Remember my post all about how much I love Shakespeare? Yeah...well, I wouldn't say that I love Julius Caesar.
While at first I was excited to teach this play to my sophomores, last weekend when I finally finished reading it, I realized how boring it is...and confusing. I struggled to keep Flavius, Murellus, Decius, and Lepidus and [insert another weird Roman name here] all straight; how was I going to expect my sophomores to? More importantly, how was I going to get them interested in Shakespeare and avoid hearing the unanimous classroom "groan" at the mere mention of his name?
I turned to the powers of Google and, voila, I found this blog that had everything I needed:
I think it may have been originally made as a history lesson, but with my English spin on it, this "Cold Case Files: Caesar Edition" was the perfect introduction to the Shakespeare play (and conveniently timed around Halloween!) The blog has all the exhibits, a sound clip and a video clip, as well as the "Agent Report" evidence gathering worksheet and official "Indictment Sheet." Here's how it worked for me...
First, I got permission from my principal to do this activity since it is highlighting murder and it did involve a (fake) dagger. My school is based in a more conservative community so I didn't want to just assume it was all good. He thought the idea sounded great and told me to go right ahead!
Then I got ready. I visited the nearby Halloween Express store as well as the Halloween section at Target for some extra bloody adornments. I spent my prep outlining the body of a teacher who volunteered to play dead for me, and setting up the 8 exhibits with the pieces of evidence, including my iPad with exhibit H, the historian's input video. Then I excitedly awaited my students!
I stood outside my closed classroom door and handed my students their "mission" as they walked in. It included the cold case background info and some vocabulary words that would be necessary for understanding the activity (tyrant, indictment, republic, dictator). The door was closed, and a bloody handprint was left on the window:
They opened the door to find a dark classroom, with police tape masking off a gruesome crime scene:
The outline of poor Caesar's dead body lay on the ground. (I got the whole "Police Kit" for $10...and the dagger was apparently damaged so I got that for $3... $13 is a pretty good investment since I will definitely be doing this again!)
One of the bloody daggers from the murderers was left behind, as well as a bloody handprint and blood spatter (Gel window decals from Target).
When the bell rang, I explained to them their mission as Crime Scene Investigators: to discover the motivation behind Caesar's death. Were the senators jealous and cruel? Or were they merely protecting Rome from potential tyranny? Or did Caesar purposely allow himself to be murdered, as a sort of suicide-by-cop situation?
We went through a brief PowerPoint with background information, then they watched this exciting intro clip (also found on the aforementioned website):
Then the kids assembled in to small investigative teams and rotated throughout the exhibits to gather enough evidence to make their decision:
One exhibit had them listening to a speech from Cassius, another had them watching a 2 minute video from a historian on the iPad:
After they rotated through the 8 stations, I had them examine their evidence. Then, they got in to groups based on what they believed was the true reason for Caesar's murder and wrote their indictments. As this blogger who used this lesson with her middle schoolers wrote, "It's a Common Core activity in disguise." She was so right! They are finding evidence from text in order to support a claim! That's what I've been trying to get them to do in their writing all year! Brilliant.
My addition to the lesson plan (because my class periods are 70 minutes) was having the kids debate each other afterward. They chose persuasive representatives to argue their findings and present the evidence. As with all lessons, this was awesome in one of my sections and fell flat in the other. My second section is a bit more competitive and has a few more confident/dramatic students, so having them argue against one another was a lot of fun to watch.
So here's the deal, at one point in the lesson I looked around and it appeared to me that all 29 of my 10th graders were completely engaged. No phones out. No iPads. No side conversations. That, in itself, however fleeting the moment may have been, was reward enough! And something tells me they are going to remember this lesson.
Now to find a way to do this with Romeo and Juliet for my freshmen! My mind is reeling already!