Eighth Graders Bring Shakespeare Play to Life

Having read William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” in their English language arts classes, Bronxville Middle School eighth graders acted out scenes from the play to enhance their understanding and appreciation for the author’s language.  


During in-person workshops, students worked with actors from the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, a nonprofit professional theater company, to build their understanding through the power of gesture, sound and space. Throughout the week, the students gained acting techniques through exercises and games that helped them understand the importance of sticking to a script, making deliberate power word choices and recognizing the characters’ relationships with one another.

“The purpose of their visit was to enhance students’ understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of Shakespeare’s language, for the words on the page to be brought to life,” English teacher Vanessa Lawson said. “The students’ level of engagement in these exercises was phenomenal. They entered the classroom each day looking forward to the actors’ visit and realized that decoding of the language is worth it.” 


Prior to the visit, the students focused on comprehension and language analysis to grasp the language of the play. In class, they analyzed the setting, characterization, conflicts, points of view, thematic implications and Shakespeare’s use of meter and figurative language. They also watched specific scenes from the 1968 Zeffirelli film and the 1996 Luhrmann rendition and discussed the differences and artistic visions and choices behind each depiction.


“The actors from Hudson Valley built on our lessons and made the language accessible to the students, helping them understand specific idioms and instilling in the students the brilliance of the author, and teaching skills they need to perform their speeches to the best of their abilities,” English teacher Ally DeFreitas said. “Students reported that they felt more confident in their acting skills as a result.” 


As a culminating activity, the eighth graders annotated and analyzed a chosen speech from the play. They were attuned to power words, rhyme, figurative language, characterization, point of view and the speech’s purpose in terms of the larger play. Then, the students created videos of themselves, performing their chosen speech, and shared them with their classmates.