A Way With Words or Say What?

Did you quote Shakespeare today? Learn how you’ve been using the Bard’s words without even knowing it


Key Staff

A regular classroom teacher can easily teach this lesson without any additional help.

Optional: A drama teacher, drama specialist, or a professional or amateur actor from the local community could provide some tips to the students on how to do pantomime.

Key Skills

Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture
Creative Thinking: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving


Many words and phrases that we use every day were coined by Shakespeare. He is credited with inventing over 2,000 words and expressive phrases. In this exciting etymology lesson, student teams compete through drawing and pantomime to identify and analyze some of Shakespeare's words and phrases. Individual students then write a story using the Bard’s words, lines, and phrases. Truly creative classes can take the challenge to add a new word to our language. A handful of dictionaries, some paper and pencils and a sense of humor will get you going on this fun lesson on the power of words.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Identify words invented by William Shakespeare
  • Interpret the meaning of words through drawing
  • Identify words by interpreting drawings
  • Analyze the meaning of a line or phrase
  • Pantomime to communicate the meaning of a line or phrase
  • Interpret pantomime to identify a line or phrase
  • Write a short story using Shakespeare invented words, lines, and phrases

Teaching Approach

Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Cooperative Learning
  • Demonstration
  • Discussion
  • Experiential Learning
  • Simulations and Games

Assessment Type

Determined by Teacher


Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teacher should have read the book Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood

Prior Student Knowledge

  • Students should have read a copy of Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood
  • Students should have some knowledge of pantomime.
  • Some knowledge of Shakespearean England (see notes in Geo-reference section)

Physical Space



Teachers may want to push desks aside for these lessons to make room for team games.

Prior to class, prepare individual index cards of approximately 60 words invented by Shakespeare.For reference see the 'A Word from the Bard' handout located within the Resource Carousel included in this lesson and the book William Shakespeare and the Globe by Aliki. Or consider the following list:

  • Mountaineer
  • Fortune-teller
  • Bandit
  • Watch-dog
  • Schoolboy
  • Football
  • Worm hole
  • Horn-book
  • Shooting star
  • Moonbeam
  • Dew-drop
  • Glow
  • Dawn
  • Alligator
  • Lady-bird
  • Luggage
  • Eyeball
  • Love-letter
  • Puppy-dog
  • Farmhouse
  • Bedroom
  • Birthplace
  • Fairy land
  • Worthless
  • Long-legged
  • Pale-faced
  • Hot-blooded
  • Flea-bitten
  • Green-eyed
  • Upstairs
  • Downstairs

For the drawing game, the student who is drawing will need wall space or an easel at which to draw.Team members will need to gather around the drawing student to watch the drawing as it progresses.

For the pantomime game, each student team will need an area to huddle to plan and perform their pantomime.

Take a copy of the Shakespearean Lineshandout and cut the handout into strips or write individual lines on index cards for each group.

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. Talk with the students about why words are important. We call the study of words, etymology. Words have power. Chosen carefully they not only communicate concepts, facts and beliefs, but can affect behavior and relations between people and nations. They can move us to tears, or to laugh out loud. Consider the phrase; “them’s fightin’ words,” from Gullible’s Travels. Point out that fighting words are excluded from the protection of freedom of speech in the First Amendment. Solicit ideas from students about how powerful words can be. Other examples of powerful words to consider:

  • Yes We Can
  • I love you
  • Please
  • No
  • Free

Sample student responses might be:

  • I thought freedom of speech meant I can say whatever I want
  • Students might suggest popular slang words or phrases from songs or TV commercials
  • Its hard/easy to say I love you

2. Put some new words from Merriam-Webster’s new word list on the board and ask if anyone can define that word and use it in a sentence. You can use any of the words suggested below or choose from the list on their web site listed in the resource section below.

  • Screenager (a teenager who is knows a lot about the internet)
  • Meatspace (a physical reality as opposed to a virtual reality)
  • Mondegreen (a mishearing or a misinterpretation of a phrase in a song or poem that gives it a new meaning) for ex: “Scuse me while I kiss this guy” instead of “Scuse me while I kiss the sky.”
  • Cardioprotective (serving to protect the heart) Physiatry (physical medicine and rehabilitation)

3. Teach the students that new words are created all of the time. Language is a living thing, words come into being and go out of fashion all of the time. Some ways in which new words come into the language are:

  • New technology and industry
  • Popular culture
  • New cultural experiences
  • Foreign languages
  • Slang
  • Attaching new meanings to old words
  • Borrowed or adapted

Optional: You may want to provide dictionaries from different decades, if available, for students to search for words whose meanings have changed, were born, or went out of use.

4. Explain to students that many of the ordinary words and phrases we use today were invented by William Shakespeare. Shakespeare is credited with introducing some 2000 words to the English language through his poetry and plays, more than any other person in its history. Words like:

  • “Zany”
  • “Lonely”
  • “Critic”
  • “Fair play”

5. Briefly review concepts covered so far, checking for student understanding.

  • Words are created and go out of use continually
  • Meanings of words can change over time
  • Words are used to communicate with others
  • New words can come from a variety of sources such as industry, culture, other languages and creative thinkers
  • William Shakespeare has contributed some 2000 words to the English language

6. Recite the following words and ask the class if they can finish the sentence:

  • “To Be or_________
  • “ O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore__________
  • “Friends, Romans, countrymen,_______

Now ask the class how many of them have actually seen or read Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, or Julius Caesar. These quotes, arguably some of the most famous quotes in the English language, are so embedded in our language and culture that many people who have never even seen or read Shakespeare’s plays know them. For fun, suggest that students try this exercise with their friends and family.

Build Knowledge

1. Teach the students that Shakespeare not only invented many words but also put phrases into our language that we still use today. Examples of word combinations made famous by him are:

  • “Too much of a good thing” (Rosalind - As You Like It)
  • “Good riddance” (Patroclus - Trolius and Cressida)
  • “In my mind’s eye” (Hamlet - Hamlet)

2. Write several Shakespeare phrases on the board and enlist a student volunteer to pantomime one of them for the class. Have the class guess the phrase that is being depicted. They may include:

  • “Every inch a king,” (King Lear - King Lear)
  • “Not budge an inch,” (Christopher Sly -Taming of the Shrew)
  • “Wild-goose chase,” (Mercutio - Romeo and Juliet)
  • “Sweets to the sweet.” (Queen - Hamlet)


1. Tell students that they will now play some games in which they must "draw” or “act out” Shakespeare's invented words and phrases. The instructions are as follows:

A. Game number one: Quick draw Shakespeare. You will use the previously prepared index cards with Shakespeare’s words for this game.

  1. Select a time-keeper from the class. He/she will keep time and record the team points on the board.
  2. Divide the class into two to four groups. (For tips on dividing into groups see resource section below if needed)
  3. Select a person from each group who will be responsible for putting a hand up when the team has figured out a word. This person will be able to look at the word being drawn in advance, but he/she MAY NOT give hints about the word to others on the team, nor tell the player who is drawing how to draw the picture.
  4. Have teams count off to see who will go first, second, third, etc.
  5. Post large sheets of newsprint paper and markers in each team’s area. Or use an easel or whiteboard if available.
  6. Give one member from each team a word to draw from your stack of index cards with Shakespeare’s words. Show the word on the card or quietly say the word in the player’s ear. All teams get their word at the same time. They will have 45 seconds in which to draw and guess their word.
  7. The first team to guess correctly gets a point for the word.
  8. Give the next player from each team the next word. Repeat until each person has had one or two turns.

NOTE: If you wish to simplify the game for younger students or to save time, record the full list of words to be drawn on the board or distribute a list to each team. Students will search for, rather than guess, the word that is being drawn.

B. Game number two: Play it don’t Say It. Distribute the Shakespearean Lines handout located within the Resource Carousel to the class or write the dialogue lines on the board. Assign each group a line from the 'Shakespearean Lines' handout. If you prefer, you can use the Shakespearean Lines with Characters and Plays handout also located within the Resource Carousel which cites the play from which the line comes and who spoke it. You may:

  • Cut the handout into strips and assign one line per group
  • Write individual lines on index cards for each group
  • Distribute the handout and assign a line to each group by number

Direct the students to interpret their lines and create a pantomime to present it to the class. Give the students a few minutes to brainstorm their pantomime concept. The objective is to make the meaning of the Shakespeare line obvious to others.

Teach the students that in pantomime, normal actions are exaggerated to make the meaning clear. As in the game of charades, students can act out each word one at a time, or create a mini drama that tells the story of the quote. Allow each group to pantomime the line, and have the class guess which line is being performed.


1. Direct students to record some words from the game and identify their meanings. Make sure there is a selection of Dictionaries and Thesaurus’ available for the student’s use in this segment of the lesson

2. Ask students to imagine our language without some of these words. We use many of these words every day without much thought, as if they have always been in existence. What if we didn’t have the word “lonely?” How would we describe that condition?

3. Distribute the Shakespear Sentence Exercises to the students. Explain to the students that the italicized word in each sentence is attributed to Shakespeare.

4. Have the students rewrite the sentences without Shakespeare’s invented word, while keeping the meaning of the sentence the same. If possible, students should do this without adding more words to the sentence. Encourage the students to consider how Shakespeare must have felt. Did he invent so many words because he was longing for precision in expression?

5. Discuss with the students what they learned about Shakespeare and his linguistic inventions. Consider the following questions or make up your own discussion starters:

  • How did drawing the words and pantomiming the lines force the students to search for meaning?
  • Are they inspired to create words of their own in their language and writing?
  • In what ways did this exercise make words seem ordinary or extraordinary.
  • Ask students do they look at words differently now, and if so how?

Sample student responses might be:

  • It was fun/frustrating to not be able to talk
  • I had to think more about how others understand what I mean
  • I didn’t know Shakespeare made so many words
  • I wonder where other words have come from

6. For homework, assign each student to write a short story using a sampling of Shakespeare’s words, phrases, and lines meaningfully. Have the student underline the Shakespearean words, phrases, or lines used within the story. Consider the following writer’s guidelines for the student writing, or use guidelines of your own:

  • Stories should be between 500 and 800 words
  • There should be at least one Shakespearean word, phrase or line in each paragraph
  • Specific details and descriptions make for interesting settings and believable characters

Quality stories include the following characteristics:

  • An opening with an engaging “hook”
  • A body that twists and turns in surprising ways.
  • Main plot and sub plot lines are drawn to a conclusion at the end.
  • The reader is left wanting a little more.

7. Distribute the Shakespeare Phrase Match Up handout located within the Resource Carousel. Students can work on this handout as a time filler, for fun or as a quiz.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

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Mary Beth Bauernschub
Original Writer

Ann Reilly

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