Tom Fitzgerald, Iver C. Ranum High School, Westminster, Colorado.
Romeo and Juliet 1.1.180-188
What's On for Today and Why
This lesson will help students understand Romeo's confusion at the beginning of the play; students will also, through full body engagement, come to understand the text in a kinesthetic manner.
By giving a physical representation of the words in Romeo's oxymoronic speech, students will experience the words' emotional power. Students will transform denotative meanings for each word into body movements. When the words are finally read together as a speech, the body movements will be violently oppositonal. Students will thus experience physically the trauma that Romeo is undergoing mentally.
This lesson will take one to two class periods, depending on the amount of warmup time your class needs to get them ready for physical expression.
What You Need
Folger edition of Romeo and Juliet
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
A copy of Romeo and Juliet 1.1.180-188, written large enough that the entire class can read it from a distance; handout of oppositional words
What To Do
WARM-UP ACTIVITIES (but don't call it warm-up to your students)
1. Say something like, "We've been sitting down all day; let's get up and out of our seats." Move the desks out of the way and tell the students to create some space for themselves.
2. Have students stretch; while they do so, they should concentrate on breathing from the diaphragm. Move slowly. Breathe deeply on each movement. Next, lead students through a long inhalation as they slowly raise their arms over their heads. Exhale as you bring your arms back to a resting position. Emphasize that the students must keep their mouths open and their tongues relaxed throughout this process. Quickly get the students in a circle, make a random gesture (involving more than just one body part), and pass the gesture on until it has gone around the circle. Repeat. Add a non-word sound to go along with the gesture.
3. Get students into a circle, facing inward so they can see each other. Go over some ground rules for this activity:
"Cut" or "freeze" means stop all activity immediately.
This is about process, not product.
The only failure is less than 100% participation.
Relax and don't force the action.
There is no wrong here, as long as you can justify your choice.
Do not correct, direct, or criticize each other.
Respect each other's choices.
Laugh with, not at people.
Shyness is acceptable, but if you do all the exercises you'll discover something new.
Most importantly, this activity stays in the privacy of this class, and this process stays with us.
4. Tell the students that they are to make a physical movement for each of the words you say. The physical movement should correspond to the meaning of the word. You may wish to give an example; for instance, say the word "love" and mime holding a baby in your arms or grasping your heart with weak knees and a head-tilt. Then, have the students turn outward, so they cannot see each other. (This positioning will get rid of some self-consciousness.) Say four or five of the "Oppositional Words for Physicalizing" from Romeo's speech (see handout below) and have the students "physicalize" these words, repeating the word once as they find the right body position.
5. Next, blindfold a few volunteers and sit the rest of the class down. Choose new words and have the blindfolded students physicalize these words, giving them a count of ten to find the right gesture. Once you've read two or three words, have students exchange blindfolds and go through the rest of the words, giving every student the chance to be a blindfolded "physicalizer."
6. At the end of this process, discuss how students felt when they had to physicalize. How was it different from the time they did it in the outward facing circle? What differences among the various groups of physicalizers did they notice?
7. Have the whole class go through both physicalizing and, this time, vocalizing the words as you read through the entire list. Repeat if necessary until each person has a movement for each word. As you go through this exercise, continually remind students to use their whole bodies and the whole space available, from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, without touching anyone else.
8. As a class, choose movements for "neutral" words like articles, some of the verbs, and (especially) "O" and "but". Then reveal a poster-sized copy of the entire speech to the group. (It should be placed where the entire class can see and read it, but it should not be shown to the students before this point in the lesson.) Read through the speech slowly, having students physicalize each word while you read it. Experiment with both quick and slow readings. As you find a comfortable pace, point to the words on the poster as you say them, and get the students to recite the words with you as they continue to move. After a while, just point, allowing the class to give the words both voice and gesture. Have fun.
9. Save time for students to sit down and talk about how they felt during this exercise. Question the students about the experience and, as a group, discuss what it felt like. For example, the students will probably have been forced to move in many different directions at once. Make the connection back to the text—or, better yet, have the students make the connection back to the text—by asking how the students' movements connect to Romeo's mindset at this point at the play. This kind of questioning should come up as a natural part of your post-exercise discussion.
How Did It Go?
You should get some clear feedback in the debriefing session. Ask the students who seemed to be holding back how they felt; ask the same of those who were fully involved. If possible, also have students respond to the lesson in a journal assignment that gets them to think about their personal choices and reactions to the process.
The keys to knowing how well the lesson went:
Trust. Students must have developed a strong trust in the safety/security of your classroom.You can use this exercise as a prelude to student presentations of longer scenes. You might also want to try the same process with another speech. For example, Juliet gives a speech similarly rife with oxymoronic antitheses at 3.2.79-91. It will make an interesting comparison piece.
Teacher enthusiasm. Excited teachers will have students mirroring their behaviors.
Knowing when to rein in the class. This process is physical, but it should be under control.
Everyone has participated.
If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.