Making Curriculum Pop

Hey Everybody,

My name is Nick helmer and I'm currently enrolled in pre-teaching courses at Aurora University. I plan to teach English in High School and was looking for some help. One of my teachers recently assigned a project for us to complete a unit on a subject that is relevant in our discipline. I chose to focus mine on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and am looking for some ideas on modernizing the classroom outside of the traditional setting of reading aloud in class. I appreciate any input or ideas on how I could make this unit POP! Thank you so much for your time and assistance.


Nick Helmer

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Replies to This Discussion

Hey Nick (and dmass),

I must say this is one of the hardest and easiest plays to teach because there are so many great resources around this text. Let me start with some basics and see if we can get the larger MC POP community in the mix.

As I told you in class, I'm always a big fan of the modern day adaptation assignment - the key to this is defining a wide range of roles as well as showing students a lot of models from film or theatre on video. I did a MSND adaptation assignment and a really fun Richard III adaptation. I think my assignment sheets have great intentions, and the performances were always a HUGE success but I think the actual docs need a lot of remixing - esp. the rubrics. They are attached below.

With R&J I think people will find so many popular adaptations and allusions it is hard to list them all. For super canonical texts like these Wikipedia is the best place to start looking for retellings and allusions - from their R&J page:

Warming kids up to the plot line you can show the Reduced Shakespeare Company's Romeo and Juliet:

Both parts are on YouTube but you can also by the Reduced Shakespeare Company DVDat Amazon.

I always like to look to graphic novels, children's books or popular music to introduce the plot line.

My fav tool for every big shakespeare play are the four page children's book adaptations collected in Marcia Williams's

Tales from Shakespeare and

More Tales of Shakespeare

Also there are some cool manga adaptations for you to check out:

Manga Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, Richard Appignanesi, and Sonia Leong

and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, Adam Sexton, and Yali Lin

And my favorite bizarre zine like modern adaptation that I found at the Virgen Megastore in Manhattan (RIP) before it closed:

This is by the artist Esther Pearl Watson and can be purchased over at BlueQ.

For pop songs - here goes:

Elvis Costello has an entire album The Juliet Letters
"Hey, Juliet" - LMNT
"Romeo and Juliet" -Toybox
"Check Yes, Juliet" -We the Kings
"Love Story" -Taylor Swift
"Now I Lay Thee Down" - Machine Head
"Romeo And Juliet" - The Killers/Dire Straights
"Not Juliet" by Bryan Adams
"Join Me In Death" - HIM (I love the Strongroom Mix)
"Don't Fear the Reaper" - Blue Oyster Cult
"No One Knows" - Queens of The Stone Age
"Juliet" - Emilie Autumn
"Romeo and Juliet" - Biz Markie
"Romeo and Juliet" - Blue System
"Romeo and Juliet" - Edwin Mccain
"Romeo and Juliet" - Fury In The Slaughterhouse
"Romeo and Juliet" - Happy Campers
"Romeo and Juliet" - Indigo Girls

I've never taught this play (I've always avoided it in favor of less popular plays) so I can't vouch for how awesome individual songs are but there are a lot of solid songwriters listed there.

The Folger Shakespeare Library in DC is also a strong place to start with teaching Shakespeare - their book Shakespeare Set Free is an essential purchase

Also there is a cool chapter in the book Lesson Plans for Creating Media-Rich Classrooms edited by MC POPPERS Mary Christel and Scott Sullivan titled "Turning Text into Movie Trailers: The Romeo and Juliet iMovie Experience by Scott Williams that might also be helpful.

With this play the list can absolutely go in pretty much forever - I'd love to see what cartoons people use/have found on the web.

One of my favorites - although it is hard to find a good JPEG of it is the New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast's cartoon "The I.M.s of Romeo and Juliet"

You can download a high res version at the New Yorker's here.

Most folks have seen the "Romeo and Juliet - Text Message Version" but I can't find the original source of this famous forward.

Romeo and Juliet
Text Message Version

--------------------- Act 1 -----------------------

Romeo : R u awake? Want 2 chat?
Juliet: O Rom. Where4 art thou?
Romeo: Outside yr window.
Juliet: Stalker!
Romeo: Had 2 come. feeling jiggy.
Juliet: B careful. My family h8 u.
Romeo: Tell me about it. What about u?
Juliet: 'm up for marriage f u are.. Is tht a bit fwd?
Romeo: No. Yes. No. Oh, dsnt mat-r, 2moro @ 9?
Juliet: Luv U xxxx
Romeo: CU then xxxx

--------------------- Act 2 -----------------------

Friar: Do u?
Juliet: I do
Romeo: I do

--------------------- Act 3 -----------------------

Juliet: Come bck 2 bed. It's the nightingale not the lark.
Romeo: OK
Juliet: !!! I ws wrong !!!. It's the lark. U gotta go. Or die.
Romeo: Damn. I shouldn't hv wasted Tybalt & gt banished.
Juliet: When CU again?
Romeo: Soon. Promise. Dry sorrow drinks our blood. Adieu.
Juliet: Miss u big time.

--------------------- Act 4 -----------------------

Nurse: Yr mum says u have 2 marry Paris!!
Juliet: No way. Yuk yuk yuk. n-e-way, am mard 2 Rom.

--------------------- Act 5 -----------------------

Friar: Really? O no. U wl have 2 take potion that makes u look ded.
Juliet: Gr8.

--------------------- Act 6 -----------------------

Romeo: J-why r u not returning my texts?
Romeo: RUOK? Am abroad but phone still works.
Romeo: TEXT ME!
Batty: Bad news. J dead. Sorry m8.

--------------------- Act 7 -----------------------

Romeo: J-wish u wr able 2 read now poisoning & and climbing
in yr
grave. LUV U Ju xxxx

--------------------- Act 8 -----------------------

Juliet: R-got yr text! Am alive! Ws faking it! Whr RU? Oh...
Friar: Vry bad situation.
Juliet: Nightmare. LUVU2. Always. Dagger.


Again, this is the tip of a very very very large iceburg, I'd love to hear what other resources folks use to make this play POP!!

Oh, and please don't forget that the 1983 romantic comedy Valley Girl starring Nicolas Cage is loosley based on the play. Really.


RichIIIScene+Assign.doc - Richard III
Eng 10 - Midsummer Scene Rubric - MSND Project Rubric
Oh, and of course a lot of people teach the most famous adaptation West Side Story - now if you want to use something shorter the short film "West Bank Story" is about 22 minutes and it won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short in 2006. Here is the trailer for the film:

You can view the whole short if you sign into Veho - it is here.

It is also available for purchase on iTunes and on DVD at Amazon.

You can use this to:
a. show how to update a story into a unique genre and setting
b. create interesting interdisciplinary connections between current events/ history.

It would be a nice compare and contrast to R+J assignment. thank you so much. All of these are great ideas and parallels that I would have never seen or thought of. I really appreciate this and will look into as many of these ideas as I can to create lessons and a unit.

Thanks again,

Hi, Nick,
Some ideas:
Integrate songs from the girl groups of the 60's (Goin' to the Chapel, My Boyfriend's Back, e.g.) to spur discussions about the universality of the situations in the play. I then had the students search for contemporary music that has the same plot and/or theme as the play, and offer their explanations of the paralells.
View together the same scene from the Zeffirelli and Luhrmann films; discuss the difference in interpretations by both the directors and actors. Have the students consider how the settings impact them as far as making the play accessible, and why setting makes a difference.
I offered students a number of project possibilities. One was to rewrite the play as an illustrated kids' book, making appropriate adjustments for the younger audience. They had to then explain the changes they made in word choice and tone and provide a rationale. They then read the book to their classmates. Another was to film a scene, with an analysis of the directing/acting decisions they made.
We also did Actors Studio: pairs of students chose 20-30 lines of the play that involved 2 characters. They had to analyze the lines deeply to make sure they understood them--literally, place in the play, intent, mood--and then present them to their classmates. Much more lively and exciting than read-alouds, and it made the kids much more engaged with "their" characters for the remainder of the play.
Judy - thanks so much for the additional ideas - you are a rock star!! Ry:)
I've never actually taught R&J as a literature unit (I am a Spanish teacher), but when our ninth grade teachers teach it, I use it as a way for students to practice Spanish. After the students have spent a few weeks with the play and are familiar with it (from their Lang Arts class) I teach the names of the characters in Spanish and we talk about family relationships. I have a collection of some of the more famous quotes from the play written in Spanish with clip art that I post and have students try to figure out what they are in English. This is actually the best way to teach the line "Romeo, Romeo whyfore art thou Romeo?" (In Spanish it's simply "Por que eres Romeo?") Then I have the students create their own representation of Romeo y Julieta as told from the perspective of a secondary character so the title of the re-creation becomes "A day in the life of ____" (i.e. the Nurse, the poison, Juliet's balcony, Tybalt, Tybalt's sword, etc). Students get very creative, incorporate lines from the play (in Spanish, of course) and have fun making the audience laugh. I usually allow 3-4 days for script-writing, prop/costume making in class and we present on day 5. I also try to find a space that has a stage area to make it more real for them.
Nick - there are lots of good R&J lesson plans on ReadWriteThink ( Here is a fairly popular lesson, "Star-Crossed Lovers Online: Romeo and Juliet for a Digital Age" ( Let me know if you have any questions!
Thank you all!! I love all the ideas and definitely will look into the resources and tools you shared with me. All these resources look great and I'll let you know if I have any questions about them.

Thanks again,

Nick Helmer



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