The tenth graders and I had fun last week with the opening of Act Four in Macbeth. We had been bearing down on (finding, recording and analyzing) various passages from Act Three, and it was time to move our sedentary bodies and creative minds. We had not yet read any of Act Four. When the students filed in, they saw, on two desks in the front of the room: a stack of blank white paper, several pairs of scissors, some tape, and colored markers. On the whiteboard, they saw our characters for Scene One: 3 witches, 1 Hecate, 3 apparitions, 8 kings and Banquo. After everybody’s name went under one of the lists, they had twenty minutes to make a prop identifying them as a distinct individual within their group. I played–i.e., let the laptop play–period music to accompany their constructions (Sting singing songs of John Dowland and others).
In such moments, I often recall the problem-solving scene from Apollo 13.
Also, our fun time last week reminds me that students understand more concepts than I sometimes realize or acknowledge. For example, in Act Four Scene One, the second apparition, which advises Macbeth he need fear none of woman born, emerges as a “bloody child.” The students could create props that capture the “bloody” part of this vision, but how to handle the “child” part? Three students, each from a different section, produced three different solutions: a bib, a diaper and a pacifier. In other words, they understand what a symbol is. I do not need to explain the concept to them; they naturally chose an object that is itself and that represents something. They KNOW what symbols are. I see that they do, and I am glad that our activity reminds me of this knowledge they carry with them into class.