William Shakespeare / After Reading / /

The Lost Years

Investigating the theories about what happened during Shakespeare’s lost years using the language of possibility.

Lesson length: 1 session+

Lesson from William Shakespeare series

Required reading: 9-10, whole book

Text potential

  • Language features: Word Class: adverbs
  • Language features: Word Class: verbs (modal)

Strategies used

  • Group Talk Techniques


The National Curriculum in England expects children in Year 5 to learn about indicating degrees of possibility using adverbs or modal verbs. This book provides an excellent context for learning about this as there are gaps in the historical evidence regarding the life of Shakespeare, where the authors share conjecture about what might have happened. Having read the whole book, the children will use their knowledge of Shakespeare’s life to decide which theory about his lost years is most likely and apply their knowledge of the language of possibility to write about this. 


  • Copies of Shakespeare, at least one per pair.
  • Copies of Diamond 9, one per group.


Distribute copies of Shakespeare, at least one per pair. Invite the children to reread pages 9-10. Ask:

  • Do we know for sure what happened during Shakespeare’s lost years? 

Clarify if necessary that the no one knows for certain therefore what the authors share is a series of theories. 

Explain that the children will be using their knowledge about Shakespeare from the whole book to rank the theories, considering the evidence in the rest of the book. 

Organise the children into groups of 3-4. Distribute copies of the Diamond 9 resource. 

  • First, compile a list of the theories. This can be done as a class or in groups and written on sticky notes. Eight theories are listed here which leaves space for a ninth theory if the children have another to add:
    • caught poaching
    • army
    • teacher
    • actor
    • sailor
    • doctor’s apprentice
    • solicitor’s clerk
    • stayed at home
  • To complete the Diamond-9 activity, the children will work collaboratively in to arrange these theories according to how likely they are. 
  • The most likely theory goes at the top of the diamond and the least likely at the bottom. This should be decided as a group through discussion and justification of opinions.

When the groups have completed their Diamond-9, give time for each group to explain which theory they chose to go at the top and give their reasons why. 

The second part of this session looks at the language of possibility. This is a good stopping point if you are splitting the learning into two separate sessions. 

Revisit pages 9 and 10. Ask:

  • Are there any particular words used by the authors to show that they do not know what happened at this time for sure? 

Give pairs time to identify the adverb ‘perhaps’ which is used extensively in this spread. The modal verb ‘may’ is also used. 

Introduce other adverbs which express possibility and ask the children to order them based on which expresses the most likely possibility first: 

certainly  possibly  obviously 
maybe  perhaps  probably 

Give time for the children to find examples of these adverbs and to note the sentences either on strips of paper, sticky notes or journals. 

Introduce modal verbs which can be used to express possibility. The most pertinent for this context is ‘might’ or ‘may’ depending on the tense used. Share the following sentences from page 4:

Elizabethan teachers believed in beating their pupils. We don’t know if it ever happened to Will …

Invite the pairs to turn this into one sentence using one of the adverbs or a modal verb, for example:

Will might have been beaten at school. 

Perhaps Will was beaten at school. 

Share examples and record on the board. 

Finally, return to the Diamond 9. The groups should go back to their top theory and use the language studied to write a paragraph. This could be modelled:

We believe that Shakespeare probably joined a troupe of actors at this time. He might have played female parts which led him to write clever parts for women in his plays. 

Final reflection


  • How do you think the authors know so much about Shakespeare?
  • Where did they find their information? 

Turn to page 45 and draw attention to the heading, References, thanks and inspiration. Explain that the books and places contain information about Shakespeare. What we know about Shakespeare comes from registrar records, court records, wills, marriage certificates and his tombstone in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon.  Emphasise that historians use sources to ensure their information is correct. 

Key vocabulary

modal verb, adverb, theory, might, perhaps, probably, possibly, likely, unlikely

Additional vocabulary

obviously, definitely


Diamond 9

Diamond Nine



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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