Teaching Romeo and Juliet: Part Four

Prehistoric Romeo and JulietWho killed Romeo and Juliet?

The answer isn’t as simple as one might think, and determining who is most to blame for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet makes a great writing exercise for students. I can no longer remember where I found this idea, as is so often the case with us educators, I suppose, so if you find it, please let me know so I may give proper credit.

In order to prepare for this assignment, students can write summaries of each act as they read and keep the summaries in their notebook. Depending upon the students’ level, the teacher may decide it is OK to skip this step. Next, the teacher should lead a discussion of each character’s flaws or traits. The way I usually do this is to create a web with the character’s name at the center.

Romeo Character Map

The character map above is just a small example. For the final step, students examine their plot summaries coupled with character maps to determine which character was at fault for Romeo and Juliet’s deaths. They write a persuasive essay incorporating examples of actions on the part of that character that led to Romeo and Juliet’s deaths. For example, one student of mine two years ago argued that Friar Laurence was most to blame for the deaths. She determined that Friar Laurence did not do enough to make sure the lovers were both in on the plan he made. Many students argue that Romeo, Tybalt, and Capulet are most responsible. Interestingly, students invariably see Juliet as innocent, even though she stabs herself in the end.

This assignment can easily be adapted to fit the standard five-paragraph essay format:

  1. Introduction, including thesis about who is most responsible for deaths.
  2. One reason why the person is responsible (action or words).
  3. Second reason why.
  4. Third reason why.
  5. Conclusion.

As my students have already written two essays for this unit, I have decided to adapt this assignment into a Socratic Seminar. In order to do this, my students will discuss the characters’ traits tomorrow. We will begin planning for the seminar by marking passages that offer evidence of a certain character’s blame with post-it notes. On Wednesday, students will hold the seminar. This would be a great time to do a podcast, but as I explained yesterday, I’m not quite ready for that at this point. If we need to roll into Thursday to finish the discussion, that’s fine. Greece Central School District has some great resources for Socratic Seminars.

Update: Borrowing liberally from Greece Central School District’s information I created a document to explain to my students what a Socratic Seminar is all about (Socratic Seminar handout) and an accompanying rubric (Romeo and Juliet Seminar rubric). My students asked me if they could have two class periods (today and tomorrow) to prepare for the discussion. They were busily marking their books with post-its and asking me about their ideas. One student excited showed me a list of twenty events in the play that contributed to Romeo and Juliet’s deaths.  Following the discussion, I will ask them to complete the Self-Evaluation (Word doc) created by Greece Central Schools.

They are so much more engaged in the text through an activity like this than they would be if I just gave them a test.

[tags]Romeo and Juliet, teaching, education, Socratic Seminar[/tags]

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