Sunday, July 6, 2008

Julius Caesar

When I was in 10th grade Honors Language Arts, I had a great teacher who made so much of what we did interesting, fun, and important. One unit, however, stood out as possibly the most boring and tortuous unit of my high school career: Julius Caesar.

The first issue with this unit was that it was taught by a student teacher. She was the type of student teacher who continues to be the type of teacher that is young and pretty and everyone’s friend. I’m not sure she’s the type of teacher you learn a lot from. However, I cut her some slack because she was a student teacher and while there are some good student teachers our there, no student teacher is a good teacher in my experience (including myself).

The second issue with this unit was the text itself. I like some Shakespeare, but Caesar was incredibly boring to me. This was not an issue of comprehension—I was in an honors class, I scored at a college reading level, and I had some fairly strong Shakespeare background. I’m not big on Roman history, but I’d always been interested in history and liked older texts—so there wasn’t an issue there either. The whole unit was just boring. I dreaded going to class every day. Because, what did we do? We read aloud… the end.

When I found out I had to teach Caesar this year I was upset. How could I do this to my students? I didn’t want to bore them to death, I wanted them to come to a literature class with a sense it would help them—not with the dread I felt those Caesar weeks.

My youngest sister just completed her sophomore year of high school. She was also in an honors class and she also had to read Caesar. When I said it was the most awful, boring weeks of my life and I was so disappointed I had to teach it to my students, she looked at me funny and said, “I liked it.”

My sister, though in honors, does not like to read. She hates books. She is a product of the computer age through and through—where I used to bury myself in books when I was her age. To hear she enjoyed something that involved reading was kind of a shock.

So, I had to ask—why did she like it? What did they do in class that made it interesting? Thankfully, we were on a four ride car trip together and she couldn’t run away.

She said they read it out loud, but they acted out important scenes. She said the student in the class that no one liked was Caesar, so the stabbing scene was so much fun. She said they dressed up in togas (sheets over their clothes) and had swords (plastic, she assured me).

Her advice to me was togas, acting, and pick a kid no one likes to be Caesar.

That sounds great, and I think I will try to approach it that way, but I have my doubts if it is enough. The last thing I want to do is waste my student’s time. So, I’m asking for your help: How do you make Julius Caesar interesting?


Dana Huff said...

Your sister is dead-on. Have you checked out the Folger Shakespeare Library's repository of lesson plans? Just go to their Web site at and click on the link for teachers, then lesson plan archive. Mike LoMonico wrote a great lesson for the scene when the mob tears Cinna the Poet apart that I got to act out in my Folger class. I can dig up the link for you if you are interested. I wish Folger would publish an edition of Shakespeare Set Free with JC in it, though.

The Non Catholic said...

Thank you for the website, I will definitely dig around there and see what I can come up with. I'm also teaching Macbeth this year so this will be an exceptionally helpful resource for me. Thanks!