Teaching Romeo and Juliet to High School Students

When I taught gifted reading at Lee Junior High in Monroe, I discovered a means to teach Romeo and Juliet to students quickly and efficiently (and I also used this technique with other Shakespeare plays). When I taught there, we held our own Shakespeare Festival, and the production went over well with students, teachers, and parents. The North Monroe community noticed the event, and we received good press on it. At Lee, my gifted classes did a 30-40 minute production of Julius Caesar (a tragedy that my junior high thespians turned into a comedy!) and Midsummer Night’s Dream, which turned out exceptionally well.

My two freshman honors classes have just started Romeo and Juliet, and they are excited and already know the play. I personally think every educated person should know this greatest of love stories, and I wanted to share a means of teaching it that has worked well for me. Here’s all it requires:
1. Buy enough of the Dover Classic editions of Romeo and Juliet for all of your students. Windows: A Bookshop here in Monroe gives me a 20% discounts if I order 20 copies or more of a book. Here is a link to Windows Bookshop site: http://www.windowsabookshop.com/ As I’m sure you know, Dover Publications is the closest company (at least that I know of) to those who used to produce the dime novels. You can build, or help your children to have a collection of almost all the great classics of literature for just a few bucks. Each book costs only one or two dollars. Find out more about Dover here: http://store.doverpublications.com/

2. Equip each student with a highlighter. The teacher will then direct the students to highlight “only” what he/she reads aloud. To end up with a thirty or forty minute play requires a good deal of cutting. The trick is to cut lines and dialogues, compacting the play to its essence, but to do so without losing the story. As the teacher goes through the text, he or she can teach vocabulary, explain in summary what is being left out and why it is left out, and help the students with pronunciation. (Those of us who were raised on the King James Bible definitely have an advantage when studying Shakespeare). In this phase, the students only hear the teacher read. A small digression here: This is really good classroom work to help develop “skim and scan” technique, a skill they will need on (ugh) standardized tests. A little aside here. I heard a good thought yesterday: The only children left behind with the No Child Left Behind Act are the gifted ones.

3. After the editing process is complete, you can have some read alouds, first to time the play. The reading time needs of course to be less than the time alloted for the play, for you must allow time for scene changes, action, etc. After the read alouds, you can audition students for the parts. Warning: Competition will be fierce for Juliet! I’d require memorization for anyone auditioning for Juliet’s role. This weeds out the ones who just want the role. Juliet suffered, so must they if they want to be her.

4. I allowed my students to memorize their parts using their Dover book. You may want to type out the script, or have a student or all of them type out their own script. This is a great way to introduce students to the world of theatre. In another post, I’ll talk about what else is necessary for a high school production of Shakespeare.