About to start some Shakespeare with my 9th graders, what are some activities you incorporate into your unit to ease the difficulty and also make it a little less boring (sorry Shakespeare lovers! I understand their frustration with it heavy LOL)

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For R&J:

Separate the classroom for the families - half and half. I always did rows facing each other. It was AWESOME. On Fridays we might watch a little "West Side Story". I always use pieces of Zeferelli and definitely Luhrmann (you may not like the latter, but the kids do, especially when she shoots herself).

DON'T READ THE WHOLE THING. Shakespeare is NOT for reading, it's for acting out and watching. On that note, don't try to get kids to "understand Elizabethan English" - biggest waste of time ever.

DO read important sections: I'm fond of the beginning so we know these are silly teenagers - the boys talking trash, a little fight.

DO talking about how much sexual reference is in the play. Because it's like TONS. And when you can make the severely necessary connection that Shakey's kids were as hormonally focused on sex as kids now, it's goes a LONG way. The man invented a lot of words, and I also wonder if he originated the "d*ck joke" as well. Also, Romeo's entire deal is about making a connection to get laid. Rosalyn isn't down, and he is bummed until he meets Juliet - a more worthy target to his schmoozy lines.

Themes/secondary themes to focus on: Teen angst and timelines (three days long the way teens "celebrate" a month of "being together", the way feelings in teens are so heightened and acute). Rage vs. Love (what's more powerful? What's the difference?). Parental guidance, breaking away.

ACTIVITIES:

Go to the dollar store and buy enough red and blue POOL NOODLES so that when you cut them in half there are enough for the class. THEN, have students create "Shakespearean insults". THEN, give one family one color and another family another color. Head OUTSIDE, where the kids face off. They must yell the insults at members of the other family, and then can "fight" with the noodles.
(No one has ever been hurt in my 8 years of doing this.)

Focus on IAMBIC PENTAMETER using the Queen Mab speech: Every student memorizes a line (or two). They also get to know IP rhythm. THEN, I borrow a basketball from PE and...it's outside again, this time to the BBall court. Students line up at the basket, have to say their line while bouncing to the rhythm, and then take a shot.

Good luck!

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Sorry, I left out other "important parts", namely the scene where Romeo comes to tell his friends he got married, and the HUGE switch to his rage when Tybalt kills Mercutio (and opens to the discussion of love and rage - is there a difference?).

Another is the scene when Juliet's daddy basically tells her to "marry my friend" or she's out on the street. And Juliet's moment of decision afterwards. This opens to a discussion of parent vs. teen. Dad is not wrong - historically she could be marrying some old dude who sucks...Paris is young, handsome, and likable if nerdy. Dad did a good job. BUT - she wants Romeo and that blind young love thing gets in the way. It's a great discussion with kids IME.

Ditch the balcony scene unless the discussion is Romeo spouting OG pick up lines. It's hilarious for that.

Have your super readers present sections of the reading in the round. You are the director (get a clapboard if you can).
“CUT! That’s a wrap!”

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I love the No Fear Shakespeare editions. I also like to show them the Globe theatre in cross section to give them an idea of what it was like. If you can, Shakespeare in Love has great B-roll of the theatre with the audience in their places, including the penny/peanut gallery right up on the stage.

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Yes to Shakespeare in Love! Before we read the play, I show them the whole R&J play from the movie. The kids love it and they see how it would have played out on the Globe’s stage with the audience and props, etc. It may not be totally realistic, but it’s another great introduction hook.

A couple of things:
1. Read a SparkNotes summary of the scene before you read the scene in the play. Students knowing what’s coming makes it a lot easier for them to get what’s happening. My stock phrase is “Let’s see how Shakespeare carries this out.” It helps to know upfront rather than try to explain it after.

2. Have them rewrite an early scene in modern English and then perform it. We have a good time with this, especially with the big fight and Mercutio’s death scene. It’s fun to see the kids stitch a scene back together when they perform it.

3. Read it out loud. They can take turns or you can read it. Every day the parts change. I have them also act out what they can — the balcony scene with a Juliet standing on my side cupboard and Romeo sitting on the floor below, and the end where there are bodies lying all over are favorites!

Have fun with it. I had a really smart —and smart-alecky — class one year where everyone one day read all the parts in a Southern accent. We laughed forever about that and four years later they still talked about it!

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Focus on the drama - I always set it up like "Elizabethan Jerry Springer" I have good results/ after act III have a performative character analysis where groups assign a host and characters and play out their favorite dramatic interactions , but like daytime talk show - it's a good time / it's a good opportunity to teach formal vs informal paraphrase too
Good luck :)

I always read Sonnet 130 and another love sonnet with my students and have them do an in-class (or take-home if out of time) assignment to write their own sonnet. It can be sincere or wry (most kids go with wry--I would too), and then we do a blind read in class and vote on a favorite love sonnet and a favorite 130-style sonnet.

I used to show the '67 version before we read Romeo and Juliet. Having seen the movie gave them a plot to hang the lines on when we read them, and it didn't give away anything that the play itself doesn't spoil in the first 20 lines.

Loved teaching that. That's the best way for the kids to love it: if it's clear to them that their teacher does. Used to look forward to that all year.

After Act I, scene I of Romeo and Juliet, I have the kids write a gossip letter about what happened…but it has to be written in Renaissance English. They have a list of archaic words and contractions to use, and they must also show sentence structure of the time. For extra credit they can make the letter look old, like tea stained with a wax seal, etc.

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