is there room for improvement?


Suggested plenary activity…

Students could self-assess their work in progress against the identified success criteria and their current curricular target(s) for reading and/or writing.


Asides: Further Resources

  • There is a space in the Student Booklet for students to record feedback and personal target-setting in relation to revision skills and writing skills.


  • Encourage students to include in their Student Booklet at least one practice essay and all the evidence of their entire writing process, from brainstorm to plan to first draft to finished draft. This will help you to assess their writing process as well as the end result.


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

This learning sequence and the previous one take students through the process of writing an essay about Macbeth. The essay can be used as an end-of-unit assessment task, assessing reading and writing.


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