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.
View how a variety of student-centred assessments are used in the Romeo and Juliet Unit Plan. These assessments help students and teachers to set goals; monitor students’ 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? Are stories just a means of escaping into fantasy? 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.
Before “officially” starting the unit, have student teams rank a list of social offenses. Students are to consider the following social offenses without knowing that they have anything to do with Romeo and Juliet. They are to rank each in the order of seriousness, with 1 being the most serious (if desired, use the Visual Ranking Tool):
After student teams rank and try to come to consensus on the list’s order, discuss which issues are ones that they think are serious problems today. After discussion, reveal that all of these social offenses happen in Romeo and Juliet. Present the Unit Question, How does Shakespeare still speak to a 21st century audience? Besides including plot elements that parallel many current-day situations, ask students whether they think Shakespeare still has any impact on what we hear, see, and think today. Read the Passage by Bernard Levin* about the influence of Shakespeare on our everyday speech. For homework, ask students to bring in examples of where they see Shakespeare’s influence in their world today (such as movies, TV, magazines, or other story lines).
Show the gauging student needs presentation (ppt) to determine what students already know about Shakespeare and Romeo and Juliet and to help students access their prior knowledge. Continue the discussion about where students see Shakespeare’s influence in today’s world. 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.
Present background information about Shakespeare, his time, and Elizabethan theater so students can better understand Shakespeare’s work. 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 (doc) with students to help guide their work.
Days 3 and 4
Create and distribute a document to help understand Shakespearean language and explain how students will be discussing the play and its application to life with each other.
Assign parts for reading the play aloud to help students get the rhythm of the language and understand some of the puns and archaic language. Read through Act I, scene i. Students must have Act I, scene i completed by Day 5.
Discuss the following literary terms for Week 1:
Have students find and record examples of the puns discussed in Week 1 in their reading response journals.
Read and discuss Act I, scenes ii and iii.
Post and discuss the following literary terms for Week 2, and point out the terms as they come up in the reading:
Have students record examples and understandings of the literary terms discussed in Week 2 in their reading response journals. Collect journals on a daily basis to assess students’ understanding of terms. Use this information to guide and redirect teaching as needed.
Assign some reading for homework but continue to read important or difficult scenes in class so discussions can take place. Ask students to record thoughts and questions in their journals.
Discuss imagery in Mercutio’s speech about Queen Mab. Identify and discuss the metaphors concerning Juliet in Romeo’s soliloquy. Ask questions like the following to help students understand the importance of imagery in Shakespeare’s work:
Discuss impressions of main characters. Besides their “flowery” language, do the main characters’ actions ring true on some level?
Complete reading through Act II, scene iii. Give an Act I quiz if desired.
Post and discuss the following literary terms for Week 3, and point out the terms as they come up in the reading:
Have students record examples and understandings of the literary terms discussed in Week 3 in their reading response journals. Collect journals on a daily basis to assess students’ understanding of terms. Use this information to guide and redirect teaching as needed.
Continue reading parts aloud in class and assigning some for homework.
Discuss meter, iambic pentameter, and other poetic devices used in various parts of the play. Introduce iambic pentameter with the reading of Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham. Clap out the beat of the lines to better hear the iambic pentameter. Explain how Shakespeare uses the rhythms that are already in language to create the patterns in a line of poetry. Clap out the example, "But soft, what light in yonder window breaks?" Discuss and illustrate how Shakespeare mostly wrote in blank verse, which is a metrical pattern composed of lines of unrhymed iambic pentameter.
Act out the fight scene in Act III, scene i. Discuss the escalating violence between the families and the similarities to current-day situations.
Discuss the explosive scene between Juliet and her father, framing it with the lens of what was expected of children, especially girls, during that time period. Discuss what has and has not changed in parent-teenage relationships.
Complete through Act III, scene v. Give an Act II quiz if desired.
Continue reading parts aloud in class and assigning some for homework.
Discuss the impact of Juliet’s “first” death and the Friar’s involvement.
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.
Finish the play.
In preparation for the culminating project, have students rank the same list of social offenses as they did at the start of the unit, except this time, the list will identify the elements of the play that corresponded to the first list (if desired, use Visual Ranking):
After student teams rank and try to come to consensus on the list’s order, have them compare their before and after lists. Discuss current-day situations that they see are similar to the problems listed.
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:
Some examples from which to choose:
Assign groups. Hand out the action plan (doc) and discuss options for presenting to an audience. Refer to the suicide prevention (doc) and violence (doc) action plans as examples. 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 use the research form (doc) to help them keep track of their resources while they research the current needs of the community and determine a course of action. Refer to the sample research form (doc) for guidance in completing the document. Discuss the minimum requirements for research when completing the accompanying products (brochures, presentations, wiki, and so forth). Provide the project scoring guide (doc) at the beginning of the project so students can self-assess as they present their message and associated products. Discuss how they need to tie in what they have learned from Romeo and Juliet and answer the Unit Question, How does Shakespeare still speak to a 21st century audience?
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 (doc) 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 (doc).
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?
This Unit Plan has been adapted from US sample and localized.
Year/Form: Form 4 to Form 5
Subjects: Literature in English
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