Making Curriculum Pop

Hi everyone,

I am a student teacher who will be teaching "Julius Caesar" to a 10th grade Honors class in 3 weeks. Have any of you had any success with making this dry history play a bit more exciting for students? If so, please share, your ideas and suggestions are MOST appreciated!


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Allison - woza, I have lots of ideas on this one - however today is the big moving day for us so hopefully other folks will get in the mix on this!

Off the top of my head, the HBO series ROME, while not at all classroom friendly (lots of nudity) is clip friendly. If I recall, the end of season one ends with the death of Caesar and it is VERY different than the play. Thus a nice compare and contrast assignment.

Plus, this book just came out, Caesar: A Life in Western Culture, that will be loaded with pop references to teach from.

In a strange reference, Iggy Pop rocked an album in the 90s called "American Caesar" with some teachable tracks like "Caesar". Be warned the track mentioned is a bit creepy but I think still PG-13. This also opens up discussion around the question of modern day Caesars.

Some references to the Ides of March in PC (from this link in Wikipedia) in print, film, television and theatre
• A paperback reprint of material from MAD Magazine, from the late 1950s, is titled The Ides of MAD.
• A 1970 Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch titled "Julius Caesar On an Aldis Lamp" had the seer sending the message "Beware the Ides of March" to Caesar using Morse code.
• An episode in the fourth season of Xena: Warrior Princess is titled "Ides of March", wherein Caesar is murdered.
• A social commentary play, written by Duncan Ley, was titled "The Ides of March" and premiered at The White Bear Theatre in London, UK, on 28 November 2008.
• Thornton Wilder's 1948 The Ides of March is an epistolary novel set in Rome at the time of Julius Caesar.
• The band Iron Maiden has an instrumental song called "The Ides Of March" featured on their second album Killers
• In the Simpsons episode Homer the Great, Lisa warns Homer to "beware the Ides of March."

Also, as an FYI, you should know that the illustrator of this graphic novel version of Caesar, Hyeondo Park, is on the MC POP Ning. We should ask him to post about how he came up with his interpretations of the characters for the GN.

Can't wait to see what other allusions and teaching strategies folks share on this one!

Hope this helps! Ryan
Not sure when Julius Caesar was written, if Elizabeth was of reign yet, but something interesting I did. I focused on the women, or lack thereof, and why they're so awesome. Anyway, Queen Elizabeth parallels Portia's speech in her own speech before the battle with the Spanish Armada when she talks of having "the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart of a king, and of a king of England, too." ( It's an interesting note to show how strong both women were. I found the students liked talking about women, but they're first instinct is to say they're idiots. Then you have to draw things out about why Portia committed suicide. And then there's Calpurnia's omens! So great. Anyway, I don't find this play particularly enjoyable, nor do the students (except for the women in it...I'm always a fan of Shakespeare's women). I had trouble teaching it to their interest at times. For some reason my students had no idea that Caesar was a real person. You might want to make sure they know that.

As for really popping it, I had troubles and can't really think of anything. I had no choice in student teaching but to teach that one. And it was in student teaching. I'll try to come up with some that explodes for you. Just thought I'd give some interesting topics to touch on. Everyone overlooks the importance of women in the play. So much death could have been avoided if the men would listen to the women. Hmmmm. I guess you can try to use clips of other strong women too, like maybe the vision-induced Battlestar Galactica women or women that rule behind the scenes, like maybe playing a clip from the recent John Adams miniseries. Abigail Adams perhaps founded our country more than any man. Eleanor Roosevelt also pretty much ran our country. Good things happen when men listen to women!
Sean - thanks for jumping in - you're right, we need to listen to women more :)
Hi Sean, just checking - are you referring to Portia's words in Act 2.4, or Act 2.1? Also, what did you have the students do with the speech and Portia's lines?
Both 2.1~line 290+: "I grant I am a woman; but withal A woman well-reputed; Cato's daughter. Think you I am no stronger than my sex, Being so father'd and so husbanded?

2.4~line 8+: "Set a huge mountain 'tween my heart and tongue! I have a man's mind, but a woman's might. How hard it is for women to keep counsel!"

We had a discussion over it, after putting it on one of their "worksheets." It was also an option for their essay assessment on Caesar to write about the women. The lines in themselves, I read both Queen E's speech and a student read Portia's. I did mention the importance of ancestry. Queen E's being Tudor and Portia being Cato the Younger's daughter as well as a cousin to Brutus. We analyzed both within themselves and in parallelism to each other, with Queen E's husband being her country and Portia's being Brutus'. Then we made character comparison charts. I made a table up on the board that listed characteristics and then the crossing column put Queen Elizabeth and another for Portia. Then we X'ed the characteristics they had. It's difficult for some students to see that Portia really was a strong woman, though she killed herself. But once Brutus was dead, she was without voice, correct? that's how most women could have a say was through their husband, so I read it as a power struggle as well as a devotion to her husband, so much that she couldn't live without him. What's the one culture where a widowed woman will sometimes throw herself on the funeral lyre of her husband? You could also compare it to that. Maybe you could make some sort of mystery game where the class is sleuths trying to figure out why Portia killed herself, based on evidence! That might make it fun for some students.
A student-created version would be cool, too! We have Comic Life available to us at the school I am at. It would be awesome for students to come up with their own representation of a scene!
hehe thanks Ryan ^^ for pointing me here, I'll try my best to help.

Hi Allison,

In school I watched the movie with Marlon Brando after reading the book. It helped me understand the book better. I also watched it to help me get reacquainted with the book when I was drawing the book. I also watched ROME and.. hehe yeah it's definitely not classroom friendly. It's a very good show though. It was great for setting and clothing.

I think the most notable interpretation of character in the book to another famous character is Cassius. I modeled his appearance and mannerism to Mr. Burns in the Simpsons. It seemed fitting because both characters are villains who plan and manipulate others rather than act. If we go with the Simpsons analogy Bart could be like Antony, Lisa could be Octavius, Mr. Smithers as Brutus? maybe.. not sure about Mr. Smithers to Brutus but.. there are some tragic hero elements to Mr. Smithers.

Elements in Julius Caesar is repeated in many various books and TV shows. It might be helpful? fun? to examine the characters from Julius Caesar and compare them to another books, shows, or movies that the students have watched.

Hope that helped ^_^;
Hyeondo - this is great - thanks so much for sharing. I love the fact that you thought about the Simpsons when drawing - kids would love to know that detail. Would you be able to upload an image of your Caesar and Cassius below so some folks can see what you were talking about?

Just use the camera icon above to load it into the comment.

Your illustration is really wonderful! Hopefully we'll get to see you drawing some more Shakespeare titles!!
Here's a Wordle I made for Antony's speech to help kids visualize the significance of Antony's word choice.
Allison, this is totally dope - you can always upload it as an image by using the little camera icon

Now your Wordle in HD :)

Allison, you should use that as a model and have kids make Wordles for other characters in the play! Please keep sharing Wordles!
You students may think it's dry, but I HOPE TO GOODNESS you don't think it is. If you think it's dry, the kids may see right through that.
Just keep telling yourself over and over, "Julius Caesar is the god of Shakespearean tragedies!"



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