Darin Johnson teaches honors English 12, Introduction and Advanced Journalism, and Perspectives in Media at Ames High School in Ames, Iowa. He received his BA in English and his MAE from the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.
Jeannie Goodwin is the National Education and Festivals Coordinator at the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Education Department's Webmaster.
Romeo and Juliet
What's On for Today and Why
Students will examine Romeo and Juliet in the context of three excerpts from The Office of Christian Parents: Shewing How Children Are To Be Gouerned throughout All Ages and Times of Their Life. These excerpts deal with instructions for the following: raising a daughter, raising a son, and marriage. Printed in 1616, the anonymous author of the text was codifying these mandates during Shakespeare's lifetime.
This activity will expose students to the evolution of typography and printing over the past four hundred years. Then they will use critical thinking skills to compare two sources and to pull quotes from the texts.
After working with the primary source and comparing it to the play, students will write about Romeo and Juliet and either the primary source or contemporary views on raising teenagers. This lesson will take 1–2 class periods.
What You Need
Folger edition of Romeo and Juliet
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
Primary Source Handout #1
Primary Source Handout #2
Primary Source Handout #3
What To Do
1. Since students will be asked to discern unfamiliar typography in this lesson, begin class by asking them to read the following slightly unfamiliar words on the board: theatre, honour, and defence. Ask students for the American equivalents to these words. As students respond, write the equivalents on the board: theater, honor, and defense. Explain that British spellings of words sometimes differ from American spellings. Continue by saying that today's first goal is to examine writing from 1616 and to discover differences in spelling and typography.
2. Assign students into six groups of four or five students each. Give the first two groups handout #1, give the second two groups handout #2, and give the third two groups handout #3 (see below). Then distribute the graphic organizer to all of the students (see below). Explain that the way letters are printed, or typography, has evolved over time. For example, in 1616 the character "ƒ" stood for our "s", "u" was used in place of "v", and "vv" was the symbol for "w." Thus, the modern equivalent of "wiƒe" is wise, not wife.
3. Ask students to work together in their small groups to read through the text. All group members will take turns reading aloud. Students should rotate to the next group member at the end of each line. Stress that today's social skill is to avoid correcting the reader. If something doesn't sound right, the reader should attempt to find the best reading with contextual clues.
4. After the group has finished reading the passage, students should identify two or three key ideas. Each student should paraphrase the key ideas in first column of the graphic organizer.
5. Ask students to identify pages or quotes in Romeo and Juliet that contrast with the excerpts and to write them down in column two on the graphic organizer.
6. Ask the students to sit in a large circle to discuss their findings. A member from each group should present the key ideas they found and the connections they made to the play. Encourage students to comment on the comparisons and suggest others.
7. For homework, ask students to investigate contemporary ideas about parenting. They can ask their parents for a few quotes on parenting, find a current magazine article, or take excerpts from a health textbook. They should fill in the last column of the graphic organizer with this information.
8. As an extension, each student should write an essay comparing Romeo and Juliet to either The Office of Christian Parents or current parenting advice and practices. They should use quotes and evidence from both sources to support claims about similarities and differences. An alternative creative writing assignment is to ask students to project how parenting advice will change in the next 100 years.
How Did It Go?
Were students able to read the excerpts with comprehension? Did they identify the key ideas? Did the passages that students identified in the play relate to the excerpts? Were the essays supported by evidence from the play, the primary source, or a contemporary source? Did students draw logical comparisons and conclusions?
If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.