Shakespeare’s New Words


Research indicates that students who understand how words are formed by combining prefixes, suffixes, and roots tend to have larger vocabularies and better reading (Prince, 2009). In this lesson, the word ‘reflection’ is broken down into morphemes to support a deeper understanding of its multiple meanings. 

Approximately 75% of English words are derived from Latin and Greek roots. Cultivating an awareness of these roots develops skills in pronunciation, spelling and meaning. 


  • Copies of Be the Bard, one per pair. 
  • Copies of Divide and Conquer, one per pair.
  • A selection of dictionaries.
  • Draw a Divide and Conquer table onto a large sheet of paper or the board.
  • Copies of Shakespeare’s New Words, one per pair.


Begin by telling the children that the English language owes a great debt to Shakespeare. He invented over 1700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising wholly original words. Some of Shakespeare’s devices for making new words included adding a prefix such as ‘un-’, meaning ‘not’, as in ‘uncomfortable’. He also added suffixes such as ‘-less’, meaning ‘without’, as in ‘noiseless’.

Write the word ‘premeditated’ on the board and complete the Divide and Conquer table:  

Word Prefix and meaning Root means Suffix/inflexion means
premeditated  pre 

previous to, before 


to ponder


past tense inflexion

Distribute copies of Shakespeare’s New Words to pairs. They should add the words to their Divide and Conquer table using dictionaries to support with meanings.

Gather the class to share responses and clarify and misconceptions.  

Finally, distribute copies of Be the Bard to pairs. The aim is to create as many new words using the morphemes on the board as possible. Which pair can create the most words and define each word in a given time frame? 

Final reflection

Challenge the class to use a prefix or suffix in new ways to create words. For example, which words could they create if someone took away their bike (‘unbiked’ or ‘bikeless’)?

Shakespeare’s Forgotten Words


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.

Critical Events


Creating a news report requires readers to take information from the book and recreate it in a different format. They will need to use their summarising skills to pick out the most significant events from the life of Shakespeare.

Teacher’s Note: The writing opportunity, Shakespeare: His Life, follows on well from the learning in this session.


  • Copies of the Flow Map, one per group and enlarged to at least A3. 
  • Copies of Shakespeare, at least one per pair. 
  • Access to the news report about the death of Judith Kerr (or another well-known writer)


If William Shakespeare had been alive in this century, his death would undoubtedly have been reported on the television news. Begin by sharing a report about the death of a well-known figure (see resources below)

You may have a different clip you would like to use for a different person. Watch the report once to get the gist of the content and the second time to consider what kind of information the report contains. Some of the features are:

  • Their age when they died and what caused their death.
  • Significant events in their life.
  • Why they will be remembered
  • Quotes from people who knew them

Organise the class into groups of 4. Distribute enlarged copies of the Flow Map. Ask the groups to decide on a heading for each of the three large boxes. 

The groups will need to work collaboratively to find information from the book to enter into the Flow Map. The smaller boxes below can contain subheadings about the main headings. 

The groups will then use their notes to create a script for their news story. Alternatively, they could present the news story from the notes. Each member of the group could take a different section. 

Different group members could go into role to provide quotes about Shakespeare. They could look at pages 17-18 to find some less flattering quotes about him.  

The reports could be recorded or presented directly to the rest of the class. If possible, share the presentations with other classes and/or parents. 

Final reflection

  • Which was the most difficult aspect of this task? 
  • How did you decide which events of Shakespeare’s life were most significant
  • Did any other groups choose to focus on different events? 

The Lost Years


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. 

Welcome to London!


The reading lesson in First Encounters will have introduced the children to Shakespeare’s London, and they will build on this knowledge by carrying out further research to create a guide to the city. 


  • Copies of William Shakespeare, at least one per pair. 
  • Copies of the Sensory Writing resource, one per pair. 
  • Copies of the Flow Map, one per pair.
  • Access to the internet, particularly Shakes[eare’s Globe website (see below)
  • If available, a selection of leaflets from a local tourist information office would be helpful to use as a model. 


Begin by reminding the class of the London lesson in the First Encounters phase of the sequence. Distribute copies of the book to pairs and ask them to search for references to any landmarks in London. Gather the class together and create a list. Explain that the children will work in pairs to create a guide to Shakespeare’s London for visitors during Elizabethan times. Distribute copies of the Sensory Writing resource and Flow Map for the pairs to use to plan their guide. They should use the book as well as other sources such as any information books you have available and websites (particularly the site listed in the Preparation section.) Once the research has been carried out, the pairs should decide how they would like to present their guide. Give time for the guides to be completed and edited.

Final reflection

Give time for the pairs to share their guides with other pairs and give feedback about the effectiveness of the leaflets in providing a picture of London. Ask:

  • What would you have liked about Shakespeare’s London? 
  • Which landmarks would you have been most interested in visiting

If the children are familiar with London, ask:

  • What do you think are the main differences between modern London and Shakespeare’s London?