Wednesday, April 20, 2011

You Can Only Teach 5 Scenes: Which Would You Choose?

Glenda Funk led an excellent English Chat a few weeks ago on performance and teaching Shakespeare. The archived chat is available here. Since and because I am teaching Romeo and Juliet to ninth graders this spring, I've been rethinking my approaches to the play in class.

Yesterday I ask folks on twitter what 1 scene from each of the acts they would teach if they could only teach 5 scenes. Sarah from The Reading Zone replied right away, saying she would teach the prologue, the party scene, the balcony scene and Romeo's last speech. I loved the immediacy of her reply and the excitement I can hear as she wonders about a last scene to choose:

Like Sarah, my first instinct is to teach the prologue. It summarizes the action of the play and captures the essence of the plot. In years past I've begun by teaching students how to paraphrase using the prologue. Like Texas English teacher, Carrie Ross, I might follow the prologue with Mercutio's Queen Mab speech.

Figuring out if students transfer reading comprehension strategies from accessible (independent) texts to challenging texts such as Shakespeare interests me. I do an activity with students where I ask them to visualize Queen Mab and her chariot. We read the passage together but I don't explicate or support students by paraphrasing it for them. Students draw and label their drawings with words and phrases from the text. Questions arise during the drawing, so students recognize when meaning breaks down. They ask literal level questions like "What's an atomie?" Students drawings reveal where meaning is breaking down. If Queen Mab is huge and floating in the air, obviously they've not connected the ideas between her and the sleeping men's noses. I get too much out of the activity to skip the Queen Mab speech, so that would be included in my 5 scenes.

What I enjoyed about the tweet exchanges, as usual, is the conversation. The opportunity to rethink, reframe and retool how I will teach students using Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. If you'd like to add to the conversation, send me a line on twitter  @spillarke.

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