How to Teach Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet: Making Real World Connections

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 how I make real world connections using nonfiction articles after students have finished reading the play.
After students finish reading Act V of Romeo and Juliet, I don't want them to write off the play as just a far fetched love story from the past.

I use three nonfiction articles to show students that love, and the hate that can tear that love apart, are very much still a part of today's world.

Romeo and Juliet in Bosnia
Our first read is an opinion piece from the New York Times titled "In America; Romeo And Juliet In Bosnia." The piece was written in response to a PBS documentary focused on Bosko Brkic, an Eastern Orthodox Serb, and Admira Ismic, a Muslim, who met and fell in love, but died together trying to escape Sarajevo and the Bosnia-Serbian conflict taking place there.

In our discussion following the reading, we compare and contrast Bosko and Admira's conflict with the one Romeo and Juliet faced. We also compare and contrast the feelings of Bosko and Admira's family members to feelings of the Montagues and the Capulets. Finally, we compare and contrast the death of Admira and Bosko with the death of Romeo and Juliet.

Besides comparing and contrasting the characters of Shakespeare's tragedy and this real life couple, we also focus on the hate that complicated Bosko and Admira's relationship, and whether that kind of hate still exists. The Bosnia-Serbian conflict lasted from 1992-1995, and while that was only twenty some years ago, it can feel very far away for students. Showing the documentary or clips from it, can make the events seem even even further in the past for students because the quality of the video is so different from what they see today.

Romeo and Juliet in Afghanistan
Our second read is a series of articles from the New York Times focused on two young Afghans in love. "2 Star-Crossed Afghans Cling to Love, Even at Risk of Death" is followed by other articles and several video interviews. Zakia is 18 and Mohammad Ali is 21, both the children of farmers in this remote mountain province. Mohammad Ali is a Hazara, who are mostly Shia Muslims. Zakia is a Tajik, a Sunni ethnic group. Despite threats of death from her family, the young lovers elope and become fugitives. The articles, the first of which was published in the spring of 2014, follow their attempts to flee the country until they are able to seek asylum in the United States in the spring of 2016.

In our discussion following the reading, we compare and contrast Mohammad Ali and Zakia's conflict with the one Romeo and Juliet faced. We also compare and contrast the feelings of Mohammad Ali and Zakia's family members to feelings of the Montagues and the Capulets. While their love story does not end in death, we discuss the challenges that still remain for the couple.

Dear Juliet
Our final reading is more about love than hate. "Dear Juliet: Let Me Tell You About My Problem" explains the letter writing phenomenon more recently featured in the film Letters to JulietThe Club of Juliet is a private organization that receives, translates and answers Juliet's mail; she now receives 50,000 letters a year.

In our discussion following the reading, we examine the reasons why people write to Juliet. Some of the letters described in the article mirror the plights of Bosko and Admira and Mohammad Ali and Zakia. I also have students write their own letters to Juliet. The letters can be a response to the play, filled with unanswered questions, or of a more personal nature. The last time I mailed them off, it did take a year, but my students did get a response from Juliet!

After reading all about all three topics as a class, students have a choice of which one to follow up on with further reading, research, and completion of a project. For Romeo and Juliet in Bosnia, students compose an interview script with a member of Bosko or Admira’s family 20 years after their deaths. For Romeo and Juliet in Afghanistan, students create an informational pamphlet on honor killings. And for Dear Juliet, students write a movie review of Letters to Juliet, including analysis of the accuracy of the representation of Juliet’s Club.

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