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A Teaching Guide to Macbeth GCSE Shakespeare Coursework (Oral Response)

Steph Jackson | Wednesday September 30, 2009

Categories: Drama, Macbeth, Shakespeare, Shakespeare's Plays, Trial, Writing, Drama Analysis, AQA GCSE, AQA GCSE English A



This teaching guide is designed as a self-contained unit for students of medium to high ability. It can be used to produce the AQA A GCSE Shakespeare coursework and has been designed for assessment via the EN2/Lit Oral Response Option (although it could easily also be adapted to provide a written response).

The AQA A Shakespeare coursework is what is termed as a ‘cross-over’ piece; therefore, if you are using it for assessment for both English and English Literature GCSEs (the most common approach), the student will need to be able to address the assessment objectives for both.

Let us remind ourselves of these:


Candidates are required to demonstrate their ability to:

i. Read, with insight and engagement, making appropriate references to texts and developing and sustaining interpretations of them.

iv. Select material appropriate to their purpose, collate material from different sources, and make cross references.

v. Understand and evaluate how writers use linguistic, structural and presentational devices to achieve their effects, and comment on ways language varies and changes.

English Literature

Candidates are required to demonstrate their ability to:

AO1: Respond to texts critically, sensitively and in detail, selecting appropriate ways to convey their response, using textual evidence as appropriate.

AO2: Explore how language, structure and forms contribute to the meanings of texts, considering different approaches to texts and alternative interpretations.

AO4: Relate texts to their social, cultural and historical contexts and literary traditions.

As this unit is aimed at medium to high ability students, it is also useful to consider the general and specific criteria for a typical A grade response for both specifications:


General Criteria

Candidates appreciate and analyse alternative interpretations, making cross references where appropriate. They develop their ideas and refer in detail to aspects of language, structure and presentation, making apt and careful comparison within and between texts.

Specific Criteria

Candidates show analytical and interpretative skills when evaluating:

  • the play’s moral and philosophical context
  • significant achievements within the dramatic genre
  • Shakespeare’s exploitation of language for dramatic, poetic and figurative effect

English Literature

General Criteria

Candidates respond critically and sensitively to texts, exploring alternative approaches and interpretations. They consider and evaluate the ways meaning, ideas and feelings are conveyed through language, structure and form. They respond in appropriate forms, conveying their ideas coherently, vigorously and persuasively. They show analytical and interpretative skills when evaluating the social and historical settings of texts, their cultural contexts or the literary traditions on which they draw.

Specific Criteria

Show analytical and interpretative skills when evaluating:

  • the effects of character and action
  • the effects of dramatic devices or structures
  • the layers of meaning in language, ideas and themes
  • the social and historical setting or cultural context or literary tradition

These two sets of Assessment Objectives and general and specific criteria suggest that for this piece of coursework, the candidates should, amongst other things:

  • produce readings of the text as independently as possible (within the acknowledged constraints and time pressures of GCSE teaching)
  • integrate their analysis with relevant contextual details
  • analyse language, structure and form closely in relation to the specified question
  • show awareness of the text as a dramatic piece (rather than as a text to be read)
  • show a critical awareness of different interpretations of the text

The following coursework question is designed to cover all of these required skills. It is followed by a teaching outline. The inclusion and length of each stage is up to you and your individual requirements.

The Coursework Question

It is usually best to introduce the coursework question at the very beginning of the scheme of work. This focuses the minds of the students and allows you to avoid wasting time on irrelevant analysis or discussion. Whilst, in an ideal world, we could study the whole text and discuss its manifold meanings, the time constraints of GCSE necessitate a tightly focused and concise programme of study.


Explain how the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth develops throughout the play (in particular Act 1 sc.5 & 7; Act 2 sc.2; Act 3 sc. 2 & 4; and Act 5 sc. 1 & 5). Consider:

  • the language Shakespeare gives to certain characters in these scenes and its effects;
  • the structure of these scenes;
  • how Shakespeare’s writing may have been influenced by his social, cultural and historical context.

Scheme of Work

The scheme of work is structured around the equivalent of 3 lessons of 1 hour each per week.

Stage 1 - Lesson 1

Some initial discussion as to the implications of this coursework question may be useful and may get students thinking independently (a useful ‘higher order’ skill) – getting the students to consider what tools or skills they need to address the question will help to focus their minds and to see the various activities they do as part of a cohesive whole. At this point, you may wish to use the Macbeth CW Assessment.ppt resource to focus the students’ work.

It is important that your pupils have a secure understanding of the characters and storyline of Macbeth, as, although the coursework question is extract-based, they also need to place these scenes in a wider context (as suggested by the wording of the question). Plot summaries are easily accessible on a range of websites. It is suggested that, after an initial discussion of the coursework question, a ‘mix and match’ activity is used to establish the plot of Macbeth. For pupils of a higher ability, parallels can be drawn here between the cohesion of the cards and the cohesion of their final coursework essays, and this activity could form the basis of a brief discussion as to how this can be achieved. A resource entitled Macbeth Plot Cards.doc is enclosed to facilitate such an activity.

Following this, a consolidation of the plot can be achieved by watching the 30 minute episode from the Animated Tales or another suitable DVD. This could be followed by a brief discussion of how Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are presented in the play and some reflection as to how this may reflect society (or otherwise) at the time. The students can therefore begin to consider relevant contextual detail before even having studied the play. This also allows students to consider the play as a dramatic piece, rather than as a text to be read, which will enhance their approach to the coursework question.

Stage 1 - Lesson 2

As suggested in EnglishEdu’s A Teaching Guide to Romeo and Juliet GCSE Shakespeare Coursework , a game of ‘Call My Bluff’ with some challenging words from the scene to be studied can make the Shakespearean language more accessible.

Following this, you may wish to pose this question to students:

How would a woman in a male-dominated society gain power and influence?

This will lead onto a consideration of Act 1 scene 5, the audience’s first impression of the character of Lady Macbeth. You may wish to set up some modern day interpretations of this scene (which will also, very usefully, encourage the consideration of this text as a text for performance). Students will already have a clear picture of Lady Macbeth’s thirst for power and will probably be able to depict effectively the various means a modern woman could use to manipulate her husband to get what she wants.

A relatively swift reading of this brief scene could allow you to quickly establish the state from which the Macbeths’ relationship descends, providing a secure foundation for the coursework question later (NB you will then need to study Act 1 scene 5 in the following lesson).

Stage 1 - Lesson 3

This lesson allows students to compare the Macbeths’ relationship with the way it is portrayed in other scenes. This will allow each student to develop an empathetic understanding of their motivations and to consider the text as a dramatic ‘construct’.

The PowerPoint introduces and outlines this activity which invites groups of students to give dramatic presentations of sections from Act 1 scenes 5 and 7. The ‘card sort’ initially allows the students to become more usefully familiar with the language of Shakespeare; the modern translations are designed to render it more accessible, whilst also allowing some discussion of Macbeth’s motivations, as indicated. The PowerPoint takes you through this activity step-by-step. Depending on your group and the amount of discussion stemming from this activity, this may run over more than one lesson.

Stage 2 - Lessons 4, 5, 6 and 7

Thus far, the reading of Shakespeare’s language has been relatively well supported; but now is the point at which you can begin to encourage your students to develop a more independent response in their study.

Initially, although you will have introduced some relevant social, historical and cultural context in your discussions, the GCSE Macbeth Coursework SL Research.doc resource will also allow you to carry out some more focused and explicit contextual research with your class.

Following this research lesson, you will need to consider your approach to studying the remaining scenes and your chosen mode of assessment. The scenes you need to cover now are Act 2 scene 2 (Note: the ‘staccato’ exchanges between Macbeth and his wife invite a tense re-enactment); Act 3 scenes 2 (Note: Macbeth’s comparative dominance here perhaps marks a shift in the power balance in the relationship) and 4 (Note: the tension and terror of the banquet scene invites a whole class re-enactment, complete with food and ‘wine’!); and Act 5 scenes 1 and 5 (Note: the unravelling of Macbeth’s language here is particularly potent). Of course, you may wish either to edit these or to reduce the number of scenes covered, depending on the class and time available.

In order to prepare for the oral assessment, you may wish to briefly study each of these scenes yourself, highlighting some of the more important points, or discussing the transformation of the Macbeths’ relationships. You could model a brief linguistic and structural analysis, whilst still leaving some scope for pupils to do their own independent readings later. It can be highly effective to allow students to explore the dramatic effect of each scene by acting it out.

  • There are two possible approaches to the oral assessment in this scheme of work.

Firstly, for the more independent student, you could employ the Macbeth Group Presentations.doc resource. This will allow students more autonomy when they analyse their chosen scene in detail, whilst allowing them to analyse the remaining scenes more generically (and perhaps drawing on your earlier class discussions). This will allow them to give a presentation on the place of their scene in the Macbeths’ changing relationship. It would also allow them to draw on the earlier work on Act 1 scenes 5 and 7 and to develop some independence in their analysis of the later scenes.

Alternatively, for students who require increased guidance, a more ‘teacher-led’ analysis of the remaining scenes may be useful; in this case, students should be encouraged to contribute to discussions. At various points, the Macbeth Tableaux.doc resource can be used to help illuminate key themes and ideas. The students could then be assessed on their individual analysis of the sequence of events from Act 1 to Act 5 (as indicated in ‘Macbeth Coursework Assessment’) and the language within these, and how these features reflect the changing nature of the Macbeths’ relationship. This sequential and more linear approach may help to support students who are able but who still struggle with a more independent analysis.

  • This stage may be supplemented at various points with a showing of a DVD version of Macbeth. Watching a dramatic interpretation of the relevant scene can illuminate students’ analyses and help them to trace changes in the central relationship of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

As with a written piece, students will need to draft their work. As they will now be assessed against En2/Lit descriptors, rather than En1, it is the content and analysis of their work which becomes important, rather than the way in which they present it. By making each student responsible for a particular aspect of their presentation, you can guard against those who think they can ride on the coat-tails of others.