How do YOU introduce students to Romeo and Juliet? Are you looking for an engaging Romeo and Juliet activity to start, center, and end your unit?
If you are like me–tired of fighting the never-ending battle of AirPods in my students’ ears–then, I have advice for you. Stop fighting it, and embrace it. Incorporate activities where students have the chance to analyze music.
Using music will boost student engagement AND give you a much-needed break from pleading, “Put away your headphones!” It will also help demystify Shakespearean language and the stigma that all of his works are difficult, boring, or irrelevant to our students’ worlds.
Use the 3 contemporary song pairings below to incorporate music when teaching Romeo and Juliet. Each diverse song is used as a Romeo and Juliet activity to start, center, and end your unit.
These song selections will diversify your Romeo and Juliet unit, as will these inclusive text pairings. You can find other great ideas for teaching Romeo and Juliet here!
Pre-Reading Romeo and Juliet Activity
“Rewrite the Stars” by Zendaya and Zac Efron (4:05)
Use this popular song as an effective Romeo and Juliet activity for introducing the concept of forbidden love. Before I begin teaching Romeo and Juliet, my students play the Introduction to Shakespeare Escape Room to get the Shakespearean basics. Then, they are introduced–visually–to the Montague and Capulet households.
We discuss the idea of family feuds by examining companies that are “both alike in dignity.”
✨ Coca-Cola versus Pepsi
✨ Netflix versus Hulu
✨ Taco Bell versus Del Taco
✨ Nikes versus Adidas
✨ Sephora versus Ulta
I even have students come up with “feuding” companies of their own to analyze (they have TOO much fun with that part).
We discuss how each company has…
⭐ A shared purpose or objective yet they are considered competitors
⭐ A loyal fan base who will only ever purchase from their preferred company
To conclude, I ask students to analyze the effects of having two companies that are both alike in dignity. I ask them to consider the effects on…
⭐ the employees,
⭐ the consumers,
⭐ and the business itself.
Then, when I introduce them to the feuding Montagues and Capulets, it clicks! They understand…
⭐ What it means for both families to be alike in dignity
⭐ That this feud will negatively impact everyone involved
⭐ That each family has a loyal “fan base” even if the characters are not blood-related
All that is left is to introduce them to the concept of forbidden love!
Cue ✨Zendaya and Zac Efron.✨
The music video for “Rewrite the Stars” shows students the fear of forbidden love as Romeo and Juliet experience. Have students analyze the lyrics AND the body language, props, staging, etc. of Zendaya’s and Efron’s characters to understand the tension forbidden love creates.
Use it as an additional opportunity to teach the importance of stage directions and movement in plays and movies! If your students are acting out Romeo and Juliet (10/10 recommend), then this will be doubly useful to your students.
The Secondary English Coffee Shop has easy-to-implement ideas (and FREE SHAKESPEAREAN LANGUAGE BOOKMARKS) for teaching any Shakespeare play!
Mid-Unit Romeo and Juliet Activity: Creative Writing
“Nothing is Lost (You Give Me Strength)” by The Weeknd (4:23)*
Since reading Shakespeare can feel overwhelming, I find it valuable to pause mid-way through our reading and engage in some creative writing to SHAKE things up. Did you see what I did there with the pun?
As another Romeo and Juliet activity, use this diverse song selection to practice characterization and citing textual evidence! I use this song to model Romeo’s willingness to wage a familial feud just to be with Juliet. Students cite and compare evidence from the speaker of the song and Romeo.
We focus our analysis on the diction and tone throughout the lyrics and how—together—they communicate a fierce, undeniable dedication to another. Then, students analyze excerpts where Romeo similarly confesses his dedication to Juliet.
I pair this practice with this ready-to-go resource that teaches students how to integrate and paraphrase quotes specifically for Romeo and Juliet. Bonus! It comes with bell ringers to use as a daily Romeo and Juliet activity.
Then, I let the creative writing fun begin. I ask students to create either a chorus or a brief scene that declares their undying love for SOMETHING (not someone).
The objective of their writing is to characterize their speaker as someone who will do anything for this “something.” This has to be my FAVORITE part of this Romeo and Juliet activity.
I provide them with a funny, personal example of how I would stop at nothing for a bowl of ramen. Warning: prepare for a lot of dedications to Hot Cheetos. Who can blame them?
*One nuance worth mentioning is that this song is a part of a movie soundtrack. Students may struggle to make the shift from the song’s original application. I find it important to preface this to students. In doing so, they are better able to assess its new potential meanings.
After-Reading Romeo and Juliet Activity
“The Story” by Conan Gray (4:05)
Before I begin teaching Romeo and Juliet, I ask myself: what lessons can the story of Romeo and Juliet teach? I want this answer to always be relevant and tangible for my students.
From my teaching experience, students universally–and unfortunately–connect to the idea of opposing forces. Therefore, I use “The Story” as a means for students to analyze the theme of individual versus society.
Students can go on a scavenger hunt to find all the various “us versus them” examples in the song. Then, students will compare these issues to that of Romeo and Juliet.
I also have asked students to reflect on a time when they themselves felt an “other” was against them. In case students are stuck, I provide them with some generic examples:
⭐ An adult implementing a rule they do not agree with but have to follow (i.e., a curfew, dress code, etc.)
⭐ Folks not accepting others for whom they love
I use this as an opportunity to be vulnerable with my students about my coming out journey and being disowned by my family. If you are comfortable sharing a moment where you battled an “individual versus society” issue, I encourage you to be vulnerable with them as well.
This turns into a larger writing assessment, followed by students playing the Romeo and Juliet Review Escape Room.
I feel it is important that we do everything we can to diversify any Shakespeare unit (whether that is by choice or a part of your curriculum).
In doing so through music, students positively see themselves represented (unlike most LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities in Shakespeare’s works–if they exist at all). Students are also given the opportunity to make relevant connections to their world and the reading.
Make music the center of your entire Romeo and Juliet unit by reading it set to pop songs! This resource adapts Romeo and Juliet through the use of pop songs. The adaptable unit takes one month to complete (shorter or longer if need be).
It is wonderful for engaging all students and supporting struggling learners.
You can also find even more creative teaching ideas for Romeo and Juliet over at The Secondary English Coffee Shop!
If you implement a suggested Romeo and Juliet activity for the beginning, middle, and/or end of your unit, please share your feedback, successes, and questions with me!