Stories from the Field

Lessons Learned: Grantee Leslie Chekin shakes up Shakespeare for English Language Learners

Lessons Learned: Grantee Leslie Chekin shakes up Shakespeare for English Language Learners

Tell us about your plans for your NEA Foundation grant project.


Our NEA Foundation grant project is “Using Shakespeare to Teach Vocal Technique to English Language Learners.”  While producing an adapted version of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” students will improve articulation, projection, and delivery. In addition to classroom instruction and rehearsals, students will participate in several voice workshops with Synetic Theatre.

Tell us about the students involved in this project.

Most of our students pursue theater while juggling multiple responsibilities such as work, caring for younger siblings, religious duties, and managing a full schedule of courses in English, including International Baccalaureate (IB) classes. The students come from Bolivia, Honduras, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, Vietnam, Korea, Pakistan, Iran, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Eritrea— quite the international mix.

How do you think your NEA Foundation grant project will help your students?

The program fosters an appreciation for the universality of literature and the arts. While its primary function is to improve students’ English proficiency skills, it has a tremendous impact on their self-esteem. All of these elements enhance students’ academic success at school and the potential for achievement in the future. For example, Wilson Tosta Buruca, a senior, is succeeding in Advanced Composition and is a veteran tutor in the school’s writing center. In addition, a number students in the class are also enrolled (and doing extremely well) in an advanced level IB Language and Literature class.

The project will positively influence our students in the following ways:

  • Exposing students to Shakespeare, the performing arts, and local theater
  • Building self-confidence through vocal training
  • Learning to interact effectively with a group
  • Developing self-awareness through character study
  • Providing a creative and engaging avenue for learning English

Describe an “a-ha” moment, when you or your students (or both) have experienced a transformation in your thinking or learning.

We attended Synetic Theatre’s production performance of “Twelfth Night.” For many students, this was the first time they had seen live theater, and they transferred their enthusiasm into their own student production.

A rapport and mutual respect developed between the class and our student directors. And when we moved our rehearsals from the confines of the classroom to the stage, students showed a burst of energy and enthusiasm.

Featured NEA Foundation grantee Leslie Chekin teaches ESOL at Annandale High School in Annandale, VA. Find more information about how to apply for grant funding and how to support this grant program. The next deadline for application is June 1, 2014.