Teaching Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”

Sometimes I think I’m a terrible teacher. I don’t read enough books about pedagogy, planning lessons, or best practices. I should, but I don’t. Now that I’ve finished my master’s degree, it’s amazing how much TIME there is in the day when it’s not taken up by 8 billion pages of textbook reading. (hmmm, I bet this is what our students think, too?)

Last year I didn’t have the chance to teach Julius Caesar with my honors class, which was a total bummer because I think it’s such a great story. Since I teach 8th grade, it’s one of the easier plays to ease kids into when it comes to Shakespeare, in my opinion. My students know my love for the movie Mean Girls, too, so it’s easy to make it relate to them. I wanted to try to add some new material this year, though, and I somehow stumbled upon this book while combing the depths of Pinterest one night: Teaching Julius Caesar: A Differentiated Approach by Lyn Fairchild Hawks.

WOW is all I can say about it. If you’re like me, you hear everyone talk about “differentiation” but literally have no clue how to make it work realistically in your classroom (or, let’s be honest, what it actually looks like in real life…it’s like one of those things they talked about during undergrad ed classes that you nodded your head about when the professor talked about it but wouldn’t have known what to do with it if it came up and hit you in the face). This book changed that. Hawks did an excellent job of providing lessons using a variety of approaches–small groups, individualized, plans for advanced students, etc.

What I love most about it is that she spent a great deal of time walking you and your students through Act 1. It always felt so overwhelming to try to teach kids to annotate, decode difficult language, construct meaning, and still attempt to address other standards at the same time. Act 1 lessons really show you that you need to SLOOOOW down, teach them the basics, and then proceed through the rest of the play. The first planning calendar she provides takes at least a week to get through Act 1 if you do all the lessons. After reading through everything, it almost seems difficult to imagine teaching Caesar without taking my careful time now.

I don’t want to detail every lesson, but I will say that this was probably the best $36 I’ve spent in a long time (not to mention my school reimbursed me for it!). If you teach Julius Caesar, you should definitely get a copy of this book–especially if you want to see some different approaches to questioning and teaching theme. If you don’t teacher Caesar, Hawks also has a differentiated book about teaching Romeo & Juliet.

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