Build upon your Shakespeare unit with literary and informational lessons that bewitch your class and ask big questions that are raised in Romeo and Juliet.
CommonLit offers thousands of lessons, a full-year ELA curriculum, and additional paid benchmark assessments for your classroom. Additionally, CommonLit has created Book Pairings for over a hundred classic books taught in schools across the country. The lessons in Book Pairings are designed to build students’ reading comprehension and engagement. Every pairing includes information about the new text and discussion questions to bring the novel and the supplemental passage together.
This Book Pairing is for Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. In this classic tragedy, two teenagers meet and fall in love in Verona, Italy. However, the two are from rival families and ultimately realize they cannot be together. Their untimely deaths lead their feuding families to reconciliation. Romeo and Juliet features teenage suicide, a topic that can be difficult to address in a classroom setting. We ask that teachers consider how they might handle sensitive material on a class-by-class basis.
Ask your class one of life’s biggest questions: what is love?
These informational texts and poems ponder the questions poets and scientists have asked for hundreds of years: What is love? How can you articulate a feeling? And why do people experience love in the first place?
“Should We Scoff at the Idea of Love at First Sight?” by James Kuzner
In this informational text, James Kuzner discusses whether love at first sight is a myth. Kuzner references both science and Shakespeare to prove his point, that love at first sight does exist for some people.
Assign this text to students after the scene where Romeo first meets Juliet. Have students identify the text’s central idea and then discuss whether they believe in love at first sight. Based on the excerpt of Romeo and Juliet used in the article, do they predict Romeo and Juliet's love is genuine or is it simply an infatuation?
“Adolescence and the Teenage Crush” by Dr. Carl Pickhardt
In this article, psychologist Dr. Carl Pickhardt delineates between different types of teenage crushes. According to his analysis, having a crush on someone is a normal, albeit sometimes agonizing, part of adolescence.
Teach Romeo and Juliet by having students read "Adolescence and the Teenage Crush" after Romeo and Juliet meet. Do students believe Romeo and Juliet have crushes or does their affection run deeper? Do students believe these crushes are reasonable?
If you teach struggling students, consider enabling CommonLit’s Guided Reading Mode questions. These questions will help students trace the main ideas of the informational text as they read.
“what love isn’t” by Yrsa Daley-Ward
In this poem, Ward utilizes rich figurative language to explore attributes of love that are often overlooked. She emphasizes the deeper, and sometimes more challenging, aspects of love.
Consider pairing this poem with the scene of Romeo and Juliet's suicides to begin a class discussion of the negative consequences of love and passion. Romeo and Juliet is a classic romantic tragedy, would students consider Romeo and Juliet's actions an example of healthy love?
“Sonnet 43” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
“Sonnet 43” is best known for its popular first line, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." “Sonnet 43” is one of the most famous poems in the English language and is written as an ode to Browning’s husband.
Assign students "Sonnet 43" after reading the famous balcony scene. Bolster student reading comprehension by asking students to compare Browning's poem to Romeo's declaration to Juliet. How does the love described in these two pieces compare? Do students see a difference in the maturity or intensity of love? Do the speakers' ages impact how they describe their love and, if so, how do students think age affects feelings and statements of love?
Informational texts about the psychology of teens
In order to fully understand Romeo and Juliet, CommonLit has provided two non-fiction articles about how juveniles engage with violence, from a real-world and psychological perspective.
“Do Juvenile Killers Deserve Life Behind Bars” by Nina Totenberg
This news article offers insight into the American juvenile criminal justice system. In some states, life without parole is a possibility for teens who have committed a crime. In contrast to the current criminal justice system, many public defenders believe that adolescents are less to blame for their decisions and more capable of rehabilitation.
Have students read this text after learning that Romeo killed Tybalt and was consequently banished. Ask students to analyze the author’s argument and then reflect on Romeo's age and how that impacted his actions and punishment. In the context of the article, do students believe Romeo received a fair punishment? What consequences would they expect today following Mercutio and Tybalt's deaths?
“Fear Prompts Teens to Act Impulsively” by Laura Sanders
In this scientific article, Laura Sanders explores the psychology and biology behind why teens act more rebellious than other age groups.
Consider pairing this article with the scenes where Romeo learns Juliet is dead and decides he must die as well. Improve reading comprehension by asking students whether the points in the article about teenage impulsivity help explain Romeo's actions. Do they consider Romeo's actions impulsive or a reflection of his age?
Explaining the classics to the classroom
Shakespeare is known for his incredibly moving tragedies. His plays are still being performed today and English Language Arts classes will be studying his content for many years to come. Help students understand what defines a tragedy and why Shakespeare remains popular with these two informational texts.
“The Lure of Shakespeare” by Robert W. Butler
This text covers William Shakespeare's success as a playwright over hundreds of years. Butler believes that the success of an actor hinges on their ability to perform Shakespeare.
Assign "The Lure of Shakespeare" to students before they begin reading Romeo and Juliet in order to provide background information on the playwright, and his enduring legacy. Once they’ve read the article, foster student engagement by discussing whether they are excited to read a Shakespeare play, and whether the themes of Shakespeare will still be relevant to their lives today.
“On Tragedy” by Aristotle
In this excerpt from Poetics, Aristotle offers a definition of tragedy, as well as several examples and non-examples of the genre.
Have students read "On Tragedy" before beginning the play to provide them with an understanding of the concept of tragedy in drama. Then, prompt students to discuss the key elements of tragedy according to Aristotle as they read the play, and how Shakespeare uses point of view and tone to convey tragic themes in Romeo and Juliet.
Looking for more great Shakespearean Book Pairings? Browse the CommonLit Library for curated in-depth Book Pairings for four more of his plays! Additional Shakespeare lessons for your classroom can be found here.
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