Use this Real-Life Lens Lesson to help students engage with a key thematic feature of William
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: love. In this play, Shakespeare pushes the audience to consider
how love, one of life’s most intense emotions, motivates people to act in extreme ways. In this
lesson, love will serve as the lens through which students engage with one of Shakespeare’s
most popular and enduring plays.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Introduce the Lens
To activate students’ thinking, choose one or two of the following Real-Life Links to use in an
engagement activity. Have students read or watch and discuss the content. Encourage students
to jot down notes, or record class notes on the board for future reference.
Pose the following Big Idea Questions to the class:
What is the complex range of feelings that the word love describes?
How do strong emotions such as love and hate affect people’s thoughts and actions?
1. Have students write quick initial responses to the questions.
2. Discuss the questions, either as a class or in small groups. Prompt students to consider what love is and how people act when they feel this intense emotion.
3. Encourage students to compare and contrast how two different people might react to love and how love manifests itself through a variety of relationships.
4. Following this discussion, give students time to revise their initial responses and ask volunteers to share what they wrote with the class.
Introduce the Driving Questions
Begin by having students write their own questions about the lesson topic. Encourage them to think about what they already know about love and what they’re interested in exploring further.
Hand out the Driving Questions Worksheet. Review the questions as a class. Students should enter initial answers to the questions before and as they read Romeo and Juliet. They will revisit the questions and revise their answers following the lesson activities, classroom discussion, and the completion of the text. Remind students to support their responses with text evidence.
Integrate the Driving Questions into your classroom discussions. Use them to help guide students’ thinking about the Big Idea Questions.
1. How does Romeo’s attitude toward love change over the course of the play?
2. How are Mercutio’s and Tybalt’s actions related to their love for friends and family?
3. Are Romeo and Juliet truly in love?
4. How is the relationship between love and hate portrayed throughout the play?
5. What role does fate play in Romeo and Juliet’s relationship?
6. What role does love play in the decision making of the adult characters (e.g., Friar Lawrence, the Nurse, Capulet)?
7. How does Shakespeare use motifs, such as light and darkness, as well as paradoxical ideas, to relate the complexity of love?
Introduce the "Through the Lens" Activity
Activity: Anticipation Guide
In this activity, students will complete the Anticipation Guide. To prevent confusion, be sure to review the examples on the worksheet with students before they begin. This activity is designed to focus students’ thinking on the universal ideas and themes that are presented in Romeo and Juliet and relate them to events and examples in their everyday lives.
After completing this activity and before moving on, explain that each statement relates to Shakespeare’s treatment of love and its powerful effect on human behavior. Students will study this treatment through Shakespeare’s use of characterization, plot, and language as they read Romeo and Juliet.
Students may work with a partner or in groups of three to create responses for each anticipatory statement.
Asking students to think about the assignment in diverse ways will increase the complexity of the task. Have students generate two responses to each statement: one that demonstrates the statement to be true and one that opposes it.
Introduce the Final Project
Before moving on, introduce the final projects to the class (see below for details). Have students choose the project they will complete and encourage them to keep their project in mind as they read the text. Facilitate the formation of project groups if necessary.
Understanding a Motif: Light and Darkness Scavenger Hunt
To help students better understand the concept of motifs and how Shakespeare uses certain motifs to reveal meaning, pass out the Light and Darkness Scavenger Hunt Worksheet prior to reading the play. Review how to use the worksheet with students, and then have students fill out the worksheet as they read the play.
Assign the Midpoint Activities
Activity 1: Much to Do with Hate, but More with Love Character Sketch
- Complete this activity after reading Act 3 of the play. Place students in small groups of two or three and assign each group a major character (Romeo, Juliet, Benvolio, Friar Lawrence, the Nurse, Capulet, Mercutio).
- Groups will work together to create a visual representation of their assigned character’s traits and then explain how these traits express the character’s love or hate.
- Students should attempt to find a distinctive way to represent their assigned character’s traits, values, and feelings. For example, students may draw or create a sword to represent Tybalt’s temper and fighting spirit. Tybalt’s other traits might be attached along with the other needed symbolic elements to the sword.
- When students have completed the project, have them present their visual representations and explain how the character expresses his or her love or hate through the traits being presented.
Projects must contain:
- references to and clear representations of at least five personality traits. A trait can be defined as a characteristic or aspect of the character’s personality that is apparent and identifiable. Students may call upon any relevant descriptions when citing these traits.
- visual symbols associated with each trait. Students will generate a unique image or series of connected images to represent each trait.
- textual evidence associated with each trait that support students’ ideas. All evidence must include the act, scene, and line numbers.
Ultimately, each trait should be connected in some manner to the character’s expression of love or hate, and each connection must be explained during the presentation. For example, Tybalt is fiercely loyal to his family; this trait of loyalty is demonstrated through his love for his family’s honor and his willingness to kill and die for that honor.
Provide students with a list of prescribed traits for each character. Then have them find references to these traits in the text and complete the rest of the project as described.
Have students work independently to create visual representations. Require students to write several paragraphs explaining their choices to accompany their visual representation.
Activity 2: Identifying Themes: Love, Love, Love
Nearly every event and character’s actions in Romeo and Juliet can be connected to some aspect of love. For this activity, students will be asked to use the Love, Love, Love Worksheet to:
- identify and describe a character’s actions in two chosen or assigned scenes.
- explain what motivates the character to act the way he or she does.
- relate the character’s actions to a universal message about how people respond to love.
Share the sample student response provided with the worksheet with students to aid comprehension of the task. Tell students to think about important scenes that build the theme of the love in the play. Then, have them refer to these scenes to select a character and analyze that character’s actions using the provided worksheet.
Have students work with a partner or in small groups to complete this activity. Assign scenes or characters to alleviate the need for students to locate important scenes themselves.
Instruct students to find multiple characters/actions that convey the same theme.
Paired Text Recommendations
Encourage students to read passages from contemporary novels that similarly feature the theme of love. In pairing multiple texts with similar themes, students are challenged to look beyond the book they’re studying and find new ways to connect to the themes. Here are some books you can pair with Romeo and Juliet:
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
- If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson
- Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Students will work on their final projects after they have finished reading the complete text of Romeo and Juliet. The first project can be completed by students working individually or in pairs, whereas the second project should be completed individually.
Final Project 1: Tracing Love
Focusing on either Romeo or Juliet, students will trace the development of the couple’s relationship through important events from each act. Using the Tracing Love Worksheet, students will describe each event and connect the character’s choices to the impact these choices have on the character him- or herself as well as on a secondary character from the story. Students will use their completed worksheets to write a well-developed essay explaining how these events build on one another and relate to the theme of love in Romeo and Juliet.
Have students present their findings orally instead of writing an essay, or have them write a well-developed response using only two or three of the events rather than events from all five acts.
Have students find two or three examples from each act, all of which will need to be included in the final essay.
Final Project 2: Comparative Analysis
Students will read Ovid’s myth “Pyramus and Thisbe” and then fill out the chart titled Romeo and Juliet and “Pyramus and Thisbe." Students will use their completed chart to help them respond to the following prompt, which asks them to compare and contrast scenes from “Pyramus and Thisbe” with scenes from Romeo and Juliet.
Prompt: The tomb scene in Romeo and Juliet, including the deaths of the two lovers, is similar to the final scene in the Greek myth “Pyramus and Thisbe.” Ovid’s myth was widely read by writers in the Renaissance, and Shakespeare would have likely encountered this story before writing Romeo and Juliet. Read “Pyramus and Thisbe” and then write an introduction, three well-developed paragraphs, and a conclusion comparing and contrasting Romeo and Juliet with the myth in three ways. Consider the following literary elements: characters, plot, imagery, or other devices (e.g., irony, symbols, motifs).
Reduce the required length of the written explanation, or allow students to verbally share their responses.
Have students read a third work, such as West Side Story, and add a third column to the chart, analysis of which should be incorporated into their essay.
Assess the Assignments
Use the Rubric for Student Assessment to evaluate student work on the lesson assignments.
Distribute the Student Reflection Worksheet. Guide students through the self-assessment and reflection questions.