April 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Starting Shakespeare | Touch and Go

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photo-189We’ve reviewed a couple of truly remarkable Shakespeare apps in this column including The Sonnets by William Shakespeare (Touch Press), with 154 video recordings of noted actors reciting the Bard’s poems and video commentary by scholars, and Othello, one of the “Shakesperience” iBooks, from Sourcebooks featuring annotated text, audio and video recordings of film and stage actors in performance, photographs, costume and set drawings, production notes, tools for note-taking, and more. Starting Shakespeare, reviewed here by Kathleen S. Wilson, is something altogether different, and a great resource for classroom teachers, who will want to project and share its content with students .

Shakespeare’s plays tend to leave high school students running for the hills, turned off by the language and ultimately missing out on some of the world’s greatest literary masterpieces. Is there a solution to this problem? Australia’s national theater company, Bell Shakespeare, thinks so. They’ve teamed up with the developer Deeper Richer to create Starting Shakespeare ($4.99; Gr 5 Up), an iPad app designed to help teachers introduce Shakespeare to students before they even get to high school. This cleanly designed and easy-to-use app provides brief historical overviews of Shakespeare’s world and work, as well as a variety of avenues for getting to know his plays, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, through narrated synopses with video dramatizations, short text and video profiles of the characters, enactments of “Key Scenes,” and fun, interactive “Learning Journeys.”

Oberon and Puck watch as Tatiana, under a spell, falls for Nick Bottom, the donkey in "Starting Shakespeare' (xx)

Oberon and Puck watch as Titania, under a spell, falls for  ‘Midsummer’s’ Nick Bottom in ‘Starting Shakespeare’ (Deeper Richer)

The scenes, performed by an energetic, engaging, and youthful cast (professional Bell Shakespeare actors), are accessible to younger learners. Sets, costumes, and props are minimal, yet have plenty of whimsy to keep things lively. The video quality is exceptionally high, perfect for projecting in classrooms.

Students can use the “Learning Journeys” to explore Shakespeare’s language in playful, creative, and cooperative ways. Activities include inventing and drawing new ingredients for the witches’ brew in Macbeth, then uploading the drawings with the camera; enhancing the witches’ spell by dragging and dropping Shakespearian adjectives into Shakespeare’s lines; writing new spells with the iPad’s virtual keyboard and recording read-throughs with the microphone; and, recording others acting out the newly created spells. Adding to the overall richness of Starting Shakespeare is a free teacher’s guide, available through iBooks, with lesson plans, additional learning activities, and curriculum tie-ins. Most definitely worth a try.–Kathleen S. Wilson, New York University, NY, NY

For additional app reviews, visit our Touch and Go webpage.


Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek dgrabarek@mediasourceinc.com is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.



  1. A NEW collection of poetry I have compiled, ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE, is based on Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man” monologue from AS YOU LIKE IT, available from Creative Editions, illustrated by Guy Billout.