January marks the beginning of third quarter, or what I fondly think of as the start of “Shakespeare season” in English classrooms. Sure, Shakespeare Day isn’t until April 23rd, but anyone who’s taught one of Billy Shakes’s plays will tell you that they take a long time to get through, so it’s best to start early.

My first go-round with teaching the bard was in 2016 in my English I Honors classroom. I chose to start our Romeo and Juliet unit with iambic pentameter, and I remember the unbridled optimism with which I distributed Sonnet 18 for my students to mark up. That optimism died a swift death, as I watched class after class of panicked ninth graders struggle to scratch out the meter above the words. They whispered loudly to each other:

“Do you understand this?”

“I have no idea what’s going on.”

“I hate Shakespeare!”

“Why is she torturing us?”

Their indignant mutterings signaled that I was in danger of committing the classic teacher sin: robbing something wonderful of its joy by making it all academic and no fun. (Even Shakespeare has Romeo comment on the drudgery of school when he observes in Act II[1], “Love goes toward love as schoolboys from their books, / But love from love, toward school with heavy looks.”)

I had to act quickly.

Like I would do many times over the next few years, I implored my colleagues, Ms. Temple and Mr. Wood, for some much needed help. They were more seasoned than I, and they also imbued their classrooms with the kind of creativity that inspires cultish admiration. I knew they’d have answers, and I was right.

The following Romeo and Juliet teaching resources are a conglomeration of those handed down to me by Ms. Temple and Mr. Wood, as well as activities that I eventually (when I had the bandwidth) created myself. I did not use each activity every year, but I can attest that each helps elevate Shakespeare’s most famous play from a “horrible nightmare our teacher is forcing us to read” to “way better than that time she made us read Animal Farm”—all while keeping iambic pentameter!

Family Shields Activity

Capulet and Montague Family Shields

In this activity, students create their own family shields, complete with family colors, values, and self-portrait. I recommend this activity especially if you’re going to have the students read aloud, as it helps them invest in the Capulet-Montague feud (but don’t encourage them to bite their thumbs at one another!).

  • Romeo and Juliet Family Shield Activity
  • Romeo and Juliet Family Shield Activity
  • Romeo and Juliet Family Shield Activity

Materials Needed:

Instructions:

  1. First things first: Are you a Capulet or a Montague? You can either have the students pick their allegiance, or you can assign it randomly in order to promote even numbers for both houses. Once this is decided, have them write a C or an M in the bottom right corner of their shields (C for Capulet or M for Montague).
  2. Now that students know where they stand, have them write their names and draw their self-portraits in the upper left corner.
  3. Next, students should write a quote that represents them in the upper right corner. I tell students that this quote should capture something about their values or how they view the world.
  4. After students have their quotes, they should list five activities they enjoy in the lower left corner. This represents who they are as individuals within their respective families.
  5. Finally, have the students color the upper left and bottom right corners of their shields with their family colors (red for Capulet and blue for Montague).
  6. Hang the shields on opposite sides of the room to showcase their allegiances, and then get to reading!

Romeo and Juliet Comics

Ms. Temple gave me this idea to help students who struggle to understand and remember what happens in the play. (As someone who makes comics to help students remember concepts, I feel a little daft not having thought of this myself.) The beauty of this assignment is that it allows students to summarize each of the acts and scenes with very few words!

Here’s an example comic from Macbeth:

  • Romeo and Juliet Comic Activity
  • Romeo and Juliet Comic Activity

Materials Needed:

Instructions:

  1. After reading each scene (or after a few scenes), have students fill in the appropriate box with a picture and a quote that captures the essence of that scene.
    • For example: In Act II, scene 2, Romeo swears his love to Juliet, invoking the moon. Juliet responds, “O, swear not by the moon, th’ inconstant moon, / That monthly changes in her circled orb” (lines 109-110). This is a great quote to summarize the content of the scene, and would pair well with a picture of a changing moon and balcony to help students remember what happened.
  2. After finishing each act, have students write a five-sentence summary in the rectangle preceding that act’s scenes.

As an incentive, you can tell students that they may use this as a reference sheet on their final test.

Act III: Pool Noodle Swords

Pool Noodles = Safer Swords

Yes, you read that correctly: pool noodles. You know, the kind you use as floaties or water cannons at pool parties? I owe this idea entirely to Mr. Wood. It may seem silly, but it’s a great way to visualize the sword fight in Act III. It’s also effective for engaging students who can’t easily sit still for long periods of time.

Act III Fight Diagram Romeo and Juliet

Materials Needed:

Instructions:

  1. While reading Act III, scene 1, get three volunteers to act out the parts of Romeo, Mercutio, and Tybalt.
    • Note: I recommend having one set of students read the parts and one set of students act out the parts. It’s too difficult to do both at the same time.
    • A good time to ask for volunteers is after Mercutio exclaims, “O calm, dishonorable, vile submission! / Alla stoccata carries it away. / Tybalt, you rat catcher, will you walk?” (lines 72-74).
  2. Give the students the pool noodles. (1) When stage directions instruct Mercutio and Tybalt to draw, tell them to draw their swords, but remain still, creating a tableau. (2)
  3. When the stage directions say they fight, after Mercutio says, “Come sir, your passado” (line 84), tell the students to engage in a sword fight. (3)
    • Tell them they should not hit one another, but focus on the clashing of swords. (They love fighting with the noodles, and it usually always elicits laughter from the class.) After 15-30 seconds, instruct them to freeze in their fight.
  4. Instruct the student playing Romeo to walk between Mercutio and Tybalt, putting their hands up to separate the fighting pair. (4)
  5. When the stage directions say Tybalt under Romeo’s arm stabs Mercutio, have the student playing Tybalt push the pool noodle under Romeo’s arm and “stab” Mercutio. (5)
  6. Instruct the student playing Mercutio to fall or swoon. (6) (Usually, this student moans dramatically and elicits more laughter. Sometimes a student will volunteer to be Benvolio and drag Mercutio away.)
  7. Have the students reading the parts continue, with Romeo and Tybalt frozen in a tableau. Wait for the inevitable gasp when Benvolio says, “brave Mercutio is dead!” (line 115)
  8. Instruct Romeo to draw his sword after he says, “This shall determine that” (line 130).
  9. Instruct Romeo and Tybalt to engage in a sword fight, again not hitting each other, but clashing swords, for 15-30 seconds. (7) Then, instruct Romeo to “stab” Tybalt. (8) Tell Tybalt to fall.
  10. Thank the students for their incredible performances and tell them to return to their seats.

More Romeo and Juliet Resources

If you’re looking for resources to help with Shakespeare’s language (including poetic elements, like iambic pentameter and motifs), I have activities that I have created available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. They include:

Language in Romeo and Juliet: Motifs (Free Resource)

First, students will look for words that use light and dark imagery in the famous balcony scene soliloquy (Act II, scene 2). Next, students answer questions about Romeo’s word choice and determine the figurative meanings behind it. After completing this activity, students will gain confidence in identifying and analyzing the light/dark motif in later acts and scenes throughout the play.

Introduction to Romeo and Juliet: The Prologue

This packet includes two worksheets that help students work through the elements of the Prologue in Romeo and Juliet.

Worksheet 1: The Shakespearean Sonnet

In this activity, students will evaluate the prologue for elements of the Shakespearean sonnet. Students will mark the meter and rhyme scheme, as well as the quatrains and couplets. The link to a recommended (and fun!) video on iambic pentameter is included in the download.

Worksheet 2: Translate the Prologue

In this activity, students will annotate the prologue and then translate it into their own words. This will help students feel more confident in their ability to read Shakespeare and give them a solid understanding of what to anticipate from the play. When students are finished writing their translations, invite them to share with the class. The results are often insightful and humorous!

Write an Original Soliloquy

This mini-project combines elements of character analysis, creative writing, and student performance in a fun activity for the end of Act IV of Romeo and Juliet.

Note: This activity is most successful when students have already covered the following concepts:

• Iambic pentameter
• Elements of the Shakespearean sonnet

After reading through Act IV of Romeo and Juliet, students will complete a character analysis of one character. Then they will write an original soliloquy in iambic pentameter from that character’s perspective. Finally, students will embody the character in a performance of the original soliloquy.

An example soliloquy and helpful tips for writing in iambic pentameter are included.

[1] All citations are from this edition of Romeo and Juliet.

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