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How to Teach Critical Analysis of Romeo and Juliet to High Schoolers

By Room 241 Team January 23, 2013

Romeo and Juliet is a standard read among high school English students. Although the story is one of the greatest of all time (and thus, has been repeated as dozens of variations, both literary and film), it has become the object of dread for many high school students. These students feel that anything related to Shakespeare must be, by nature, boring, confusing or both at the same time. As a result, it is very difficult for even the best of English teachers to get their students interested and engaged when the time for the annual Romeo and Juliet unit arrives.

Although keeping high schoolers interested in Shakespearian language may seem like an impossibility, it can be accomplished if approached in the right matter. More than anything, the story needs to be made relevant to high school students. When students understand the emotional impact of Romeo and Juliet as well as how it applies to their own situations, they are more likely to take interest in the masterpiece, and, as a result, will gain more from the experience. The following are a few techniques for teaching critical analysis of Romeo and Juliet in a way that will actually capture student interest:

Connect the Plot to Current Issues

Certain issues hold a lot of concern for today’s teenagers, although they might not always like to admit this. Teens worry about things such as drugs, sex, abuse, suicide and more. All of these themes are explored in Romeo and Juliet, although students may not realize the extent to which they impact the story. To connect the themes of the play to the present day, have a discussion related to one or more of the themes suggested above and ask students’ input as to how a given issue was handled in Shakespeare’s age compared to the role it plays now. Students may be surprised to learn that, while some things have certainly changed since Shakespeare’s time, others are still very much the same. For example, suicide remains a chief killer among teenagers.

Portrayal of Romeo And Juliet in Movies

Many English teachers shy away from watching movies in class, as they feel that such activities only encourage a lack of student participation. But in the case of Romeo and Juliet, watching movies can actually be helpful, especially if you have access to multiple versions. It can be very helpful for students to compare and contrast different version of Romeo and Juliet and how the story is approached in various eras. Students especially enjoy watching Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the 1996 version of the movie, although some teachers may feel this version is too violent or sexually explicit for their students. Use your best judgement based on the age and maturity of your students.

Experiencing the Play in the Theater

Even better than seeing the movie version of Romeo and Juliet is experiencing the play live. Certain aspects are difficult for students to understand while reading but become instantly clear when accompanied by gestures. Additionally, by seeing the play live, students will have a more well-rounded experience and will thus be able to dig deeper into the plot, characters and important themes. Make a point of scoping out local theaters and determining whether any will be performing Romeo and Juliet during the school year. Then, plan your curriculum accordingly.