R&J: Day 1

We really started our Romeo and Juliet project on Monday, giving our students their entry document, rubric, and addressing their “knows” and “need to knows.”  However, we started CST testing Tuesday, so today was the first day that we had a chance to really start talking about Shakespeare.  Since today was sandwiched between two testing days, I decided that whatever we did needed to be (a) low-key and (b) even more interesting than usual.

I started class by asking kids what “need to knows” they needed answered right now at the beginning of the project.  They had some really great questions.  My favorite was, “So wait.  What is Shakespearean language anyway?”  I gave a brief answer–promising that this was something we’d focus on throughout the project.  I also highlighted this awesome graphic to point out that even though Shakespeare might be difficult they actually have heard and said a lot of things that he first wrote.  I think it helped take the fear factor out of this difficult thing called “Shakespearean Language” that they’ve heard about.

I followed this by using the A&E Biography of William Shakespeare (William Shakespeare: A Life of Drama).  It wasn’t my first choice, but it’s a lot easier to work into a class period than the 4 hour–albeit quite well-done–In Search of Shakespeare.  As they watched, I had my students take notes using this Viewing Guide.  My initial fear had been that they wouldn’t find it interesting or would be turned off a bit because it is a little older.  I was pleasantly surprised, and honestly think that the viewing guide helped them to follow along and pick out important and interesting tidbits.  The things they found most interesting?

  • The sonnets were written about a man.
  • Men played all the parts in Elizabethan theater, including female roles.
  • Shakespeare left his wife and children in one town, while he went off to London to start his career.
  • Shakespeare is thought to have been born and died on the same day.  (They found this unfortunate, and not a fun way to spend a birthday.)
  • His will gives his second best bed to his wife.  (They really want to know who got the best one.)
  • His grave curses anyone who moves his bones.  (One child in particular is tempted by this curse.)

After the video, I backtracked a bit and really focused on theater during Shakespeare’s time.  I wanted to give students a bit of a visual, since the world is Shakespeare is a completely new world to them.  To do this, I used clips from two Shakespeare-inspired films.  First, I used a scene from Shakespeare in Love, asking students to pay attention to where people sat.  Second, I used a scene from Anonymous, asking them to pay attention to how the audience acted.  I let them start the conversation with their observations, which I think is a much better starting point than just telling them the facts.  (All of this was encompassed in a PowerPoint that students have access to.)  I know that they found this interesting, because in every class period we reached the end of class and they were not trying to pack up early.  Instead, they were trying to ask more questions.  It was awesome.

Their homework?  To watch two YouTube videos (#1 and #2), and using their viewing guide write a paragraph discussing what they know so far about this guy named William Shakespeare.  I can’t wait to read them!

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