These are some lesson plan ideas for a sixth grade Humanities class. Before reading Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” the class will have spent some time studying Ancient Roman civilization and values. Students will have learned about different types of government (oligarchy, democracy, monarchy, dictatorship), as well. They will have come to a concrete understanding of Roman governmental structure.
Before reading “Julius Caesar,” students will watch excerpts from TLC’s “Rome Power and Glory: Grasp of Empire” and the 2002 miniseries, “Julius Caesar.” Sixth grade is a bit young to begin reading Shakespeare, and while I have no doubt that students are able to, I think it is helpful to put the play in historical context and provide students with ample background information. The 2002 miniseries especially serves to provide students with an idea of who Julius Caesar was, as a true historical figure.
YOUTUBE Links for films/documentaries:
A link to TLC’s “Rome: Power and Glory.” Great source for background information about the Roman Empire!
A link to the first portion of the 2002 miniseries “Julius Caesar.” This film is great to use for historical background — gives students a better idea of who the historical figure Julius Caesar was, before immediately jumping into the Shakespeare play.
A link to to the first portion of the 1950 film “Julius Caesar,” starring Charlton Heston:
Marlon Brando as Marc Antony, reciting the funeral oration (from the 1953 film version):
BBC’s animated version of “Julius Caesar.” Great for younger students.
Other YOUTUBE links for the classroom:
A link to “Hysteria”‘s re-telling of Julius Caesar — students love it!
A clip from “The Cosby Show” in which Theo & Cockroach create their own (and very unique re-telling) of Marc Antony’s funeral oration
A “Cowboy” re-telling of Antony’s funeral oration:
William Shatner rapping Antony’s funeral oration (good for laughs):
Examples of Student Projects (posted on YOUTUBE):
Students take on the role of newscasters, covering the Soothsayer’s warnings to Caesar, Calpurnia’s dream, and Caesar’s assassination. They do this mixing footage they shot with scenes from the 1950 film, creating a “re-mix,” which Christy Desmet discusses in her article “Teaching Shakespeare with Youtube.”
Students are tasked with animating Act IV (and they are allowed to alter the dialogue, if they want). Scene IV is often seen as weak and boring, especially by students. This project is fun, creative, and serves to keep students interested in the play even after the assassination of Caesar:
Here is another example of a project using animation, although it does not deal with Act IV, rather it is a student’s animated short summary of the play. The student uses his own voice in the re-telling, and illustrates his in-depth understanding of the text’s main ideas, while at the same time incorporating artistry and humor.
This too, is a cool assessment to make sure students understand the key points of the play. Ask them to make a one-minute re-telling, in video format, using simple images/illustrations and text — “Julius Caesar in One Minute.”
As Joshua Cabat writes, in his article ” ‘The Lash of Film’ : New Paradigms of Visuality in Teaching Shakespeare,” “…regardless of how we feel about visuality, our days of showing clips from films as a supplement to the text to an essentially passive audience are numbered.” With the accessibility and reasonable pricing of technological and media tools today, many students are adept at creating their own media. The idea of sitting students down to passively watch a movie for 3-4 class periods seems stale; unless of course, we somehow manage to integrate media projects in with our viewing of the film. Tasking students with creating their own “Julius Caesar Rap,” after reading the play, and perhaps watching one of the movies, is an exciting and enjoyable assessment tool, which is closely intertwined with the out-of-school interests and abilities of many of our students.
Christopher Shamburg, in his article, ” Shakespeare, Our Digital Native,” makes the case that Shakespeare has much more in common with today’s students than we may think. Both Shakespeare, and our students today “are located on different sides of the timeline of the printing press.” According to Shamburg, both Shakespeare and our students today illustrate “approaches to creativity before and after a print-dominated culture.” With both Shakespeare and our students, “there is a more collaborative view of creative productions, and a more fluid use of the material of others.” Shamburg makes the case that our students have more in common with Shakespeare than it may seem. This becomes apparent when giving today’s students the task of creating their own re-tellings of parts of “Julius Caesar.” Students are more than capable of understanding Shakespeare’s words, and making his ideas their own, as illustrated here:
Other “Julius Caesar” resources for teachers:
The Cambridge School Shakespeare version of “Julius Caesar” is a really incredible resource for teachers. The book provides countless awesome activities for students. Many of the activities focus on having students re-write/act-out parts of the text, which affords students a sense of agency in dealing with Shakespeare, serving to make him (and the text) much less intimidating. Also, these activities provide great opportunities to involve media in the lesson. Students can film their groups/class acting out scenes that they re-wrote, and upload them onto YouTube. They can even incorporate other media into their scenes, creating a media “re-mix.” This not only hones students’ media skills and literacy, but deepens their understanding of the text.
This is a great resource for English teachers from NCTE — Teaching Julius Caesar: A Differentiated Approach. Lyn Hawks, the author, states that “Shakespeare’s plays should not be ‘covered.’ Students should interpret, adapt, and own these works.” What better way to do so than by creating their own media in response to/in discussion with, Shakespeare’s text?
Of course there’s also the Folger Edition of “Julius Caesar,” which provides tons of great, creative and inventive lesson plans.
Cabat, J. (2009). “The lash of film”: New paradigms of visuality in teaching shakespeare. English Journal, 99(1), 56.
Desmet, C. (2009). Teaching shakespeare with YouTube. English Journal, 99(1), 65.
Shamburg, C. (2009). Shakespeare, our digital native. English Journal, 99(1), 74.