William Shakespeare / During Reading / /

Shakespeare’s Forgotten Words

Investigating the meaning of some lesser used words.

Lesson length: 1 session

Lesson from William Shakespeare series

Text potential

  • Vocabulary: Archaic Vocabulary
  • Vocabulary: Etymology

Strategies used

  • Vocabulary: Blended Approach


Many words used by Shakespeare have disappeared from the dictionary. Exploring some of these words can lead to fruitful discussions about language change, etymology and grammar. 


  • Download and print one copy of Shakespeare’s Lost Words (onto card is ideal) with the words and definitions cut up separately. 
  • Copies of Shakespeare Matching Definitions, one per pair.


Enter the classroom and say:

‘Stop your bibble-babble you pestiferous popinjays!’ 

Ask the class:

  • What do you think I meant? 

Write the sentence on the board and ask:

  • Are there any words you haven’t seen before? (Bibble-babble, pestiferous and popinjay are likely to be unknown.) 
  • What do you think these words mean? 

Invite suggestions prompting the children to explain their reasoning. Prompt by asking:

  • Are any parts of the word familiar? (For example, ‘pest’ in ‘pestiferous’ may support understanding the meaning.)  
  • What word classes are they? 
  • Does the way I said the sentence help you understand the meaning of the words? 

Explain that these are all words used by Shakespeare that are no longer commonly used. Divide the class into two groups. Distribute cards with Shakespeare’s lost words to half the class and the definitions to the other half. The children should try to work out which words and definitions match. The most important part of this activity is the discussion the children have. Listen in to note the strategies the children are using to match the words. Once complete, distribute copies of the Shakespeare Matching Definitions resource for pairs to complete.  

Gather the class to share the correct answers. 

Finally, consider which words the children would choose to bring back to common usage. Each pair should choose their favourite word and decide why they think it should win. The pairs can then take turns to share their word and reasons. These could be recorded and displayed. 

Final reflection


  • Why do you think these words have stopped being used? 

Make the point that the English language changes all the time as new words are added to the dictionary, and old words are left out. If you have a copy of The Lost Words by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris, which was inspired by words left out of the dictionary, you could share this with the class.

Key vocabulary

morpheme, prefix, suffix, root


Shakespeare Matching Definitions

Shakespeare Matching Definitions


Sam Keeley

Formerly a teacher and local authority advisory teacher, Sam now works with Just Imagine as an English consultant and manager of the year 6 Reading Gladiators programme.

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