How to Teach Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet: Act III

March 03, 2017

Whether you are a teacher tackling William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet for the first time or you are a veteran looking to change how you’ve taught it in the past, it is always helpful to find out how another teacher plans it all out. Read on to find out what scenes I focus on in Act III and why, how my students read and act out those scenes, and what activities I use to extend learning and make connections.
After reading most of Act II, students are both in awe and disbelief at the speed at which Romeo and Juliet's romance develops. To continue building the excitement and tension, I pair Act II, Scene V with Act III, Scene I. Here's my approach to teaching them.

Planning Out The Reading
I don't want to kill the play, so in each act, I generally choose to read the scene with the events most important to developing the plot. In Act III, that is the first scene.

I usually choose one other scene per act to read that highlights another important aspect of the play. Before getting into the action of Act III, Scene I, I use Act II, Scene V to highlight Shakespeare's use of lower class characters to provide humor. It's also a chance for students to see how devoted Juliet is to Romeo and just one night.

I provide short summaries for any scenes we skip to fill students in on the less important events. I like to spend about a week on each act of the play, so the days we don't spend reading are spent on after reading activities, writing, and a short assessment.

Before jumping into this week's reading, we'll spend a few minutes reviewing the scenes from last week. I'll also introduce or review important terms. I'll review turning point, which I introduce as part the tragedy cycle before beginning the play. I'll introduce the relationship between class and humor the role of class and humor and refer back to Act I, Scene I or Act I, Scene III for examples.

Act II, Scene V
Students sometimes have difficulty seeing the humor in this scene, so I often do a short improvisation before hand. I ask for a student volunteer to help me and tell him/her to respond to me in our scene as the average individual would. I begin by telling them that I went to the store and brought back the candy bar (cookies, fruit, snack item) he/she asked me to get. Then instead of giving him/her the candy bar, I change the subject, ask questions about irrelevant topics, say I need to get a napkin, plate, fork, etc before I give it to them. As this goes on, the student will get frustrated and eventually demand the candy bar, just as Juliet demands an answer from the Nurse. I then reward my volunteer with the candy bar.

Students are then prepared to read the scene independently. I include summaries of Act II, Scene III; Act II, Scene IV; and Act II, Scene VI. Then I provide the text of  Act II, Scene V with the original text and modern translations side by side. I edit the scene by cutting lines out. After reading, students translate words from the original to modern text, and vice versa. Then students answer short written response questions to demonstrate comprehension. We review this together at the end of class.

Act III, Scene I
I present this scene to students entirely in Shakespeare’s language, but an edited down version. The scene ends up about one page front and back, creating a script that can easily be acted out by students. 

Before assigning parts and having my students act, as a class we do one or two read throughs. In the first read through, we number the lines of the scene up to the number of students in the class and then repeat until each line of the scene is numbered. Then students count off and read “their” lines regardless of the character speaking. If I feel like a second read through is necessary, we number the parts rather than individual lines. Each time a different character speaks, so does a new student.

Once students are comfortable with the language, I ask them to play the part of the director and insert stage directions. Where do characters enter and exit? When does each draw his sword? Who dies when and how?

Finally, I have students get up and act out the scene. I usually let students choose their parts, but if necessary I will assign them. Some students don't mind reading, but don't want to get up out of their seats, so I will sometimes have someone assigned as the reader for a part and someone else as the silent actor or actress for the part. I can get twice the number of students involved that way and draw on students’ strengths. Students who are uncomfortable getting up in front of the class can still participate and students who enjoy acting won't be hindered by having to hold a script.

After Reading Activities
By this point in the play, students have a deep understanding of the characters and their personalities. A fun way to further analysis of the characters' traits is to use astrology information from Shakespeare’s times and modern day to decide on zodiac signs for the major characters in the play. To help students get familiar with the information about astrology from Shakespeare’s time and modern day, I first have them complete a scavenger hunt. Students respond to questions about themselves, Shakespeare, and Juliet, and look for commonalities between the zodiac signs.

Once students have gotten comfortable with the zodiac signs and their descriptions from Shakespeare’s times and modern day, they will decide on zodiac signs for the major characters in the play. Students must select two adjectives/traits from the zodiac sign’s description to describe each character and provide evidence from the text to support each adjective/trait. I usually do a think aloud of this process for at least one character and allow students may work in groups since they have three acts worth of text evidence to look through.

Writing & Assessment
At the end of the week, I will give students a choice of two constructed response prompts, one connected to each of the scenes on which we focused. This is a chance for them to independently express their understanding of what we read, practice citing text evidence, and continue to build on their writing skills in general. 

I also assign a text based assessment, which covers the end of Act II to the end of Act III. The assessment includes a section of Act II, ten multiple-choice questions, and two choices for a written response. Questions focus on the purpose of the turning point, Shakespeare's use of humor, analyzing characters words and actions, and paraphrasing important lines.

You can find all of my resources for teaching Romeo and Juliet, including the materials described above that I use to teach Act III, here.

Read on for my approach to teaching Act IV of Romeo and Juliet.

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