Monday, February 25, 2013

Breaking down the Bard

One of the most difficult units for me to teach sophomores is Julius Caesar. In general, Shakespeare is difficult unless they are really advanced readers because the language is so vastly different. There are many different activities I use to make Shakespare more fun, more current, and easier to understand, and I will post more ideas in other posts, but today I wanted to focus on an activity I did at school today--breaking down some of the longer speeches in Shakespeare and working with them.

If you are familiar with JC, you know in Act III there are two major speeches at Caesar's funeral: Brutus and Antony, with Antony speaking the most. Not only is this a great activity to teach the content, but also persuasive techniques and the use of ethos, pathos, and logos (more on that in another blog post because I do a LOT with it!)

I got some great ideas from the Folger Shakespeare Library, which is a great resource for all things Shakespeare, and made them my own.

I broke up all the big speeches into sections of about 20 or so lines. I copied them onto paper so I could blow up the font and also so students could annotate on them and mark them up; however, I had them keep their lit. textbooks open because they have some excellent vocab. definitions and footnotes in there to help with comprehension.

I broke the students into groups of 2-3 and each group got one of the sections of a major speech. They were given about 20 min. and asked to do the following:

1. Paraphrase this speech in your own words (we have been working with paraphrasing all year and I modeled it for them last week, so they are familiar with it. We also paraphrased a speech together in class on Friday).
2. How persuasive was this character? Point out examples of ethos, pathos, and logos with textual evidence (hello, Common Core!) Like I said earlier, we already would have covered these terms in an activity previously.
3. How did the commoners react to after this section of the speech was given? Whose side are they on currently (the conspirators' or Marc Antony's)?
4. When everyone was done, each group performed their speech in the tone and manner they imagined it would've been performed by this character. They then shared their answers and analysis with us.

Tomorrow I am going to show these speeches performed in a film version of the play to compare their interpretations and so they can see a fluent and dramatic reading of it.

Honestly I was so impressed with them today! When we read aloud as a group and I stop to ask questions and recap, they look at me like lumps on a log. This has proven to me they CAN interpret the meaning on their own, but just choose not to at times because it's convenient. Pretty much every group was right on in their paraphrase and correctly answered the questions, even using textual evidence well. 

Honestly, with difficult texts, you sometimes have to go line by line in order to get it, and the students need to be taught it's OK to spend a lot of time on a small piece of literature and really take your time with it. They are so used to getting everything yesterday, that it frustrates them :) Bonus for teachers: close reading is emphasized by Common Core!

Well the kids are hoping and praying for a snow day tomorrow. We're supposedly getting 6-8" and it may start around 5 AM. I am packing a bag tonight in case I can't make it home after school (I commute 50 min). So I might be hoping a little bit for a snow day too!

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