Amanda Parker, East Chapel Hill High School, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
This lesson can be used to introduce any play.
What's On for Today and Why
Often, young readers have difficulty understanding Shakespeare's meaning or context. Through a close study of three basic ideas students need to know before beginning to read any play—denotation, connotation, and cadence—students will be able to approach reading Shakespeare as if they were listening to real conversations.
This lesson will take one class period.
What You Need
Performance Handout (Student Version)
Performance Handout (Teacher Version)
What To Do
1. Give each student a copy of the student handout. Ask them to fill in the definition of denotation. Give them a minute, then share answers. Repeat the same activity with connotation. Students may have difficulty figuring out the definition of cadence, so I suggest that you do that one together.
2. Next, have students fill in the denotations of "cheap" and "inexpensive" on their handout. Discuss their answers. Next, give students a moment to write down the connotations of these two words in the spaces provided. When that is complete, ask students which of the words has a more negative connotation. They should answer, "cheap." Hopefully, at this point, they will understand the differences between the terms.
3. Next, have students look at the terms scrawny, skinny, thin, slim, and svelte. Students may not be familiar with "svelte," so send one person to look it up and report back. Then, have students rank the words 1-5, with 1 having the most positive connotation and 5 the least positive connotation. Discuss the answers: did the students agree on a ranking? Why or why not?
4. Next, move on to Activity #2 on the worksheet. Begin by picking seven volunteers to look at the first sentence; ask each to recite the sentence, placing the emphasis on a different word. Discuss how the meaning of the sentence changes when the emphasis shifts. As you work your way through the different exercises in Activity #2, show how they help to explain the importance of cadence, "general inflection or modulation of the voice." (http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=cadence )
5. Move on to "well." Pick students to say this in different ways: angrily, surprised, scared, condescendingly, sarcastically. Again, discuss how the meaning of the word is manipulated through cadence.
6. Move on to "I love that new hairstyle." Have one student say it like he means it, another like he doesn't mean it. Discuss the differences in cadence and in effect.
7. Move on to "You didn't give it to me." Ask students to recite this sentence in different ways: to assert that the object was given to someone else, to emphasize that the object was not given away at all, or to assert that the object had been given to them by someone else.
8. Next is a famous line from Romeo and Juliet. Ask someone to read this line out loud. Explain to students that this is one of the most misunderstood lines in all of Shakespeare. Tell them that "wherefore" actually means "why," not "where." Ask the student to read the line again. Has learning this information changed the delivery of the line? What are other ways the meaning of this line could change through cadence differences?
9. Deliver the last one yourself. The first time it should read, "What's that up in the road ahead?" The second should read, "What's that up in the road, a head?"
10. Now break students into groups of three or four and give each group a copy of the attached speech from Cymbeline. Ask them to answer the questions at the bottom of the sheet. Give them seven minutes to complete this task.
11. Reconvene and discuss the answers to the questions. Then, have the students give you directions on how to deliver the speech. See if you can speak it in the style they have selected.
How Did It Go?
Have students altered the ways that they read or perform specific passages from the play based on their new understanding of denotation, connotation, and/or cadence? If so, the lesson has been a success!
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.