It’s that time of year again. High school English teachers are breaking out the Shakespeare and introducing their freshmen to the classic tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.
When I first started teaching, Shakespeare intimidated me. Sure I read it in high school and again in college, but now I was expected to be an expert in it. I would read ahead every night, annotate my teacher’s edition textbook, and prepare for the next day’s reading. Eventually, the fear of teaching Shakespeare diminished completely. I now look forward to this unit every year. I’m pretty sure that my students experience a similar wave of emotions: at first, they are unsure of themselves and intimidated by the Elizabethan language, but by the middle of the play, they are pros.
So how exactly do I teach Shakespeare?
First, I begin by introducing William Shakespeare and Elizabethan language. To demonstrate how language changes over time, I give them examples of phrases my grandparents used to say: gee whiz, golly wolly, young whippersnappers, etc. This shows them just how quickly language can change.
Then, I provide my students with this handout from readthinkwrite.org. I print both sides out on brightly colored paper and encourage my students to hold onto it for the entire unit.
We take some time in class to go over some of the different ways to say things. Then I like to have my students work in small groups to decipher different Shakespearean passages and write their own. I’ve found that this activity is especially effective in familiarizing students with Elizabethan language.
From there, I utilize all of the teaching materials that are included in my Ultimate Romeo and Juliet Differentiation Bundle.
This resource includes six different teaching resources. All of the resources were created with my ESL students in mind.
I use the editable PowerPoint presentation to easily break down blank verse and iambic pentameter for my students. I’ve used this PowerPoint for five years now, and the students are always engaged.
This vocabulary packet includes vocabulary for the entire play. Each Act has ten different words, graphic organizers, a crossword puzzle, and a quiz.
These Romeo and Juliet CLOZE passages took me a very long time to create. However, I am so thankful that I have them now. This is one of the single-most helpful Romeo and Juliet resources I have ever used. These CLOZE summary passages can be used in a variety of ways: while reading the Act to help comprehension, after reading the Act to help with comprehension, after reading the Act to assess student learning, and after reading the Act to model proper summarization techniques. There are six CLOZE passages in total: one for the prologue, and one for each Act. Answer keys are included.
Rather than assess my students with multiple-choice tests, I like to see what they have learned through this series of writing tasks. Each task is differentiated, and there are multiple handouts for each different Act. While it may take a bit longer to grade these assignments, assigning these writing tasks instead of a simple quiz really lets me asses where my students are at in terms of their comprehension. Furthermore, these assignments also ask students about complex drama and English elements including monologue, blank verse, and characterization.
These organizers are very helpful for documenting how characters develop and change throughout the play.
I use this essay to finalize my unit on Romeo and Juliet. Students write an argument essay that answers the question of who is ultimately responsible for their deaths. This prompt requires them to analyze the events from the drama, formulate their own opinion, and provide supporting evidence to support their claim.
Reading the Play
I like to engage my students in the theater aspect of Romeo and Juliet as much as possible. That is why when we read the play, we read the entire play aloud. Every student in my classroom is assigned a certain number of readings. Usually, they have to read 3-4 times for credit. However, if they read more than the required amount of times, they receive extra credit.
Students sign up for the roles on a first come first serve basis. Before every class period I write the Act and scene we are reading on the white board along with all of the characters who have speaking roles in the selected reading. Students must sign up for parts before the bell rings. I rarely have to assign reading. Usually my students rush to my door to select their parts. This encourages them to read ahead the night before, and they have more ownership in the play. For some of the more important scenes, I have the students read aloud in the front of the classroom on an elevated platform. They actually look forward to reading the balcony scene!