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Project guide: Retelling Shakespeare with Photoshop

The industry standard for professional artists and big-name studios alike, Photoshop is ubiquitous. But Adobe’s best known app isn’t just for designers – or even adults! In fact, it’s easy for your students to use Photoshop as a tool to improve their learning. Read on for a great English lesson plan you can put into action…

Mike Laskey

To Photoshop, or not to Photoshop, that is the question…

Adobe have partnered with the Royal Shakespeare Company to create some brilliant teaching resources – and get students of all ages learning about the Bard while improving their digital skills in the process.

In this project guide, we’ll be looking at just one of these lesson plans, which is aimed at Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 students and uses Photoshop to answer another burning question: just what would a text message conversation between Shakespearean characters look like?

This activity is a great chance to delve deep into key relationships and scenes through a truly modern and relatable medium that sparks students’ imagination. What’s more, it’s good creative writing practice, too!

Before we begin, we recommend downloading the example assets from the Adobe website and getting to grips with editing them in Photoshop yourself. You can also take a good look around Adobe’s fantastic collection of Shakespeare-themed resources while you’re there!

Preparation: Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears

To get started, just pick an event or plotline in a Shakespeare play that you’d like your students to scrutinise. This could be from whichever play that’s on your exam syllabus – but then again, this lesson plan will also suit works by any other playwright, too!

With that sorted, now’s a good time to get your students into pairs. Ask them to roleplay being one of the characters in your scene and talk through the action as if it was taking place today, in their town. By working together, they’ll be able to bounce ideas off each other and think about different characters’ thoughts and emotions from different perspectives rather than just their own.

Explain that this activity is all about reading between the lines and imagining how you would feel in the same situation. By putting themselves in the shoes of the characters, your students will improve their contextual awareness – and their understanding of Shakespeare’s prose as a result.

Demonstration: Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war

Once your students have had a few minutes to discuss their characters’ feelings, it’s time to get creative. Using a projector or connected display, show them how to create a text message in Photoshop by editing the template from Adobe’s website. (It’s about halfway down the page, under ‘Resources’.)

This is as simple as selecting and deselecting layers to make them visible or hidden, then editing text and adding or deleting emojis as you see fit. To do this, look for your ‘Layers’ palette – which is definitely worth keeping within easy view whenever you’re working in Photoshop – and use the tick boxes to toggle the visibility of your different elements.

You can really build your students’ confidence by explaining that they’ll be working in the leading graphics editing software on the market. One reason Photoshop is the industry standard is while it’s accessible for lots of simple jobs, you can always get stuck into more complex tasks as your experience grows. It may be easy to use, but it’s as advanced as it gets!

Action: Be great in act as you have been in thought

It’s their turn now! With at least one Mac between two, encourage your students to create their own text message conversations about the storylines in your play by editing those template layers in Photoshop and getting creative with their vocabulary and grammatical choices.

It’s up to you how far you take it. Want to make things really modern? You can ask your students to write everything in slang or dialect, complement it with plenty of emojis, or even encourage them to reference things like modern TV shows or brand names.

Make sure you allow a little time to visit each group during the task, so you can provide a helping hand with the Photoshop template to anyone who needs it.

Conclusion: All's well that ends well

Once your students have finished creating their imagined Shakespearean text chats, you can get them to share their masterpieces with the rest of the class.

One option is to present the designs on a central display at the front of the room. This way, you’ll be able to lead a whole-class discussion on each conversation and highlight any interesting similarities or differences between them.

An alternative method is to make a bit of a game of it – perhaps by asking each pair to hide the names of the characters by hiding the associated layers in Photoshop. Can the other students identify who’s in the conversation just from the messages they have typed?

Now’s also the time to pick up on any common themes that have cropped up in multiple groups, or shine a spotlight on the most impressive retellings from your lesson.

Parting is such sweet sorrow

By the end of this lesson, your students should have a newfound appreciation for the trials and tribulations faced by some of the most famous characters ever created (or maybe even by Third Servingman, if you’re tackling Romeo and Juliet and feeling especially cruel…).

And with any luck, the words of the Bard will now be all the more relevant to your students, who will have also learned invaluable IT and design skills from practising with Photoshop. This lesson plan teaches English in an engaging way that fuels creative storytelling – the kind of thing both teachers and students enjoy!

Want to do more with Adobe software in your school? Check out our project guide on using Adobe Spark to create amazing presentations, or speak to our team of education experts on the details below to get extra tips and ideas.


Want to know more about using Photoshop in lessons? Get in touch with our team on 03332 409 290 or email For the latest news, follow us on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter.

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