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The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Teacher Guide by Rebecca Ray

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our High School ELA Category!

Tragedy of Macbeth Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Macbeth By William Shakespeare Include:

William Shakespeare's Macbeth continues to be one of his most celebrated plays, even today. While it is not one of his more elaborately constructed works, it nonetheless examines the complicated nature of the human soul, especially when tempted with power and ambition. A notion still relevant today, we watch Macbeth as he is tempted by the lure of the crown, and ultimately—with prodding from Lady Macbeth—decides to murder King Duncan and usurp the throne. In this moment, Macbeth becomes not a king, but a tyrant, and ultimately it is this flaw in his character, his violent ambition, that leads to his downfall. The play examines important themes such as the danger of unbridled ambition, the contrast between a true leader and a tyrant, and the age-old debate of fate vs. free will in a person's life.

Macbeth By William Shakespeare Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Five Act Structure in The Tragedy of Macbeth


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Students can create and show a storyboard that captures the concept of the Five Act Structure by making a six-cell storyboard, like the one below. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the acts in order: Prologue, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement.



Example Macbeth Five Act Structure

Act 1: Prologue or Exposition

The play takes place in Scotland.

A war is ending. The Scottish general, Macbeth, and his faithful friend, Banquo, have emerged victorious. However, three witches have brewed an evil plot against Macbeth and when they meet him, they tell him that he will be King! “We shall tell Macbeth he will be Thane and King! As for Banquo, he will have kings!”


Act 2: Rising Action

Macbeth and his wife kill the King and take the throne. They go on a tyrannical killing spree. The action rises as the audience sees how ambitious Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have become.

“How can I be king someday?”

“Macbeth, we had to Kill King Duncan, and we will have to kill others to keep our place on the throne!”


Act 3: The Climax

Macbeth holds a banquet and sees the ghost of Banquo (whom Macbeth had killed). Lady Macbeth becomes mentally unstable, and the couple begins to fear the consequences of their murderous deeds.


Act 4: Falling Action

A rebellion is instigated by Macduff to restore the throne to Duncan's exiled son. Macbeth learns another set of prophecies from the witches and begins to think he will be saved.


Act 5: Denouement or Resolution

The three witches’ predictions come true, and the castle is stormed. Macbeth is killed.


(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of Macbeth.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Separate the play into the Prologue/Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement.
  3. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the acts.
  4. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.
  5. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.



(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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The Tragedy of Macbeth Characters


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As students read, a storyboard can serves as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. When reading a play, small attributes and details frequently become important as the plot progresses. With character mapping, students will record this information, helping them follow along and catch the subtleties which make reading more enjoyable!

Using a character map for Shakespeare is often even more beneficial. It also allows students to record the nuances of characteristics which create "foil" characters. The information that they record will help them to return and review personalities that contrast. The ability to visually see this helps students create connections and makes understanding concepts easier.

You can click on this map and create a copy on your teacher account. Feel free to use it as is, or to edit it for the level of your class. Printing it as worksheets, for your students to complete while reading, is a fast and easy way to incorporate this character map into your classroom.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the major characters in Macbeth and type their names into the different title boxes.
  3. Choose a character from the "Medieval" tab to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  4. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  5. Fill in the Textables for Physical Appearance, Traits, Relatives and Friends.
  6. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.



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Macbeth as a Tragic Hero


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The Tragedy of Macbeth is full of common literary elements that are important for students to explore. Because this is one of Shakespeare's most famous tragedies, it is often beneficial for students to understand why is it is categorized as such. One of the main reasons is because it contains a tragic hero. This is a protagonist who is typically of noble birth and seems to be ill-fated and destined for doom. In this play, it is clear that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth fit this description.

The famous Greek philosopher Aristotle was the first to record the specific attributes or principles of a tragic hero. For the storyboard below, students use a template to storyboard the qualities that make Macbeth a tragic hero. The finished product outlines each of Aristotle's principles with a detailed explanation of the specific attributes.

Macbeth as a Tragic Hero

ATTRIBUTEDESCRIPTIONExample from Macbeth
HamartiaFlaw in the Character The Three Witches tell Macbeth a prophecy that causes Macbeth to take matters into his hands (ambition).
HubrisExcessive Pride Macbeth’s pride combines with his ambition, and that of his wife. They plot to kill the current king so that he can usurp the throne. "How can I be king someday?"
PeripeteiaReversal of Fortune After killing the king and numerous others, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth become suspicious and paranoid. "Lady Macbeth, I fear our murderous deeds."
AnagnorisisA Moment of Critical Discovery Macbeth discovers that the former king's son is planning a rebellion against him.
NemesisFate that Cannot be Avoided "The battle is won! ALL HAIL KING MALCOLM! The tyrant and his fiend wife are dead."
CatharsisAudience's Feeling of Pity or Fear After the Hero's Fall In the end, the witches' final prophecy comes true and Macbeth is killed. The audience is left with the feeling of pity and relief that Macbeth and his wife are dead.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows how Macbeth can be considered a tragic hero.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify events of the play or characteristics of Macbeth that fit into Aristotelian attributes of a tragic hero.
  3. Illustrate examples for Hamartia, Hubris, Peripeteia, Anagnorisis, Nemesis, and Catharsis.
  4. Write a short description below each cell that specifically relates Macbeth as a tragic hero.
  5. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.



(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Key Themes, Symbols, and Motifs in The Tragedy of Macbeth


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Valuable aspects of any literary work are its themes, symbols, and motifs. Part of the Common Core ELA standards is to introduce and explain these complex concepts. However, abstract ideas are often difficult for students to anatomize 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 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 below, 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.


Macbeth 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.


Ambition

Macbeth and his wife’s personal ambition to control the crown ultimately ends up controlling them.


Motifs and Imagery to Look For

Supernatural

Ghosts, witches, and spirits are used throughout the play to add a sense of suspicion and suspense.


Blood

The blood that was spilled because of Macbeth's ambition continuously reappears as a physical reminder that he cannot wash away his evil deeds.


Sanity/Insanity

As his corruption begins to control him, Macbeth and his wife slip out of reality and struggle between sanity and insanity.


Order/Disorder

Order and disorder surround the new King and Queen. The Order of their rulership clashes with the chaos they have caused. This links to the theme that things are not what they seem.


Sleep/Insomnia

The motif of sleep (or sleeplessness) surrounds the tyrants as they struggle to overcome their deeds.


(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes, symbols, and motifs in Macbeth. Illustrate instances of each and write a short description below each cell.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the theme(s) from Macbeth you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for an example that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Add additional cells as needed.
  6. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.



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Literary Conflict in The Tragedy of Macbeth


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Literary conflicts are another major element often taught during ELA units. Building on prior knowledge to achieve mastery level with our students is important. An excellent way to focus on the various types of literary conflict is through storyboarding. Having students choose an example of each literary conflict and depict it using the storyboard creator is a great way to reinforce your lesson!

In Macbeth, conflict is ever present. Much of the conflict stems from the three witches and Hecate, who toy with Macbeth, and ultimately hold back information that causes his downfall. Throughout each act, the witches give Macbeth a prophecy that comes true. However, in the end, they decide that they are upset with him, and choose to bring about his ruin.

Having students create storyboards that show the cause and effect of different types of conflicts strengthens analytical thinking about literary concepts.

Examples of Literary Conflict in Macbeth


MAN vs. MAN

Duncan's heirs come back to overthrow Macbeth.


MAN vs. SELF

Lady Macbeth begins to hallucinate, believing she has physical blood stains on her hands... ”why won't these wash off?”


MAN vs. SOCIETY

By the end of the play, Macbeth is faced with the united armies of Scotland, led by Macduff.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows at least three forms of literary conflict in Macbeth.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify conflicts in Macbeth.
  3. Categorize each conflict as Character vs. Character, Character vs. Self, Character vs. Society, Character vs. Nature, or Character vs. Technology.
  4. Illustrate conflicts in the cells, using characters from the play.
  5. Write a short description of the conflict below the cell.
  6. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.



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Shakespearean Vocabulary


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Another great way to engage your students is with a storyboard that uses Shakespearean vocabulary. Many students struggle with the meaning of commonly used Shakespearean terms; getting them to use them in context before reading is an excellent way to cultivate the comprehension of vocabulary. In the example below, students were asked to create storyboards that use familiar Shakespearean terms.

In a Shakespearean vocabulary board, students can use the words in a sentence they create, or they can pick a phrase from the play. In the example storyboard, the student has chosen to create their sentences for their words:

  • Marry - Indeed:

    "Then they asked me if that was the word of the Prince, and I replied, 'It was marry!'"

  • Pray - To hope:

    I pray the nurse comes quickly with good news!

  • Sauce - Sassy:

    The saucy porter wouldn't let me in without a password.

  • Thou - You (used for one person who is the subject of a sentence):

    If thou hast a cold come see me... the friendly apothecary!

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a spider map storyboard for Shakespearean vocabulary words and phrases.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify unfamiliar words or phrases that Shakespeare uses.
  3. Type each into the title boxes.
  4. Briefly describe the meaning of the word in the description box.
  5. Create a standalone comic in each cell that has the word in a sentence in a speech or thought bubble.
  6. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.



(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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A Quick Macbeth Summary

The Tragedy of Macbeth is one of William Shakespeare's best-known works. The shortest (and one of the bloodiest) of Shakespeare's tragedies, the story begins with victory and honors for the brave Scottish general, Macbeth. The play follows Macbeth's descent from noble soldier to nefarious traitor.

As the play begins, Macbeth receives a prophecy from three witches that one day he will become king. This prediction inevitably consumes him with ambition and greed. Macbeth is further lead down his treacherous path by his wife, Lady Macbeth, who urges him to murder King Duncan and seize the throne without hesitation. Having done so, and ascended to the throne, Macbeth is consumed by guilt and fear. He becomes tyrannical, paranoid, and suspicious. He resorts to killing others to secure his place, and, as the bloodbath continues, this drives Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to arrogance, madness, and their eventual deaths.

Macbeth’s good friend, Banquo also was also given a prophecy by the witches. They said that, although Banquo would never be a king, he would produce a line of kings. Banquo accepted this fate with patience while Macbeth took action against Banquo and his son, Fleance.

Macbeth is not Shakespeare’s most complex play, but it is one of his most thrilling and emotionally intense. Shakespeare’s other major tragedies explore the intellectual dilemmas faced by the characters, while Macbeth meteorically rises and plummets from beginning to end.



Essential Questions For Macbeth

  1. How does ambition motivate people, as both a positive and negative trait?
  2. When do you feel guilt, and when do you experience remorse?
  3. To what extent, and in what ways does power affect a person's actions?


When one thinks about the story of Macbeth, images of darkness, blood, and madness come to mind. It's one of Shakespeare's darkest plays, focusing on murder and the quest for power.

  • Personal Favorite - The dark castles and ominous woods lend themselves to create some very powerful and evocative scenes.
  • Pro-Tip - Adding blood, shadows, and other gruesome little details to your storyboards will make your storyboards more complete and visually appealing. Try adding items onto shelves, tables, and other surfaces to create a more immersive environment for your characters!
  • The artists always do their best to create items and scenes tailored to particular books. Great castle scenes can be found in the 'Historical' tab. Useful characters, including Macbeth himself, can be located under the 'Medieval' tab.

Make sure to search for extra images using 'Shakespeare' as a search term!

Other Lesson Plan Ideas

  1. Create your own Macbeth summary set in a different time period.
  2. Who's the third murderer of Banquo? Come up with a solution to this mystery!
  3. Connect the witches' prophecy to Macbeth's downfall in each act.
  4. Show the ways Lady Macbeth portrays the theme of ambition.
  5. Visually depict a major soliloquy or monologue from the play.
  6. Add a presentation to any storyboard project to showcase your students' abilities and meet CCSS Speaking and Listening Standards!

Check out all of our Shakespeare Resources



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