Seventh grade English class interprets A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Every year, Abby Whittrege’s seventh grade English class studies Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummmer Night’s Drean as part of their drama unit. This is one of the essential rites of passages for children at MERMS, and stands out in the minds of many older students as one of their favorite memories of middle school.

Two copies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream sit next to one another. The copy on the left contains the complete and unabridged original text, while the copy on the right adds a modern translation that any English speaker can understand. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is about the marriage of Theseus, duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. Four young Athenian lovers and a group of six amateur actors (called “mechanicals”) are controlled and manipulated by the faeries who inhabit the forest in which most of the play is set. Whittredge has been teaching the play for over fifteen years. Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
Two copies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream sit next to one another. The copy on the left contains the complete and unabridged original text, while the copy on the right adds a modern translation that any English speaker can understand. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is about the marriage of Theseus, duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. Four young Athenian lovers and a group of six amateur actors (called “mechanicals”) are controlled and manipulated by the faeries who inhabit the forest in which most of the play is set. Whittredge has been teaching the play for over fifteen years. Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
Shortly after beginning the play, Abby Whittredge’s seventh grade English class created blackout poems. They took pages from copies that were about to be destroyed and blacked out lines from the play so all that is left is what the viewer can read, adding in their own artwork and designs. This is just one of many activities Whittredge uses with her students in class. “We act the play out as we read,” she says. “Some of the kids are actors, some of them are directors. There are also set designers, costume designers, coreographers. A few of my students even create musical compositions for each scene. When we’re finished, each group picks the one scene they like the best and perform it in front of the whole class.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
Shortly after beginning A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Abby Whittredge’s seventh grade English class created blackout poems. They took pages from copies that were about to be destroyed and blacked out lines from the play so all that is left is what the viewer can read, adding in their own artwork and designs. This is just one of many activities Whittredge uses with her students in class. “We act the play out as we read,” she says. “Some of the kids are actors, some of them are directors. There are also set designers, costume designers, coreographers. A few of my students even create musical compositions for each scene. When we’re finished, each group picks the one scene they like the best and perform it in front of the whole class.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
In class, seventh grade English teacher Abby Whittredge tells her students what will happen in the next scene of A Midsummer Night’s Dream while the class follows along in their copies of the play. William Shakespeare is known to have written at least thirty-five plays during his lifetime. Of all the comedies, tragedies, and histories in the Bard’s oeuvre, Whittredge teaches A Midsummer Night’s Dream because she thinks it is a great play for middle schoolers. “It’s funny, it’s confusing, it’s silly, and it’s crazy,” she said. “It’s everything seventh graders love. The tragedies, they’re a lot harder for them, so I think the comedies are the way to go with the middle school.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
In class, seventh grade English teacher Abby Whittredge tells her students what will happen in the next scene of A Midsummer Night’s Dream while the class follows along in their copies of the play. William Shakespeare is known to have written at least thirty-five plays during his lifetime. Of all the comedies, tragedies, and histories in the Bard’s oeuvre, Whittredge teaches A Midsummer Night’s Dream because she thinks it is a great play for middle schoolers. “It’s funny, it’s confusing, it’s silly, and it’s crazy,” she said. “It’s everything seventh graders love. The tragedies, they’re a lot harder for them, so I think the comedies are the way to go with the middle school.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
Once she has given them her scene overview, Abby Whittredge’s seventh grade English students read the scene to their classmates. Whittredge divides each of her classes into smaller groups, each consisting of the same people who worked on the picture book project from earlier in the drama unit. “I assign them their roles in the play, and each person plays a different character,” they said. “But when a character isn’t on stage acting, then they have other jobs. I ask, ‘who’s never been a director, who’s never been a set designer, who’s never been a composer? Who’s never done choreography or costume design?’ And then they read the whole scene of the play that we’re in with the mindset of a set designer or a member of the stage crew, something along those lines. They still have to read the play, but they’re reading it like a support member of the cast, not an actual actor.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
Once she has given them her scene overview, Abby Whittredge’s seventh grade English students read the scene to their classmates. Whittredge divides each of her classes into smaller groups, each consisting of the same people who worked on the picture book project from earlier in the drama unit. “I assign them their roles in the play, and each person plays a different character,” they said. “But when a character isn’t on stage acting, then they have other jobs. I ask, ‘who’s never been a director, who’s never been a set designer, who’s never been a composer? Who’s never done choreography or costume design?’ And then they read the whole scene of the play that we’re in with the mindset of a set designer or a member of the stage crew, something along those lines. They still have to read the play, but they’re reading it like a support member of the cast, not an actual actor.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
After they have read through their scene, actors, directors, set designers, costume designers, coreographers, and composers in Abby Whittredge’s seventh grade English class decide how they will act it out. This year at MERMS, five members of Shakespeare & Company, a theatre troupe based in Lenox, hosted theatre workshops for grades six through eight. According to Whittredge, this change affected her curriculum tremendously. “I think the kids were really excited about Shakespeare,” she said. “I think they always are, they love him. But I think this year, they were less intimidated by him. They thought reading him would be more fun, and they couldn’t have been more right.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
After they have read through their scene, actors, directors, set designers, costume designers, coreographers, and composers in Abby Whittredge’s seventh grade English class decide how they will act it out. This year at MERMS, five members of Shakespeare & Company, a theatre troupe based in Lenox, hosted theatre workshops for grades six through eight. According to Whittredge, this change affected her curriculum tremendously. “I think the kids were really excited about Shakespeare,” she said. “I think they always are, they love him. But I think this year, they were less intimidated by him. They thought reading him would be more fun, and they couldn’t have been more right.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
In the seventh grade pod, each group in Abby Whittredge’s English class performs their scene in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. When asked about how her students react to the unit, Whittredge said, “They always love Shakespeare, because they love acting out the play and generally not sitting down. They love directing, they love costumes, they love set design… I think they like the whole thing. Most of what we do involves getting up and participating. It’s not just sitting down and writing something. Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
In the seventh grade pod, each group in Abby Whittredge’s English class performs their scene in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. When asked about how her students react to the unit, Whittredge said, “They always love Shakespeare, because they love acting out the play and generally not sitting down. They love directing, they love costumes, they love set design… I think they like the whole thing. Most of what we do involves getting up and participating. It’s not just sitting down and writing something. Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online

Once each group has presented their scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Abby Whittredge’s seventh grade English class watches a film adaptation of the play. Whittredge’s favorite part about teaching the play is when she sees her students have “that moment where they understand what’s going on, where they get it, and they laugh at the jokes without me telling them.” She also loves “getting to see the talents of kids who maybe aren’t always as good at English, and all of a sudden, you get to see that they’re maybe good at Shakespeare and they’re good at acting! They’re great directors! They’re fantastic artists! I just learn so many things about them that I don’t get to see all the time.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online
Once each group has presented their scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Abby Whittredge’s seventh grade English class watches a film adaptation of the play. Whittredge’s favorite part about teaching the play is when she sees her students have “that moment where they understand what’s going on, where they get it, and they laugh at the jokes without me telling them.” She also loves “getting to see the talents of kids who maybe aren’t always as good at English, and all of a sudden, you get to see that they’re maybe good at Shakespeare and they’re good at acting! They’re great directors! They’re fantastic artists! I just learn so many things about them that I don’t get to see all the time.” Credit: Benjamin Willems for Manchester Essex Multimedia Online

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