As an English teacher I have become used to the collective sigh when you announce that the next topic will be Shakespeare. The challenge is to help students overcome this reluctance and realise that the themes in Shakespeare’s plays are universal and can be applied to so many different situations.
I have recently started Romeo and Juliet with Year 9 as they begin preparation for the next English Literature GCSE. This year we are trying to familiarise them with the plot, characters and themes with some language analysis and key terms built in. My class are energetic and love the chance to be up and about doing things, finding clues or having a competition.
With this in mind, I decided to have one lesson studying the famous masked ball scene when Romeo meets Juliet. Our Romeo sat on a chair out of sight while Juliet was on the table (an improvised balcony) reading her speech aloud and wondering where her Romeo was. After some language analysis we followed this with a homework which was for students to make their own mask for the ball. The idea being that this would encourage them to understand certain contextual factors and why Shakespeare would use a masked ball to introduce characters from different families.
Students entered next lesson to some Renaissance style music and had to wear their masks as they roamed around the room finding hidden words that might link to certain characters. Once they had decided they then had to justify their decision and explain to a partner.
The students were excited to come into the classroom and show off their hard work as well as find out what might happen that lesson. They gave some fantastic answers and showed real understanding of the play, why masks might be used in a drama and how the characters develop over time.