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Ministry of Education.

Seeing, storms and madness: King Lear

Students study several aspects of the King Lear, then plan and write essays on topics selected from previous NCEA papers.

Learning Outcomes | Teaching and Learning | Assessment and Evaluation | Printing Version

Writer: Mark Osborne
Year level 13
Who are my learners and what do they already know? See  Planning Using Inquiry
School curriculum outcomes How your school’s principles, values, or priorities will be developed through this unit

Learning Outcomes

 (What do my students need to learn)

Curriculum achievement objectives (AOs) for:  

Processes and strategies

Integrate sources of information, processes, and strategies purposefully, confidently, and precisely to identify, form, and express increasingly sophisticated ideas.

  • thinks critically about texts with understanding and confidence
  • creates a range of increasingly coherent, varied, and complex texts by integrating sources of information and processing strategies


Select, develop, and communicate sustained and insightful ideas on a range of topics.

  • develops, communicates, and sustains sophisticated ideas, information, and understandings

Language features

Select, integrate and sustain a range of language features appropriately for a variety of effects.

  • uses a wide range of text conventions, including grammatical and spelling conventions, appropriately, effectively, and with accuracy.


Organise texts, using a range of appropriate, coherent, and effective structures.

  • organises and develops ideas and information for a particular purpose or effect, using the characteristics and conventions of a range of text forms with control.
Achievement Standard(s) aligned to AO(s) AS 90722 Respond critically to Shakespearean drama studied.

Teaching and Learning

 (What do I need to know and do?)

1-2 related professional readings or links to relevant research

Planning Using Inquiry

English Teaching and Learning Guide 

Learning task 1:

Learning intention(s)

Establishing prior learning and linking it to the text

KCs/ Principles/Values focus


Thinking – explore texts

Relate to others – peer discussion

Learning task 1

Setting the scene

For background material about people in the Elizabethan age, see the following sites:

  1. New Approaches to Renaissance Studies A collection of images related to the renaissance. This will help to develop understanding of the context of the play. There are images of Whitehall, where the play was first staged on December 26th 1604. (Under the Court and Culture section).
  2. Summarise this definition of the Great Chain of Being in exactly 20 words, then identify which parts of the play, characters or decisions alter or work to corrupt it.
  3. Take a tour of the original Globe Theatre. Look at how rudimentary sets and theatres were and the fact that no complex effects were possible, meaning that Shakespeare could only rely on his language and stage action to keep people interested in the play.
  4. For background on sources for the play and a plot summary see Enjoying King Lear.

Pre-reading exercise

Read a picture book version of Cinderella to the class. Get students to construct a table identifying the elements that show us it is a fairy tale. At the end of the unit, go back and compare King Lear to Cinderella. Examine the similarities and the differences.

  • Cinderella
    A poor but honest protagonist
two wicked sisters
a fairy God-mother
distant time
  • King Lear
    A disinherited but honest protagonist
two wicked sisters
no fairy God-mother
pre-historic England

This establishes the context for the play. It conforms to some of these elements, but departs from them at significant points. (Where is the fairy God-mother to rescue Cordelia? Why do the good people die?)

Hand out the glossary to become familiar with Elizabethan English.

Learning task 2:

Learning intention(s)

Examining key text aspects

KCs/ Principles/Values focus


Thinking – using a range of thinking strategies to build understandings

Relate to others – peer discussion

Learning task 2

Building plot understanding

As the class works through the text, complete the following questions, or, alternatively, use them to begin each class with a quiz revising the previous day's reading: plot quiz and plot quiz answers.

Character studies

King Lear

Photocopy the quotations and cut into cards: quotations. Put them in the correct order, as they occur during the play, then answer the following questions in relation to each quotation:

  • What does this quotation reveal about Lear?
  • How is it representative of his state of mind when he says it?
  • What other ideas do they connect with?

See related essays:

Analysis of King Lear


Print off the mutual dictation resources. Set up five mixed ability groups in the class and give each group one copy of one the full resource.

When combined, these handouts form a set of notes. Start with the group who has the first word on the page (in this case Group 1). One of the group members reads this word, which is copied down by each member of the class. This word is followed by the group that has the second word, and so on. Once somebody has read a word, they must pass the page to the person beside them. This ensures that everyone keeps up with the notes and that the groups are not dominated by one or two people. It sounds chaotic, but it works well. Students must concentrate on their listening skills as well. (It is not until the end of the exercise that the class actually realises they have written an entire page of notes.)

The Fool

Ask students to answer these questions based on the character of the Fool.

  • The Fool first appears in Act I scene iv.
  • How many times does Lear have to call for him before he comes?
  • How long has the Fool been absent?
  • What reason is given for his absence and what does this reveal about his character?
  • A lot of the Fool's intelligence is conveyed through his jokes and riddles. Find an example of a joke or riddle related to the following topics:
    • Brains
    • Crowns
    • Houses
    • Animals
  • What is the Fool trying to show Lear in each of these situations?
  • Why do you think the Fool does not appear again after Act III?

Minor characters

Read more about the character of Kent.

Characters in the subplot

Look at the following websites. Identify as many similarities and differences between the Lear main plot and the Gloucester subplot as you can.

Ultimately the purpose of including the subplot is to encourage us to view important ideas in different ways. After you have identified the similarities and differences, choose five of these and identify how they add to our understanding of the play, eg:

main plot / sub plot comparison

Main PlotSubplotImportanceLear has three legitimate daughters.Gloucester has one legitimate son and one illegitimate one.Evil is not confined either to gender or to being illegitimate. It can occur anywhere.

Learning task 3:

Learning intention(s)

Examining key text aspects

KCs/ Principles/Values focus KCs: Thinking – close reading

Learning task 3


Complete the imagery resource In order to complete these activities, you'll need the complete text of the play. Use the "Find" feature, either in the web browser or a word processor, to locate various words and answer questions on how those words are used.

For a further discussion of theme and image patterns see:


Give students a copy of these theme notes. Split the class into small groups (3-4 students) Compile a list of key points about a chosen theme for distribution to the rest of the class. Choose part of a scene that illustrates aspects of the key points. Perform the scene for the class, and offer either a running commentary (stopping the action when required to expand on points they have made in the key point handout) or summarising the importance of the scene at the end of it. The finished product is a seminar, complete with excerpts from the play with a summarising handout.


Return to the pre-reading activity and identify the similarities between Lear and Cinderella. Discuss the differences between the two. Why is there no divine intervention/fairy God-mother? How would the play have changed if there had been?

Learning task 4:

Learning intention(s)

Drafting and polishing writing.

KCs/ Principles/Values focus


Use language, symbols and texts – structure and express understandings about texts

Learning task 4

Developing an essay

  1. King Lear is prescribed Level 3 play until 2012. From 2013 with the introduction of the curriculum aligned standards at Level 3, there are no longer prescribed Shakespearean plays so that any play could be used for the new level achievement standard 3.2 Respond critically to specified aspect(s) of studied written text(s), using supporting evidence
  2. As formative work for AS 90722 Respond critically to Shakespearean drama studied, develop an essay on a topic linked to an aspect of learning tasks 2 or 3. In selecting a topic, it is vital that you select one suited to your understandings about it. As a first step in making a selection, consider the topics set.Talk with your teacher about the most appropriate topic for the learning completed in tasks 2 and 3. In selecting a topic, give preference to a topic in an paper from the last few years.
  3. Look at the 2008 exemplars which includes an achievement level exemplar on King Lear. Note that you should not use any material from this exemplar in your own essay. Additional exemplars are also available for this achievement standard by ordering the NZATE exemplar resource.
  4. Look over the Assessment Reports for AS 90722. As identified in the report, an excellence level response:
    • showed extensive knowledge of the play, and made apt references to critical works about the play
    • related understanding of the play to wider human issues, including modern-day events, to indicate a broader knowledge of themes
    • showed an awareness of both modern and Shakespearean audiences (placed the audience)
    • wrote fluently and accurately, often extensively
    • used high quality, academic language in their responses, with mature understanding of essay structure and logical sequencing of argument.
  5. Having selected a topic, develop an essay. Write at least 400 words. Support your ideas with specific details from your work in learning tasks 2 and 3.
  6. After completing a first draft, read your piece aloud to help identify parts of the writing that require reworking. Before writing a final version of your piece, proof-read it to improve on technical accuracy. Prior to writing the final draft, you should return to the exemplars to help reflect on whether any changes or additions are needed in your own final draft. You should also refer to the Assessment Schedule for AS 90722.

Preparing for AS90722 at the end of the year

Look back at the essay you developed earlier and use it to help prepare for the external standard. Don’t rote learn this essay then attempt to somehow adapt a learnt essay to a topic in the exam. You will be much better prepared if you familiarise yourself again with the text as well as its ideas and supporting evidence, then adapt your understandings and supporting evidence to fit the requirements of the topics set.

Learning task 5:

Learning intention(s)

Extending learning

KCs/ Principles/Values focus KCs: Thinking – explore texts

Learning task 5 – Additional Resources

King Lear

King Lear (television series). Directed by Michael Elliott with Laurence Olivier

King Lear (film). Directed by Peter Brook.

William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. This is a very comprehensive website with links to the complete works including background information, biographical information and pictures, information about Elizabethan theatres, a Shakespearean dictionary, the first folio, quotes, a quiz and a discussion forum.

How Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth - A Lear Parody

General sites:

A nice summary of the play, characters, and themes and ideas

Shakespeare and the Theatre
The first known production of King Lear was at King James' palace at Whitehall on 26th of December 1606, but Shakespeare was also connected to the Globe theatre, a reconstruction of which now stands on the south bank of the Thames river in London.

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
Educational resources, images and background information on Elizabethan society.

Much Ado About Something

Is it possible that William Shakespeare was the nom-de-plume of Christopher Marlowe, the 16 century English playwright? This site explores the evidence and the conflicting viewpoints.

Spark Notes

Lear in Performance
A nice comparison of the different film versions:


The Tragic Hero

Good vs. Evil

Assessment and Evaluation

 (What is the impact of my teaching and learning?)

Formative and/or Summative assessment task(s), including how will feedback be provided AS 90722 Respond critically to Shakespearean drama studied.

Provision for identifying next learning steps for students who need:

  • further learning opportunities
  • increased challenge

This piece of writing should be an integrated part of the year’s writing programme. Refer to

English Teaching and Learning Guide 

for more details.

Tools or ideas which, for example might be used to evaluate:

  • progress of the class and groups within it
  • student engagement

leading to :

  • changes to the sequence
  •  addressing teacher learning needs
See  Planning Using Inquiry

Printing this unit:

If you are not able to access the zipped files, please download the following individual files.

Published on: 09 Dec 2010