Monday, February 27, 2012

Fancy Fencing

What is cooler than sword fighting?

Students sword fighting in class, of course.  What could be cooler than that?

English teachers teaching students how to sword fight in class.  Talk about points for originality from the administration.  Provided, of course, that none of your students actually die in the process.

Now, I know the more common core teachers out there are saying to themselves (or out loud to the computer screen), "How can I teach students how to sword fight?"  and the lesser core teachers are saying "Why would I teach students how to sword fight?"

The hard core teachers have stopped reading the post and have started sharpening the sword they keep proudly on the wall behind their desk.   Don't worry about them, they'll rejoin us in a minute.  To you others, I'll answer the questions.  First, no fear.  I will instruct you in the fine arts of sword fighting.  Second, why wouldn't you?  But to be more precise, because of the countless years you've spent having students read Shakespeare out loud and cringing when the narrator boringly reads these two words:

They fight.

These words are usually read in a monotone voice and are followed by an equally monotone voice saying the next line.  It's boring.  However, if the students realize that these two words encompass a huge choreographed fight scene, then they might be more interested.  It will cost you at least one day of instruction, perhaps a little more, but it is worth it.  They will remember your drama unit over all others.

ARTSEDGE suggests using it with Hamlet, but I've used it with both Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.  Frankly, any Shakespeare play that has a sword fight scene will work.

Touche, pussycat!

O.K., how do you teach sword fighting?  It's easy.  Go to ARTSEDGE.  This link will take you straight to their sword fighting lessons where you will learn first, second, third, and fourth position, terms like: Relevé, Plié, and Demi-plié (look at that - French!  Cross Curriculum learning! - not to mention that these are ballet moves too so we incorporate dance and P.E.) as well as en guarde, salute, and that word for when the guy does a fancy circle motion with the sword and sends the other guy's sword flying away.

Need to get your students in the mood?  Try showing one of these sword fighting videos:

From Die Another Day (James Bond)




And from Pirates of the Caribbean



What we did was teach the students the moves, let them play it out a bit and then they choreographed a fight scene and acted it out.  Some of the kids were less than wholehearted, but quite a few put a lot into it.  We often get props, cartwheels, leaps across the room, etc.  Some students come up with a story to show why they are fighting and some join groups up to have a large battle royal feel.

What do we use for swords?  Well, in class we take large paper (I got some 11" x 17" paper for free long ago and can't use it in the copiers) and roll them up tight (about 2 to 3 sheets).  For those who make to our next level (we take the best fight scenes from each period and let them have a competition) we use wooden sticks that I bought at Home Depot and cut to size.  Just be careful, whatever you do, and remember that play swords are weapon facsimiles and are probably banned at your school.

By the way, before you cop out of this fantastic lesson plan by saying, "You don't know my students.  They won't be able to handle this lesson," you should know that I have done this lesson with honors kids who did great and low level behaviorally challenged kids, who also did great.

So, grab your sword and get hard core with your Shakespeare unit!

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