Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s most popular and enduring plays...but that doesn’t mean your students will want to endure it! How can you overcome negative or defeatist attitudes about Shakespeare and his works? Follow these 8 easy steps to help your students understand and appreciate Romeo and Juliet.
1) Consider using modern translations along with the original. You will find an eText of Romeo and Juliet with a side-by-side translation right here on eNotes. Be sure to stress to students that they are to use the translation as support for reading the original, not as a substitute. They will find that the original gets much easier to read with practice.
2) Define the term “star-crossed lovers.” Fate will never allow Romeo and Juliet to live happily ever after. The minute Romeo and Juliet meet, their relationship is doomed to end tragically. Students need to understand how being “star-crossed” sealed their destiny. This fact will allow students to make sense of this senseless tragedy.
3) Assign small research projects. What did women wear during Elizabethan times? What did young people do for fun? How and when did young ladies and gentlemen enter the courting process? Students may work individually or in small groups and present their finding to the class. Once they have an overview of the time period, the dynamics of the Montague and Capulet families will come alive, and Romeo and Juliet’s relationship will become less foreign.
4) Add creative and fun activities to your teaching unit. Romeo and Juliet is a story that will certainly appeal to high school students. Once your students understand the themes, characters, and story line of the play, they are ready to write creative projects or perhaps even compile an original soundtrack to accompany a new version of Romeo and Juliet. Ask your students to brainstorm other projects that appeal to their creative interests.
5) Have students act out a variety of scenes. Ask for a volunteer “Romeo” and “Juliet” to act out the balcony scene. Choose a student to become the Nurse, who is charged with delivering Juliet’s heartfelt message to Romeo. After all, plays are written to be performed!
6) Instruct students to annotate and react. Active reading is the key to comprehension. Using whatever strategies you find successful for annotation, have students question or react to the events of the play. In particular, help them discover how the characters, time period, and chance events sealed the ending of the story.
7) Introduce West Side Story and other contemporary versions. Two gangs from opposite sides of town hate each other, yet a teenage boy and girl from each gang fall in love—much to the chagrin and opposition of all. Sound familiar? West Side Story is one of the many modern plays and stories modeled after the plot and themes of Romeo and Juliet. A great assignment for students would be to find as many modern-day applications as they can in short stories, plays, novels, poems, movies, and even cartoons.
8) Memorize and apply key lines. “Oh, Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” Many lines from Romeo and Juliet have been quoted so extensively that they are part of popular culture. Make memorizing lines, particularly for the ever-popular balcony scene, part of your teaching repertoire for the play. Also find some “wow” dialogue from the play and incorporate it into creative writing assignments—perhaps a poem or an original narrative!