Romeo and Juliet: What do I want the kids to KNOW?

The “knowledge-thirsty youngsters” need to get “solid knowledge in a coherent way” says ED Hirsh The Schools We Need (13).

This month’s TES published Jon Brunskill and Mark Enser’s article on Knowledge Organisers in the classroom. Instead of considering skills first, what should they know, he asked.

Good plan. So instead of starting with learning objectives, lesson titles and activities, and a chunking of the text, I decided to start with knowledge. I asked the question in the title of this entry: what must kids know in order to gain mastery within this unit? I came up with the following list:

Context: students need to know enough of the social and historical context so they can write extensively about the bigger ideas and their connections.   (https://quizlet.com/_3br4cm)

Language: simile, metaphor, allusion, imagery, sensory detail, personification, hyperbole, (https://quizlet.com/_337xwu)

Literary terminology: (https://quizlet.com/_33x05p)

Dramatic Devices: stage directions, props, irony, tragedy, pathetic fallacy, soliloquy, hubris, dramatic irony, foreshadowing, sonnet, couplet, blank verse, hamartia, aside (https://quizlet.com/_3bdadn)

Characters: Benvolio, Nurse, Romeo, Juliet, Capulet, Lady Capulet, Montague, Mercutio, Balthasar, Paris, Friar Laurence, Gregory and Sampson, Abraham, The Prince, Rosaline (https://quizlet.com/_33xcv7)

Text key scenes: Act 1 scene 1, Act 1 scene 5, Act 2 scene 2, Act 2 scene 3, Act 2 scene 6, Act 3 scene 1, Act 3 Scene 3, Act 3 scene 5, Act 4 scene 1, Act 4 scene 4, Act 5 scene 1, Act 5 scene 3.

Vocabulary: wherefore, hast, ye, ’twas, hie, thee, hither, ere, thou, nay, marry, yonder, dost, art, solemnity, pernicious, prodigious, profane, rapier, trifling, saucy, shrift, languish, portentous, assail, posterity (https://quizlet.com/_3br2ck)

Quotes: (https://quizlet.com/_3br8ns)

What I would like students to know:

Vocabulary to analyse with more precision: myriad, asserts, egregious, erroneous, engenders, employs, salient, reasons, advantageous, galvanize, craft, substantiate, caustic, esoteric, tenuous, perfunctory (https://quizlet.com/_33xaru)

In an eight-week time period, how do I get students to KNOW all of this? How do I expose students to the information, and how do I help students transfer the information from their short term memories to long term? Repetition, accountability, teacher-led classes, tight organisation and high expectations are the only things I can think of.

I have 8 different Quizlet sets organised for students, one of which is the vocabulary of analysis and two of which are the character study and quotes. That leaves 5 sets to study from the start.

Classes will be organised as follows:

Beginning: students get self-quizzing homework out and on the table (read, cover, write, check) and they re-read previous lesson’s reading independently.

Development: short quiz on terms from homework

Main: read the play, checking for understanding

Independent study: comprehension questions on what we’ve read, or analytical writing on a scene or extract. (https://quizlet.com/_37j35o)

Self/Peer assessment: use explicit success criteria to check work

End: assign the same revision terms for tomorrow

Straightforward, not especially pretty on paper, but it might just get the job done better than so many pretty lessons I’ve created in the last four years. No posters. No fancy card sorts, no “discovery learning”, no tackling of the top of Bloom’s pyramid before ensuring there’s a bottom of knowledge the students can stand on.

We shall see how it goes anyway. However, I have the challenge of selling this straight forward unit to my teachers as well as the students, many of whom are not used to nightly English revision.

“Teachers are as ill-served as our students by the inadequate ideas and impoverished subject-matter instruction they have been compelled to absorb in order to receive certification.” ED Hirsch (15)

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