Principles of (English) Instruction Part 4: Rosenshine meets Shakespeare

This is Part 4 of my extremely spasmodic series on ‘Principles of Instruction‘ by Barak Rosenshine. If you’d like to read Part 1Part 2 or Part 3, there they are.


So. About *cough* nine months ago, I started writing about Rosenshine’s ‘Principles of Instruction’. I got to Principle #2 and then stopped. (Clearly Lacks Grit.) Anyway, here I am again, and I thought I’d write about how I’d been applying the first two principles in my current HSC English class.


#1 Begin a lesson with a short review of previous learning.

Am I doing this? Yes! You bet. I love it, and I think the students like it too.

Each lesson has started with a quiz, revising the previous lesson’s content. So this started with questions about characters and plot…


  1. What is the name of the magician on the island?
  2. What is his daughter’s name?
  3. Why are they on the island?


Then moved into questions about context…


  1. When was the Age of Discovery?
  2. What was another name for the Americas?
  3. What is colonialism?


Then, retrieval practice of quotations.


  1. “A t- noise of t- and l- heard.”
  2. “What c- these r- for the n- of k-?”
  3. “Me, p- man, my l- was d- l- enough.”


I print these quizzes (usually about ten questions) and hand them out at the beginning of the lesson or, before students even arrive, I just put them on their desks. They come in, sit straight down, and start doing the quiz. This gives me time to mark the roll, hand back marked work, and generally get my stuff together. Then we run through the answers to the quiz together and they self-mark. Simples!


Is it working? I think so. Their knowledge of the play is excellent – if I ask them sneaky, rapid questions, they know the answers, and they really like that. Their memory of quotations, though not perfect, is significantly better than that of previous students. Doing the quizzes with them has really improved my memory of quotations, too. If I keep it up, and I plan to, I think they’ll do well.


As time has rolled on, I have also included questions reviewing knowledge from earlier lessons. How soon we forget…


#2 Present new material in small steps with student practice after each step.

Yes! (Two from two.) Instead of moving relentlessly through the text and expecting them to assimilate it, I’ve been consciously trying to cover smaller chunks, and setting targeted homework on each one.


Of course, “each step” is hard to define when studying literature. It’s not that hierarchical. Grammar can be stepped. Context can be stepped. Texts can only really be chunked. There’s no shallow end in Shakespeare.


But I have been trying to make careful decisions about where I’m going to start and stop. For example, Act One scene two of The Tempest is one of those long, expository scenes in which most of the main characters get a guernsey, and most of the main plotlines and motivations are established. I divided that into four chunks:

  1. Prospero tells Miranda that he used to be Duke of Milan, but was usurped by his brother, Antonio, and cast adrift.
  2. Prospero speaks with Ariel about the tempest he created, about Ariel’s freedom and Caliban.
  3. Caliban accuses Prospero of deceiving him and dispossessing him of the island; Prospero and Miranda accuse Caliban of attempted rape.
  4. Ariel leads Ferdinand to Prospero and Miranda; Miranda and Ferdinand fall in love; Prospero pretends to suspect Ferdinand of treason.


Each chunk has at least one pretty important thematic focus and introduces an important main character. One chunk per lesson is enough. As for the student practice after each chunk, I’ve been setting it as homework, because time. For example, my question for Chunk #3, above, was ‘What does the audience discover from Caliban’s speech I.ii.332-45 (starting “This island’s mine…”)? Handwrite one page, including quotations and analysis.’


I also set short readings for homework, mostly from my student blog at this early stage, to prime students for the next lesson’s chunk.



I’m marking some of their practice essays tomorrow, so that will be interesting. Will all this emphasis on knowledge and sequencing improve their essay writing? Fingers and toes crossed.




4 thoughts on “Principles of (English) Instruction Part 4: Rosenshine meets Shakespeare

  1. Oh Felicity, I have missed your blogging! Somehow I have a daughter who loves writing and English who might like to read it too (she must have got that from her father).
    I’m looking forward to the next installment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Emma! You are very kind! I’m surprised this is of interest to anyone who’s not an English teacher (amazed it interests anyone, really), but blogging helps me avoid boring my nearest and dearest with too much blather. You always loved reading so it doesn’t surprise me that your girl loves English! She might prefer my student blog? Sending virtual love! xx


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