Hamlet in Plain English

I thought for my first official post on this site I would entertain my readers and fellow teachers with a new way to look at William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Last spring I decided to turn Shakespeare’s world upside down by utilizing the “common craft” technique to storytelling. If you have not visited Lee LeFever’s website, please do now! Pass GO, collect your $200 and get to Common Craft!!!! Ken Rodoff, our technology coach at Springfield, introduced me to this site and we were both impressed by the simplicity and ability to glean difficult concepts via Mr. LeFever’s videos. We pondered….”How can we bring this concept into language arts?” Then we came up with this…

Hamlet in Plain English

If you are reading this, you…

A) …are alive.

B) …passed reading class a long, long time ago.

C) …just watched a witty Common Craft video.Yay!


Take a theme from Hamlet and create a Common Craft-esque video that represents your theme.

We will use class time to create this project, and we’ll have many special guest appearances by Ken Rodoff, aka the Lord of the Wiki! In class, we’ll break down each day into a different task. And at the end, we’ll screen our films.


1. Select a theme. We have discussed many themes threaded throughout Hamlet. Your job is to select one and propose your initial idea to me.

2. Once you have your theme, you will gather at least five textual examples that represent this theme. I want to see the act, scene, and line numbers.

3. Once you have gathered the textual evidence, you will organize it into an outline that you will eventually translate into a storyboard.

4. Create a storyboard. The storyboard will serve as the blueprint for the film. You must provide pictures along with the script for each storyboard scene. I must approve the storyboard before you begin filming.

5. After you have created your storyboard, you will begin to gather and create elements to use for the film. Keep in mind that you are using the blueprint of a Common Craft video to convey your theme simply. You may use a variety of options here.

6. Once you have completed all of the aforementioned tasks, you will begin filming.

Filming should take one class block. I suggest filming in sequential order to expedite the editing process.

7. The final stage of this project will consist of editing the film and doing the voice-over recording. This will be the longest stage of the project and will require a lot of input from all group members.

8. After you’ve finished your films, we will screen them all in class. We will show the films not only to our class but to other classes as well.


  • Hamlet Text
  • commoncraft.com
  • White board and storyboard
  • Laptop or desktop computer
  • Video Camera and Tape
  • Microsoft Movie Maker
  • Microphone and Audacity Sound Editor
  • CD-R

Grading Criteria:

  • The following are criteria for grading this project:
  • There is evidence of collaboration during research, storyboarding, filming, and editing.
  • The storyboard is clear and has extremely specific scenes and quotes. It identifies your theme and shows that your scenes reinforce and demonstrate that theme.
  • You do all your work within the allotted time. This includes your storyboarding, filming, and editing.
  • The film’s scenes sync up with the storyboard.
  • The storyboard is well written and free of grammatical and mechanical errors.
  • The film is at least one minute long, but not longer than two minutes.
  • Group members show that they had a good time and thoroughly enjoyed this “super happy-rific” project!

The entire project will be worth seventy points per group. Each group member will also anonymously grade the other members on their individual performance in the group. I will provide a rubric for this procedure.

© 2008 Andrew Marcinek, Springfield Township High School, and Ken Rodoff,

Classrooms for the Future.

Eureka! Shakespeare is fun, cool, collaborative, visual and engaging to senior, honors English students!!!

This lesson was introduced after we completed the reading and viewing of Hamlet. In class we would read and analyze the play. Each night students would read a section of the play and bring in their interpretations of what they felt were critical passages in the play. At the end of each Act students were quizzed on specific passages in which they had to identify the players, context, literary techniques used in the passage and a thorough analysis of the passage. Also, at the end of each act students were shown the Kenneth Branagh version of Hamlet.

Once we finished the play I started the Hamlet in Plain English lesson by showing my students one of Mr. LeFever’s Common Craft videos. I then asked, “Describe this video in one word.”

Some of the responses I received….








Then I asked them, “Why did I show you this video? Taking into consideration the current unit we were discussing.”


This was my inciting incident! With that student response the lesson was underway!

I want you to make a common craft video that focuses on a theme in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and make it CLEAN, SIMPLE, CLEAR, EFFICIENT, CLEVER, BASIC, PAINLESS!

I then handed them the aforementioned criteria and we were off. Here is an example of one of the videos and also the winner of Best Picture and Best use of Humor. Enjoy!

When we finished the lesson we had a screening day where I showed the films from all three of my English classes. We also held a mini-Oscar Award show in which students voted on categories such as, Best Picture, Best Editing, Best Use of Humor, etc. This day was a great conclusion to my Shakespeare/Hamlet unit.

Positive Outcomes of the Lesson

  • Student collaboration and engagement with the play
  • Understanding a complex text and its literary merit
  • Finished product students could share with friends and a teacher could model to other students.
  • Several videos that a teacher could show to Special Education students for a language arts lesson on Shakespeare.

Lesson Recommendations

  • This can be time consuming so make sure you provide your students with a time schedule. Creative productions can drag on if not properly time stamped.
  • If you have a tech coach in your building, make sure you sign up for his or her assistance!
  • Understand your video equipment, sound equipment and editing software on your computers! It is best to present a mini lesson on all of these tools before going forward. It is best to have the tech coach present with you if this option is available.

Any questions or comments on the lesson you can leave below or if you would like a PDF of any of my handouts from this lesson please feel free to e-mail me at [email protected].