In This Activity
Themes, symbols, and motifs are valuable aspects of any literary work, and they add richness to stories. Part of the Common Core ELA standards is to introduce and explain these complex concepts. However, abstract ideas are often difficult for students to analyze without assistance. Using a storyboard, students can visually demonstrate their understanding of these concepts, and master analysis of literary elements. For best practices, see our supplementary article with specific lesson plan steps on setting up your classroom and activities to teach themes, symbols, and motifs.
As a classroom activity, students could track the rich symbolism William Shakespeare uses throughout Macbeth. In the example storyboard above, the creator has focused on Shakespeare's use of visions in the play. The recurrence of this motif throughout the play proves its significance. Since Macbeth's actions weigh heavily on his conscious, it is not surprising that he would have some second thoughts. The visions Macbeth and his wife consistently see throughout the play serve as constant reminders of their ambition and corruption.
Themes and Ideas to Discuss
Things Are Not What They Seem
Throughout the play, the idea that ‘fair is foul, and foul is fair’ is repeated. What you expect is not what will come about.
Nature at War with Itself / Man Goes Against his Nature
Another favorite theme is that nature is ominous and that it foreshadows and mimics what is to become of Macbeth and Macbeth's actions.
Macbeth and his wife’s personal ambition to control the crown ultimately ends up controlling them.
Motifs and Imagery to Look For
Ghosts, witches, and spirits are used throughout the play to add a sense of suspicion and suspense.
The blood that was spilled because of Macbeth's ambition continuously reappears as a physical reminder that he cannot wash away his evil deeds.
As his corruption begins to control him, Macbeth and his wife slip out of reality and struggle between sanity and insanity.
Order and disorder surround the new king and queen. The order of their rule clashes with the chaos they have caused. This links to the theme that things are not what they seem.
The motif of sleep (or sleeplessness) surrounds the tyrants as they struggle to overcome their deeds.
Template and Class Instructions
(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Activity", update the instructions on the Edit Tab of the assignment.)
Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes, symbols, and motifs in Macbeth. Illustrate instances of each and write a short description below each cell.
- Click "Start Assignment".
- Identify the theme(s) from Macbeth you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
- Create an image for an example that represents this theme.
- Write a description of each of the examples.
- Add additional cells as needed.
Lesson Plan Reference
- [ELA-Literacy/RL/11-12/1] Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain
- [ELA-Literacy/RL/11-12/3] Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed)
- [ELA-Literacy/RL/11-12/4] Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)
(You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)
Identification of Theme(s), Symbol(s), and/or Motif(s)
All themes are correctly identified as important recurring topics or messages in the story. Symbols are correctly identified as objects that represent something else at a higher level in the story. Motifs are correctly identified as important recurring features or ideas in the story.
Most themes are correctly identified, but others are missing or incomplete. Most symbols are correctly identified, but some objects are missing or incomplete. Some motifs are correctly identified, but others are missing or incomplete.
Most themes are missing, incomplete, or incorrect. Most symbols are missing, incomplete, or incorrect. Most motifs are missing, incomplete, or incorrect.
No themes, symbols, or motifs are correctly identified.
Examples and Descriptions
Quotes and examples are accurate to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) that are being identified. Descriptions accurately explain the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) and highlight their significance to the story.
Most quotes and examples are accurate to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motifs that are being identified. Descriptions mostly accurately explain the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s), and highlight their significance to the story.
Most quotes and examples are minimal, incorrect, or unrelated to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) that are being identified. Descriptions contain inaccuracies in their explanations, or do not highlight their significance to the story.
Examples and descriptions are missing or too minimal to score.
Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are accurate to the story and reflect time, effort, thought, and care with regard to placement and creation of the scenes.
Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are mostly accurate to the story. They reflect time and effort put into placement and creation of the scenes.
Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are inaccurate to the story. The depictions may be rushed or show minimal effort, time, and care put into placement and creation of the scenes.
Most depictions are missing too many elements or are too minimal to score. Little time or effort has been put into placement and creation of the scenes.
There are no errors in spelling, grammar, or mechanics throughout the storyboard. All writing portions reflect careful proofreading and accuracy to the story.
There are a few errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics throughout the storyboard. All writing portions show accuracy to the story and some proofreading.
There are several errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics throughout the storyboard. Most writing portions do not reflect proofreading or accuracy to the story.
Errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics in writing portions of the storyboard seriously interfere with communication.
How to Teach Themes, Symbols, and Motifs to Students with Special Needs
Introduction and Engagement
Begin by discussing the concept of themes, symbols, and motifs in literature, emphasizing that these elements can help students understand and enjoy stories better. Use visual aids and simple, concrete examples to explain the terms, such as showing pictures that represent common symbols or using real-life objects as symbols. Discuss the specific goals and expectations of the lesson and clarify the importance of each element (themes, symbols, and motifs) in understanding Macbeth.
Simplified Reading and Visualization
Provide students with simplified versions or excerpts from Macbeth to make the content more accessible. Use visual schedules or timers to manage time and ensure students' engagement. Read a short section aloud, then encourage students to identify and discuss any themes, symbols, or motifs they recognize. Use visual aids and tactile materials to represent symbols or motifs from the text. For example, show a crown symbol to represent themes of power and ambition.
Hands-On Activities and Personalized Support
Engage students in hands-on activities tailored to their specific needs. For example: Create a tactile storyboard with textured symbols or motifs. Use assistive technology (e.g., text-to-speech software) to help students process the content. Encourage students to draw or color symbols and motifs they've identified. Offer one-on-one or small group support as needed to ensure understanding and participation.
Discussion and Consolidation
Encourage students to share their observations and interpretations with the class. Use the whiteboard to create a visual summary of themes, symbols, and motifs discussed during the lesson. Review the main points of the lesson and highlight the progress made in understanding Macbeth through themes and symbols. Distribute a simplified visual guide or summary to reinforce key concepts and provide students with a reference.
Frequently Asked Questions about Themes, Symbols, and Motifs in Macbeth
What is the central theme of "Macbeth," and how does it drive the plot?
The central theme of "Macbeth" is ambition. Macbeth's insatiable ambition for power and his wife's encouragement lead to a series of destructive actions, including murder and betrayal. This ambition drives the plot as it sets in motion a chain of events that ultimately results in chaos, death, and Macbeth's own downfall. The play explores the consequences of unchecked ambition and the corrupting influence of power.
What are some other literary works that use similar themes, symbols, and motifs as "Macbeth"?
Many literary works explore themes, symbols, and motifs similar to those found in "Macbeth." One notable example is William Shakespeare's "Hamlet," which also delves into themes of ambition, guilt, and the supernatural. Additionally, "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald examines themes of ambition, wealth, and the American Dream. In terms of symbolism, the use of blood and darkness in "Macbeth" finds parallels in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart." Similarly, motifs of deception and the corrupting nature of power are evident in George Orwell's "Animal Farm."
What are some worksheet ideas that guide students in critically analyzing and discussing the themes of "Macbeth"?
Worksheet ideas include character analysis, theme comparisons, symbol exploration, group discussions, and essay prompts, all designed to facilitate deep theme analysis in 'Macbeth'.
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