Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cold Case Files: Caesar Edition


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I think it may have been originally made as a history lesson, but with my English spin on it, this "Cold Case Files: Caesar Edition" was the perfect introduction to the Shakespeare play (and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!








13 comments:

Lisa said...

What an amazing lesson for your students. They will indeed remember this and they will probably look forward to class! I wish I could have been a fly on the wall : )

Veronica Guzman said...

When did you teach this lesson? was it at the beginning before reading the play? I was curious because I want to use it too since it seems so interesting but i dont know how or when to even start! This is my first year teaching/reading Julius Caesar and I'm such a wreck! Any feedback helps!

Maddie B. said...

Hi Veronica! I did this lesson before we started reading the play. It was a great way to spark their curiosity in the play. At the end of the play my students had to write an essay about whether or not the senators were justified in killing Caesar, and it was clear that this activity really helped them make an opinion!

Maddie B. said...

Hi Veronica! I did this lesson before we started reading the play. It was a great way to spark their curiosity in the play. At the end of the play my students had to write an essay about whether or not the senators were justified in killing Caesar, and it was clear that this activity really helped them make an opinion!

Lauren Marchant said...

Hi! I love this idea! Do you have the powerpoint for the beginning of the lesson?
Many thanks :)

Lauren Marchant said...

Hi! I love this idea! Do you have the powerpoint for the beginning of the lesson?
Many thanks :)

Kelsey Rentfro-Cline said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kelsey Rentfro-Cline said...

I just wanted to say: I recreated this lesson yesterday (on the Ides of March, no less!) in my sophomore classroom and it went incredibly well! I'm so glad I found it because it made a great introduction to the play. Thanks for sharing your ideas and photos!

Angie Flores said...

Oh my! I love this. May I ask what was your PowerPoint about? Specifically just background information regarding the play?

Maddie B. said...

Hi Angie! Sorry for not responding sooner. The PowerPoint was just a modified version of the one available on the Cold Case: Rome website (link in my post). I added the bloody background, but everything else was straight from his site!

Ashton said...

Hi! I'm working on putting this together for my students. I know you said there were 8 stations, but I'm having a hard time understanding what the 8 stations are based on the other website-- could you outline them for me? Or tell me what goes in each station? Also-- what font did you use? It's PERFECT! Thank you so much! I can't wait to try it out!

Maddie B. said...

Ashton! You are a girl after my own heart, I'm obsessed with fonts. Do you mean the bloody one in the main picture? Try this link http://www.fontspace.com/norfok-incredible-font-design/pieces-nfi It is called "Pieces." Otherwise I use "Ringbearer" for just about everything. As far as the stations go, I believe they went like this:
Exhibit A: Ancient Newspaper Article
Exhibit B: Ancient Artifacts
Exhibit C: The 12 Caesars by Plutarch
Exhibit D: Autopsy Report
Exhibit E: Statements by the Bodyguard
Exhibit F: Recording of Senator Cassius (recording)
Exhibit G: Various Warnings
Exhibit H: Dr. Burztjan Interview (video clip)
Hope that was helpful. Good luck!

Kara Ytuarte said...

Hello Im trying to find the ppt on the other website, but Im having no such luck.

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