Romeo and Juliet
Insight into Ourselves
Students research the historical background of Romeo and Juliet as well as Shakespeare’s time to better understand the play. After reading the play, students apply the themes and issues within the play to modern life, and they work on solutions to age-old problems, such as communicating with parents, combating hate crimes/violence, and preventing suicide. Students work in teams to make plans and products targeting their chosen issues to positively impact their communities. Each team researches the current needs and resources of the community, and determines a course of action.
- Essential Question
How does literature help us better understand ourselves?
- Unit Question
Does fate control people's lives?
How does Shakespeare still speak to a 21st century audience?
- Content Questions
What is imagery, and what are some examples of how Shakespeare uses imagery in Romeo and Juliet to present a compelling and powerful message?
What are the themes and issues in Romeo and Juliet that are relevant to today?
View how a variety of student-centered assessments are used in the Romeo and Juliet Unit Plan. These assessments help students and teachers set goals; monitor student progress; provide feedback; assess thinking, processes, performances, and products; and reflect on learning throughout the learning cycle.
Beginning of the Year
Introduce a discussion about why people like a good story. How does writing about characters help them “come alive” off the page? What kind of characters can students identify with? What do stories do for us anyway? Next, introduce and discuss the Essential Question that will be used all year, How does literature help us better understand ourselves? Talk about how the units that will be studied this year will help the class answer the Essential Question.
As a whole class or in small groups, ask students to think about the differences and similarities between classic and contemporary literature by filling out the Venn Diagram. Conduct a whole class discussion about the value of classic literature and why students read it.
Reading Romeo and Juliet
As a whole class, fill out the first three columns of the K-W-H-L chart to help students access their prior knowledge and provide useful information about student attitudes and possible misconceptions. Continue the discussion about where students see Shakespeare’s influence in today’s world. Read the Passage by Bernard Levin* about the influence of Shakespeare on our everyday speech. Explain how, in this unit, they will work to answer the Unit and Essential Questions, along with learning to appreciate—or at least understand—Shakespeare’s most famous play, Romeo and Juliet.
Briefly explain that the students will be completing a project where they will apply the themes and issues within the play to address a current-day problem along with real solutions.
Ask students to use the Internet to find information about Shakespeare, his time, and Elizabethan theater and share what they have learned with the class on chart paper, or through a blog or wiki. Some notable online resources are Shakespeare Resource Center* and Shakespeare's Theatre*.
Introduce the reading response journal to students. These journals give students a place to document reading, record thoughts and responses to important questions, and cite examples of literary terms. Some students may want to keep their response journals in the form of a blog. Students may also choose the option of keeping a blog from the point of view of one of the characters. See Juliet’s Blog* for an example. Review the blog rubric with students to help guide their work. Collect journals on a weekly basis to assess students’ understanding of terms. Use this information to guide and redirect teaching as needed.
Before students begin to read the play, model different strategies for interpreting and understanding Elizabethan language. Assign parts for reading the beginning of Act I of the play aloud with the whole class. Throughout the unit, to engage students and address different learning styles, alternate the methods in which students are exposed to the play: whole class and small group oral reading, individual silent reading, audio recording, and video.
Introduce literary terms, such as pun, foreshadowing, and soliloquy, as appropriate throughout the reading of the play and ask students to record examples and illustrations of these terms in their response journals and discuss them in large and small groups. Model the kind of literary analysis you expect from students as they think about the play.
The following questions can serve as a starting point for discussions about the play:
- How do the metaphors help to paint a picture of characters’ states of mind?
- How does imagery and figurative language affect how we judge the intentions or inclinations of characters?
- How does the use of imagery add to the mood of the scene?
- How does the imagery affect the way we respond to the scene?
Periodically, throughout the study of the play, ask students to discuss the Essential Question: How does literature help us better understand ourselves? in their journals and in large- and small-group discussion as it relates to their personal interpretation of Romeo and Juliet.
After students have completed the play, ask students what fate is. Pose the question, Do you believe in fate? Discuss the idea of fate, as understood in the time of Shakespeare. Ask where fate intervenes in the play. Discuss a quote from another play that shows a different look at fate that admits that what happens to us may have more to do with our own shortfalls than fate:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Have students record their thoughts on this question in their reading response journals. In small groups, have students discuss their opinions on fate and give examples of fate in their own lives or in other literary examples or movies.
To ensure that students have thought deeply about the play, assign an in-class, open-book essay, in which students reflect on the play and apply their understanding of the characters, plot, and themes of the play to their lives. Part of this essay should address the Essential Question: How does literature help us better understand ourselves?
To prepare for the culminating project, ask students to brainstorm a list of social issues which appear in the play that are relevant to contemporary life.
Review the list of the brainstormed social issues and ask students to rank them by their importance to people of all ages in their community. You may ask students to use the Visual Ranking Tool to create their prioritized lists and compare their ideas with those of other community members.
Discuss the culminating project in detail in which students apply the themes and issues within the play to modern life and work on solutions to age-old problems. Tell students they will present their findings and solutions to an appropriate audience and create appropriate products to supplement their message, such as a multimedia presentation, brochure, newsletter, flyer, or wiki. Examples include the following:
- Students research community resources for teen suicide and create a brochure of warning signs to look for, where to get help, and so forth. They then create and present their findings to a particular audience—peers, parents, or other community members. Pamphlets go to attendees but also to counselor offices and student centers.
- Students research Internet sites, interview experts, and read books to find ways for parents to communicate better with their teenagers. They create a presentation and skit to be presented to parents at a parent meeting, open house, or other gathering.
- Students research Internet sites and books to find ways to prevent violence in their community. They form a club and create a wiki* to be presented to their peers, parents, and community members at a community meeting.
Assign groups and ask them to brainstorm issues, formats, and audiences for their project. Discuss the components of an action plan and ask students to create an action plan to guide them as they work on the project. The action plan template may help some students with special needs organize their work. Refer to the suicide prevention action plan as an example. Explain that this document is a working document that will help through the brainstorming, planning, and implementation stages of the plan to make a difference in the school, community, or even the world.
During the research phase, have students keep track of their resources while they research the current needs of the community and determine a course of action. Some students may need to use the research form to help them stay organized as they work. Discuss the minimum requirements for research when completing the accompanying products (brochures, presentations, wiki, and so forth). Provide the project scoring guide at the beginning of the project so students can self-assess as they present their message and associated products.
Show samples of student projects to give students a sense of the content, but do not spend too much time on any of the samples. A brochure template is available for students who need extra guidance, but students should be encouraged to develop their own unique ideas to help solve difficult problems. As the project progresses, meet periodically with each group to review their action plan to ensure they are on track. Have each group turn in their completed action plan, which includes an assessment of individual contributions along with any associated materials they created to support their presentation. After student groups meet with you individually, have groups meet with each other to receive feedback. Ask students to use the peer feedback form.
After all teams have presented to their respective audiences, provide a class session—or an evening meeting when parents and administration can attend—for students to discuss their experiences, what they presented, and how their message was received. Finalize the project discussion by allowing students to reflect on the Essential Question, How does literature help us better understand ourselves?
Special Needs Student
- Provide templates for some of the associated products, such as a brochure template
- Provide fill-in-the-blank plot worksheets to help the student simplify and identify the characters and action
- Allow the student to choose the method and tools for the culminating project that draw upon on the student’s strengths
- Emphasize that the culminating project provides a wide range and choice of community projects and outreach that would specifically draw upon the strengths of the gifted student
- Encourage the student to look beyond the obvious and come up with creative solutions for difficult problems
- Provide a parallel text of Romeo and Juliet in the student’s first language whenever possible or use a modern English version of the text
- Allow the culminating project to include some content in the student’s first language if it meets the needs of the audience the student is trying to reach
- Use some of the scaffolds created for the resource student, such as the fill-in-the-blank plot worksheets, if appropriate
At a Glance
- Grade Level: 8-12
- Subject: Literature
- Topic: Shakespeare
- Higher-Order Thinking Skills: Problem Solving, Evaluating, Analyzing
- Key Learnings: Themes and Issues, Literary Terms
- Time Needed: 4 weeks for the unit, plus 2–4 weeks for the culminating project, depending on the amount of time provided in class, depth/complexity of the student projects, and availability of the audience to whom students will present
Common Core Alignment
This unit is aligned to Common Core State Standards for Language Arts.
- Reading: Literature RL.9-10, RL.11, RL.12
- Writing W.9-10, W.11-12
- Speaking and Listening SL.9-10, SL.11-12
- Language L.9-10, L.11-12