My driving motivation in designing these lessons was to deliver the material to students in a way that would be both meaningful and relevant. I only faintly remember reading Romeo and Juliet my freshman year of high school. After four years of undergraduate school (and an entire class on Shakespeare), I returned to the text with a profound appreciation for Shakespeare’s phrasing, his craftsmanship, and his style.
These are all qualities I never realized as a freshman in high school – and like any overachieving literary nerd, I tried to read the play with as much stamina as little freshman Elsabeth could muster. Yet Shakespeare’s plots are timeless. He captures the drama and tension of humanity in a way that will continue to be emulated for hundreds of years. That is what I want to “stick” with my students. If they leave the text with connections, I will feel as though I have done both them and Shakespeare a valid service.
For this unit, I placed students in groups of three or four for the entire unit. This way, they can rely on each other to make sense of the text – and hold each other accountable for each worksheet, as well as the final project. This way, no one feels singled out or pressured to understand the text independently. It’s a group process – just as it is for the play production staging the play for an audience.
So, without further ado, I’ll recount my unit – lesson by lesson – in the hopes that you might have a thorough idea of what I was hoping to accomplish and why:
Day 1: Act 2 Scene I
Students know what happens after a party. It’s where all the gossip and the peer-to-peer chiding take place. I’d like students to consider this scene in that context.
Shakespeare uses puns and slang:
I wanted students to realize that what Shakespeare wrote at the time was relevant and hilarious. He wrote for the masses – and the masses included people who find humor in dirty jokes. Then I thought, what better way to demonstrate that than to address current puns in teenage slang (I can envision the eyes rolling now).
Day 2: Act 2 Scene 2
The balcony scene – and arguably, one of Shakespeare’s most popular scenes. I wanted students to come with some vague sense of what the scene was about by googling it for homework the night before.
Because this is one of the most famous units, I felt a close reading would benefit students down the road (see What the Heck Does This Mean? handout). I also wanted to students to relate to the interactions happening between Romeo and Juliet on a personal and current level. That is why I also incorporated the OMG Romeo LOL handout.
Day 3: Act 2 Scene 3:
This unit is all about Friar Lawrence. I wanted students to really connect with this character, because although he is not by any means as important as the male and female protagonists, he plays a vital role in the plot and is perceived many different ways based on each character’s distinct perspective.
I introduced movies clips in this scene so students can see how even movie adaptations of Romeo and Juliet cast completely different people for the role of Friar Lawrence – even though both productions use the same script. Hopefully seeing visual representations of the character will help them think of these various perceptions while completing the Who is This Friar Lawrence Guy handout.
Day 4: Act 2 Scene 4 and 5:
I purposefully combined both scenes into one day because I wanted students to understand the nuances of the nurse. Not only how interacts with Juliet, but how she also confronts Romeo’s friends. In many ways, she is acting as the middle man and navigating the waters between both groups.
This happens a lot in the hallways of a high school. Students pass notes, gossip, or get their friends to relay messages for one another. This is why I think bringing in a modern-day example (Nita in West Side Story) would help students see the relevance in this character when they’re collaborating to complete the Who’s Your Nurse handout.
Day 5: Act 2 Scene 6:
I scoured Pinterest for a lot of the ideas and inspiration while creating these lessons – so it was only a matter of time before I came across the many Romeo-and-Juliet-themed weddings. With all the hype surrounding Romeo and Juliet – and their love for one another. I feel it is important for students to see how naïve and far-stretched many of these associations can be. Shakespeare never even wrote a wedding scene for Romeo and Juliet! -So no, you can’t recreate and invite all your friends.
This is why I wanted to give each group creative liberty to create their own wedding scene for Romeo and Juliet, keeping the circumstances of the story in mind as they complete the You’re Invited to the Most Controversial Wedding of the Season handout.
I loved designing these 5 days. Enjoy.