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Romeo and Juliet / West Side Story

A number of people have asked me to explain how I taught Romeo & Juliet / West Story. I will repeat my message to ETNI of May 15th, when I was writing about using music in EFL. I hope that will do.

1. From the beginning of the year I started teaching the song lyrics of West Side Story, listening to the music, doing computer-generated crossword puzzles, and occasionally doing other writing exercises based on particular songs. Example: after doing "America" comparing Puerto Ricans in NYC with new immigrants here in Israel.

2. Continued teaching poetry (which I had started the previous year), bringing in meter and other advanced concepts. Teaching (briefly) three Shakespearean sonnets, pointing out what a sonnet was (structurally) and that iambic pentameter was Shakespeare's normal meter.

3. Showing the video of the Zeffarelli (sp?) version of Romeo and Juliet, with Hebrew translation. Had kids write their responses to what they saw in English.

4. Carefully teach the prologue, the first 14 lines of Romeo and Juliet's meeting at the party (Yes, it's a beautiful love sonnet!!!), and the the "Balcony Scene". Had the kids memorize the beginning of the Balcony scene. Showed these 3 parts again on video.

5. Challenged the kids to write a "Romeo and Juliet of Our Times", using the same basic plot, in small groups, using the word processor. Corrected the English on hard-copy, had them correct the computer files, and then had them perform their master pieces infront of the class. (Some of the creations were GREAT! In one rather risque piece I was portrayed as Romeo and the head of the English Department was my Juliet.)

6. Show the video of West Side Story - no Hebrew translations. Luckily I could get a big-screen video system. (Unfortunately, some of the kids couldn't get into the dancing element of the movie, although they liked the music.) Written response comparing and contrasting WSS to R&J.

7. Went to see the new version of Romeo and Juliet at the local theatre. Gave the kids "extra credit" for coming to the film. (only two kids refused to come) Written responses in English.

In short, this project was very successful. The kids got into the music, into the creation of their own plays, and the new version of R&J. Going over the lyrics of West Side Story and listening to the music, and then expanding some of the content material was a very important element.

A lot of kids actually thanked me for doing the unit! And some of them started finding the URLs for the new and old films, downloading them, printing them up, and passing them around the class. All this was voluntary! I really had the feeling that I had turned some of the kids to good ol' Willy!

Jimmy Backer
Email: bjimmy(at)migal(dot)co(dot)il

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