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This year I’m teaching Othello for the second time around. After having taught 11 new texts over the past two years, I am nothing short of relieved to be on familiar ground. Teaching texts again gives you the opportunity to consolidate, to think strategically and, ultimately, do it better (or that is my hope!)

Our students are supposed to have read the play and completed some reading/questions on it over the holidays. This is the first unit of study we are studying this year and so it comes at a time when you have new classes, students who don’t necessarily know each other and dynamics that haven’t yet been set. Last year I think we dived straight into the play, but this year I used the starter activity below, which gave me a different way of approaching the rest of the unit.

Below is the slide of the task I asked students to complete:

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I just got them to complete the graph first with the line for Othello’s hero status and the key events. I had students complete this first silently on their own and then as a group they needed to come to a conclusion about what their group’s graph would look like. Then each group needed to draw their communal graph up on one of the whiteboard walls in our classroom (yes, we are lucky enough to have these).

As I roamed around the classroom listening to the conversations students were having, it gave me a really in-depth understanding of what prior knowledge students were bringing to the play. The images below give a good indication of the different level of understanding that students bought to the task. All show some understanding of the trajectory of the play and their conversations showed me how much detail they know about the plot. At another level, some groups began debating whose perspective this was from and whether or not the audience would see Othello through the same lens as other characters in the play.

Once finished, students got to walk around and look at all the graphs aiming to answer two questions: 1) What are the similarities? 2) What are the differences?

The question of differences is where this task gets interesting. Most groups had had some kind of debate about where to place Othello at the end of the play: was his hero status fully rectified at the end? Can we still blame him? Is he redeemed? This class discussion allowed us to get to the point of recognising that this is really open for interpretation. This gets to the heart of what the study of this play is really about- looking at the parts of the play that are up for debate, looking at the evidence and arguing your point of view.

Doing this showed me that my students knew MORE than I had previously thought. Some would still need to go over the specifics of plot, but that they could be pushed more than I had previously assumed. I’m keen to use this again, to remind myself that students are more capable than I may presume.

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