I am a second year teacher, and during my first year, I taught Julius Caesar at the sophomore level. I did not have a very good experience with it, as most of the students had a hard time getting into the play. For this year, my fellow sophomore teachers and I decided (back in the summer) to teach Taming of the Shrew. I am very excited about the change, and I think 10th graders will enjoy this particular comedy. However, now that we are closer to actually teaching the play, my fellow sophomore teachers have expressed the opinion that they want to go back to Julius Caesar. They believe that Taming of the Shrew is too difficult for a sophomore.

Does anyone have any experience with these two plays, or more particularly Taming of the Shrew? I know some of the characters and their motivations may be difficult to keep straight, but the way I see it, it is our job as teachers to help organize these characters. I don't really think the reading level/comprehension is above the sophomore level, but I could be wrong.

Help, please!

Tags: english, secondary

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We use Taming of the Shrew with our Year 10 students (15-16 yrs) and Julius Caesar generally appears on the HSC list (17-18 yrs) in NSW. They are two completely different texts. ToS works very well because our girls often identify themselves with Kate and we talk about gender issues, appropriation and stereotypes in the play - heavily related to 10 Things I Hate About You. But one Shakespeare is enough in a year - there is so much more to be exposed to! Best play is Macbeth with Year 9 - they love it! There is so much great material out there, you have to really focus on the initial purpose behind teaching the text - for us, it depends on the outcomes we are teaching at the time.
I love teaching Macbeth. Students love argue and discuss. I divide my classes into groups and assign viewpoint studies based on current television genres. Forensics, Paranormal, Marriage counseling, game shows and military command. Each group presents in their specific genre. A Dr. Phil type show for marriage counseling, a forensics report on Duncan, ect. . . My particular favorite was a short play where the student chastized Macbeth for not remembering basic training on camoflage techniques. "Why in the world would you think trees could move?"
Using street logic, the student had the whole class laughing. They won't forget.
I recall absoultly loathing Shakespeare in high school, and somehow couldn't manage to focus during Julius Caesar. Even when my teacher had students act out the rolls in the murder scene, I still found myself rolling my eyes. I believe this was because it was a tragedy, and not something I really cared to learn about.

The key with plays like Caesar and Shrew are to engage the students. To be blunt, my teachers kind of failed at that. Yes, they did have us take on roles and read the play out loud, but that was almost not enough. The heavey nature of Caesar also didn't help.

All in all, I would say to stick with Shrew. It's a comedy, and something that some students might look forward to reading.
Not sure if this will help, but how about trying to convey the idea that Shakespeare wrote plays that would be listened to at the theatre rather than seen as we do these days. When one is listening the language becomes the primary conveyor rather than the visual.
Caesar is a bit dry but there is that 1956 version of the movie with Brando...I think that Shakespeares comedies, in general, are more challenging because the type of humor is not one that is familiar to most youth today. That being said, The Taylor/Burton version of the movie as well as Kiss me Kate, 10 Things I Hate about You and Deliver us From Eva are great adjuncts that can be used to suppliment your unit
I too have had numerous problems with both students, collegues and administrators who apparently despise the play Julius Caesar My solution has been to use graphic novels and incorporate the study of comic book styles. Look for a magna or classic version. There is a modern comic book tale called Jules. I have discovered most students find the writing and speeches of JC daunting. Graphic form hits the highlights and provides students time to delve into specific writing or fiction elements. Check out this video and show it before your study begins http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/scott_mccloud_on_comics.html

I provide students with a worksheet on the geometrics McCloud uses to tell a story in graphic form. I use the same geometrics in a graphic organizer and have students work in groups to develop the plot lines of each act. I use 3 or 4 different graphic forms; classic, magna, marvel style and indie. Using Caesar's description of Casius in Act I, students compare how the artist captured the words in visual form.
Julius Caesar is okay, but we overkill tragedy in our educational system. I taught Taming of the Shrew to an AP class about six years ago. They loved it! The story, as you probably know, is a little raunchy but students were mature. In addition, in case you didn't know, the movie Ten Things I Hate About You (very raunchy and a bit inappropriate for a conservative environment) plays off of the Shakespeare play. The Elizabeth Taylor version of Taming of the Shrew is awesome. If you go with Caesar again I recommend the Marlon Brando version; teenage girls seem to become a little more interested when a young Brando takes his shirt off (never mind the black & white). BTW, I am teaching Sophomores too this year for the first time in about 12 years. Any tips?
Although some people are not fans, you may want to investigate Barnes and Noble who carry Sparksnotes versions of Shakespearean plays. We use them in our lower level English classes and they are helpful. Perfection learning also creates parallel texts that we use to assist students with the arcane language. Although we teach the traditional texts and have students compose modern translations and such, those version are also helpful.

if possible, try Midsummer Night's Dream - kids love it! We teach As You Like It in our tenth grade World Literature course - kids like too and we pair it with Into the Woods - good luck
I teach both, to ninth graders, as part of a lit circle project. My small groups get through both with little trouble, largely on thier own. We do this after we have finished Romeo & Juliet. I think any Shakespeare is challenging because of the syntax, not the names or the story. I my experience, the kids reading Julius Caesar seem to enjoy the story more than Shrew, which I find hilarious, but they found lame. I think that what it comes down to is that Caesar is a little more stale as a play, but easier to connect with, but Shrew is more interesting, but goes over their heads a bit.
If you want to go completely "old school" all the way back to the 1980s...check out an episode of the Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd TV show Moonlighting. The episode is called "Atomic Shakespeare" and I believe it was from the 3rd season. I think it is available through Netflix, but I'm not sure. I bought the DVDs because it was easier in the long run. Without commercials it's about 45 minutes long and basically hits the highpoints of Shrew. It's very campy and your kids will find it cheesy, but funny at the same time. I use it as a starter to the play since it is funny enough to catch their interest and yet, to its credit, the episode is done in iambic pentemeter. Later in our study, they have to draw comparisons between the TV version, the Elizabeth Taylor film version, and the actual text. Part of this study delves into why emphasis is placed on different aspects of the play depending upon the medium, time period, and audience for its presentation.
I'm in the eighth grade and for accelerated english, we read, preformed, and discussed The Taming of the Shrew. I loved the play and it was so much fun preforming for my fellow classmates. If you're fellow teachers think it is too difficult for sophmores, ask them to think about it again. It might help if you tell them about me!
{P.S. If you do read Taming of the Shrew, I hope you and your students enjoy reading it as much as I did!!!}
I think the issue with Taming of the Shrew is not that it is terribly difficult to understand, but rather the idea that it is the most mysoginistic play of the Shakepearean canon. I used to teach Taming quite a bit (never really liked JC), but I have switched to Twelfth Night becuase I believe it is a better comedy to teach.

If you can avoid switching back, I think your students will appreaciate the opportunity to study a comedy, be it Taming or 12N.

Just my two cents,
Chris

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