Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Active Shakespeare

Making Shakespeare Accessible

K20 Center, Cara Gaddy | Published: June 8th, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th
  • Subject Subject English/Language Arts
  • Course Course British Literature
  • Time Frame Time Frame 100 minutes
  • Duration More 1-3 class period(s)


Students will be introduced to Shakespeare's language through a hands-on approach. First, students will read the prologue of "Romeo and Juliet" and translate the text into their own words. Then, students will connect with Shakespeare's words in the prologue by thinking of present-day examples of art and media with similar themes. By doing this, students will feel more comfortable with Shakespearean language and make real-world connections as they read the play.

Essential Question(s)

How can we connect to archaic language?



Students complete the first portion of the "I Used to Think . . . But Now I Know" strategy with their initial thoughts on Shakespeare's language. Then, they read dialogue from two scenes of Romeo and Juliet while performing actions and complete a reflection about the activity.


Students choose a handful of words and begin to translate Shakespeare’s script into modern terms.


Students translate the Act 1 prologue of Romeo and Juliet into their own words.


Students list movies, books, or songs with themes that are similar to what the prologue reveals about Romeo and Juliet.


Students finish the second portion of the "I Used to Think . . . But Now I Know" strategy and discuss their findings.


  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • I Used to Think . . . But Now I Know handout (attached; one per student)

  • Action Strips (attached)

  • Scene Scripts (attached; one per student)

  • Reflection handout (attached; one per student)

  • Act 1 Prologue (attached; one per student)

  • Brown paper bag or something similar

  • Paper

  • Pencil or pen


Using the attached Lesson Slides, introduce students to the essential question on slide 3 and the lesson objective on slide 4.

Display slide 5. Have students use the "I Used to Think . . . But Now I Know" strategy to share their thoughts on Shakespeare's language. Pass out the I Used to Think . . . But Now I Know handout or have students prepare a sheet of paper.

Students should fill in the left-hand column with their thoughts on Shakespeare's language.

After students have completed the first half of the "I Used to Think . . . But Now I Know" activity, ask them to put the paper aside or in their binders.

Display slide 6. Next, have students read dialogue from one or two scenes of Romeo and Juliet while performing actions.

  1. Pair up students and pass out the Scene Scripts. Assign each pair one scene to read.

  2. Have each pair draw one of the Action Strips out of the brown bag.

  3. Student pairs should read their assigned scene while performing the action at the same time.

  4. After students have completed one round, have them switch roles or scenes and draw again.

To enhance this activity, pass out the attached Reflection handout with questions. As students read, ask them the reflection questions to build meaning and expand their understanding of the dialogue. As you read each question, call on a few students to voice their thoughts on the activity. For example, on Number 3, you could ask which parts specifically they found funny and why.

At the end of this activity, make sure students hold on to their scripts and take out a sheet of paper to complete the next portion of the lesson.


Display slide 7. Have students begin to translate Shakespeare's words from the two scenes into modern terms.

Using their scripts and a sheet of paper, students should choose five words to translate into modern language.

Have students work in pairs and give them 3–5 minutes to decipher their chosen words without looking them up. To get them started, you may display slide 8 and give an example of your own: When Benvolio greets Romeo with "Good morrow, cousin," morrow means morning.

Using the Glossary section of, have students look up the words and check if they were right. This portion serves as a scaffolding exercise to prepare them to translate the Act 1 prologue of Romeo and Juliet. At the end of this activity, have students turn in their scripts with their annotations attached.


Once students have done some active exploration of Shakespearean language, inform students they will translate the Act 1 prologue of Romeo and Juliet into their own words, with you modeling it for the class.

Pass out the attached Act 1 Prologue handout to each student. Before you begin the translation, remind students that much of Shakespeare's audience was illiterate, so he included prologues to let his audiences know what to expect in each play. Some students may wonder why the audience gets the entire story right from the beginning, and this explanation will help to clear that up.

Display slides 9–12 to walk students through the prologue, or show a physical copy of the Prologue handout using a projector.

As you begin with the first line, "Two households, both alike in dignity," ask students if they have an idea of what this means. The goal here is to facilitate students’ efforts to translate Shakespeare’s words into their own words, but if they get stuck, you can help them along.

Continue through the prologue. You may consider using SparkNotes’ "No Fear Shakespeare" to guide you as you help students translate.

Once you have made it through line 14, you may pull up the "No Fear Shakespeare" version and compare for correctness.

You also can ask students if anyone wants to share their version—this is a nice segue into the next portion of the lesson. Make sure students don't put their papers away, as they will use them for the next activity.


Depending on the amount of time needed for translating the prologue, the act of translation may take up the entire class time. If students are ready to go deeper, consider the following extension activity.

Display slide 13. Ask students what themes are present in the prologue. Possible answers include hate, love, war, money, and parental disapproval. You may refer to students’ translations of the prologue to help them make connections about possible themes.

Then, ask students to think about present-day examples of art and media with themes that are similar to what the prologue reveals about Romeo and Juliet. Have students choose five books, movies, or songs with similar themes and list them on the second page of their handout.

Have students share with an Elbow Partner, then compile a list for the class to see. The goal is for students to make a real-world connection to Romeo and Juliet. By seeing how similar events and themes are present in the world around them, students may be more interested in reading the text and connecting with it.


Display slide 14. Have students get out their "I Used to Think . . . But Now I Know" handouts that they started at the beginning of the lesson and fill in the second column.

This allows students to reflect on what they now know about Shakespeare's language in comparison with their original thoughts. Additionally, it allows you to assess students’ progress with the text before you continue through the play.

To conclude the lesson, have a whole-class discussion about how students’ thoughts have changed regarding Shakespeare's language. Review how each of them translated Shakespearean words, then an entire prologue, while making real-world connections to an archaic text.