Reading the Play
Student read Julius Caesar, analyzing Shakespeare's characters while gaining a basic understanding of figurative language, foreshadowing, anachronism, character development, and plot organization.
- Grades: 6–8
- Unit Plan:
Students read Julius Caesar and compare the historical figures to the characters in Shakespeare's play.
- Read the Shakespearean play, Julius Caesar.
- Identify the use of simile, metaphor, personification, and hyperbole in the play.
- Make predictions about how the play will end.
- Compare and contrast the events of the play to documented historical facts.
- Respond to the play by holding a mock trial.
- Make judgments about Brutus' guilt or innocence.
- A copy of one version of the play for each student
- Author Tools (PDF)
- Plot Diagram (PDF)
- Props for an "Honorable Judge," (gavel, black robe, etc.)
Set Up and Prepare
- Make copies of the Author's Tools and Plot Diagram printables for each student.
- Decide which version of the play to use for direct instruction and gather a class set.
- Read the version of the play you will assign, gathering examples of Shakespeare's use of simile, metaphor, personification, and hyperbole throughout.
Students will read ACT I during this class period.
Step 1: Explain to students that they'll be reading the play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. Briefly ask students to recall the background information gathered from Lesson One.
Step 2: Introduce the elements of figurative language: simile, metaphor, personification, and hyperbole. Share some examples. Distribute the Author Tools (PDF) printable and ask students to list examples of these elements on this handout. Ask students to look how Shakespeare uses these tools as they read the play.
Step 3: Distribute the Plot Diagram (PDF) printable. Briefly share an explanation for the diagram and tell students that they will be identifying these elements as well within Julius Caesar.
Step 4: Instruct students to read Act I during this class period and think about its expository role. Remind the students that the exposition introduces the plot and characters to the audience, while setting the stage for the story's main conflict. While they read, ask students to write a couple of Act I events that act as exposition on the diagram.
Step 5: Invite a student who finishes reading early to go online and quickly research epilepsy. Several characters mention in Act I that Caesar has the "falling sickness." Have the student discuss the typical epileptic seizure and how an onlooker can help the person having the seizure. Also discuss that the Elizabethans did not understand the medical reasons for a seizure, so they believed it was a sign of demonic possession or witchcraft.
Step 6: Invite another student who finishes reading early to research The Lupercalia, the festival taking place in Rome when Caesar arrives in Act I. Ask the student to explain this festival to the class.
Step 7: Close the class period with a discussion of Act I, using the information regarding epilepsy and the Lupercalia. Review any uses of the Author's Tools found in the handout.
Students will read ACT II during this class period.
Step 8: Before reading, introduce the term anachronism, literally meaning "wrong time." As students read Act II, challenge them to find the anachronism.
Step 9: Instruct students to read Act II during this class period and think about its role as the rising action. Remind them that the rising action is where events start to get interesting. During the rising action, the events begin moving towards the climax of the story. Ask students to revisit the Plot Diagram printable and write a few main events from Act II on the diagram that support this act as the rising action of the play.
Step 10: After reading, ask the students to share where they found the anachronism. The example is in Scene 1 when the clock strikes 3 AM, as there were no clocks in 44 B.C. Discuss why Shakespeare might have written a clock into this play.
Step 11: As you close this class period, review the many conflicts presented thus far. Why is Brutus reluctant to give in to the other senators and plot against Caesar? Ask students to make predictions on how Brutus might ultimately handle this situation. Review any uses of the Author's Tools found in the handout.
Students will read ACT III during this class period.
Step 12: Before reading, introduce the term foreshadowing as a writer's technique to clue the reader or audience that something specific is about to happen. Ask the students to find the example of foreshadowing in Act III while reading.
Step 13: Instruct students to read Act III during this class period and think about its role as the climax. Remind students that the climax is where the events turn around and change direction. During the climax, a surprise occurs, and in this case Cassius and Brutus lose control of the Roman people, who begin seeing them as murderers instead of heroes. Ask students to revisit the Plot Diagram printable and write a few main events from Act III on the diagram that support this act as the climax of the play.
Step 14: After reading this act, ask students to share where they found the example of foreshadowing. The example in Act III is at the end of Brutus's speech to the Roman citizens: "I have the same dagger for myself when it shall please my country to need my death." Review any uses of the Author's Tools found in the handout.
Step 15: Now, have some fun with students and put Brutus on trial! Wearing your "judge" props, take an informal poll to see which students think, at this point, that Brutus was wrong for wanting to kill Caesar and which students think Brutus was justified. The students who see Brutus as guilty will act as prosecutors while those who find him justified will act as defendants. Place any student who's not sure on the jury. It usually works best for you to act as the judge and moderator.
Step 16: Choose one of the defendants to act as Brutus, two as lawyers, and others as witnesses or fellow senators. One of the prosecutors could act as Calpurnia, one as Antony, two as lawyers, and the others as witnesses. Allow time for the prosecution and defense to argue their cases.
Step 17: At the conclusion of the trial, ask the jury to leave and deliberate. As the judge presiding over this case, I usually render the verdict in this way:
- Majority for the defense: Brutus is innocent.
- Majority for the prosecution: Brutus is guilty and will serve a life sentence in jail.
- Unanimous vote for the prosecution: Brutus will be sentenced the death penalty.
Step 18: Have the jury foreman announce Brutus's innocence or guilt and give the sentence! Remember to make this as dramatic as possible!
Students will read ACT IV during this class period.
Step 19: Instruct students to read Act IV during this class period and think about its role as the falling action. Remind students that the falling action is where events start slowing down and coming to a close. During the falling action in most of Shakespeare's tragedies, the villains start to pay for their wrongdoings and the heroes begin to prevail. Ask students to revisit the Plot Diagram printable and write a few Act IV events that act as falling action on the diagram.
Step 20: After reading Act IV, ask students to make predictions about how the play will end. Review any uses of the Author's Tools found in the handout.
Students will read ACT V, finishing the play during this class period.
Step 21: Instruct students to read Act V during this class period and think about its role as the resolution. Remind the students that the resolution is where the author or playwright ties up loose ends and answers all questions. During the resolution in most of Shakespeare's tragedies, the villains die and the heroes start making everything right again. Ask students to revisit the Plot Diagram printable and write a few main events from Act V on the diagram that support this act as the resolution of the play.
Step 22: After reading Act V, hold a class discussion evaluating the ending. According to the research from Lesson One, ask students if the ending is factual or dramatic. Be sure to mention that this play is a tragedy as it ends with death, so the Elizabethan stage would have a black flag hung outside the theater on the day that Julius Caesar was performed. Have students check their predictions from Part V and share the results.
Step 23: Using the handout, close the lesson with a review of all the figurative language, or Author's Tools, Shakespeare used in his play, Julius Caesar.
Supporting All Learners
In order to appreciate the drama, students may act out certain scenes instead of reading them individually. Students may also need to work with a partner to better understand certain elements of figurative language, foreshadowing, or anachronism.
Students may complete a journal entry during Part V, predicting how the story will end and writing a summary of an alternate Act V.
Using the Plot Diagram information, students may take any television show and plot the plot, denoting the rising action, climax, and falling action of the storyline. Students should be able to see that, like Shakespeare's predictable organization of his plays, the shows they watch today have a similar pattern.
- Read the play, Julius Caesar.
- Complete the Plot Diagram graphic organizer.
- Complete the Author's Tools graphic organizer.
- Complete the compare/contrast essay from the Culminating Activity (optional).
Be sure to determine each student's basic understanding of figurative language, foreshadowing, anachronism, character development, and plot organization. Through formal and informal assessments, were the students able to demonstrate an understanding of these literary elements? Why or why not? What elements need to be revisited in the next lesson you teach? Make a plan to incorporate these elements.
Teacher Observation: Observe participation in class discussion to ascertain each student's comprehension of the story.
Written Outcome: Evaluate notes, graphic organizers, and/or written essay from the culminating activity.