Standard Lesson

Tragic Love: Introducing Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Four 50-minute sessions
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This pre-reading lesson helps students expand their knowledge of Shakespeare and build an understanding of Romeo and Juliet by connecting the summary of the play to their everyday lives as teenagers. Students also explore the definition of tragedy and how "tragic love" is ingrained in the lives of teenagers from all cultures. The lesson helps students build background knowledge of the play, the genre of tragedy, and related terms and concepts, creating a context in which students can better understand and relate to the Shakespearean text.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

In her English Journal column "Taking Time: Beyond Memorization: Using Drama to Promote Thinking," Tonya Perry notes that "students in the classroom can participate in the performance of a dramatic text . . . with little understanding of the literature" (121). Because reading and performing drama is inherently interactive, teachers can mistakenly observe that students understand a play, feeling that "the dramatic text [seems] to explain itself" (121). Perry advocates for building prior knowledge and establishing ground for personal connections in drama through drama, as presented in this lesson. Students engage in "explanatory drama" as they use a skit to deepen their understanding of the central concept of tragic love.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 10. Students whose first language is not English make use of their first language to develop competency in the English language arts and to develop understanding of content across the curriculum.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

Materials and Technology




  • Review a summary of Romeo and Juliet. You can use this basic summary and additional information to enhance students' understanding of the play.
  • Set up the computer and projector for showing a PowerPoint presentation.
  • Preview the Tragic Love: An Introduction to Romeo and Juliet PowerPoint Presentation and plan how you will use the notes and other resources to elaborate on the presentation.
  • Prepare copies of necessary handouts.
  • Test the Story Map interactive on student computers.
  • (Optional) Print copies of news articles about a recent tragedy to use as an example to stimulate further discussion.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • define tragedy and give examples from media and popular culture.
  • evaluate the relevance of the theme "tragic love" in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet to the lives of teenagers.
  • become familiar with the themes and characters in Romeo and Juliet prior to reading the play.

Session One

  1. Pre-assess students' knowledge and opinions of Romeo and Juliet using the Assessment Questionnaire.
  2. Review the answers students gave for the questionnaire by having two or three students share their responses for each question. Explain that you will discuss the ideas from the questionnaire as you view a PowerPoint presentation about the play.
  3. Hand out the cloze notes for the Tragic Love: An Introduction to Romeo and Juliet PowerPoint Presentation and the Romeo and Juliet Major Character List. Students should use the cloze notes handout to take notes during the presentation. 
  4. View and discuss the Tragic Love: An Introduction to Romeo and Juliet PowerPoint Presentation. Note that detailed information for the characters and plot summary slides are included in the notes section under each slide.
    • View the setting and list of characters on slides 2 and 3.
    • Read aloud the names of the characters, and have the students repeat the names to help them get used to reading and saying the names aloud.
    • View Part I of the PowerPoint: the summary of Romeo and Juliet. Pause frequently to check for understanding and to allow students to ask questions.
    • You may wish to explain that audiences in the Shakespearean era typically came to plays already knowing the plot; knowing the plot ahead of time is not a "spolier" as we consider it today.
    • Point out that Slide 8 poses the questions: "Why do we read Romeo and Juliet today?" and "How does the story connect to the lives of teenagers today?" Discuss these questions as a class, using the following prompts if needed:
      1. Have you ever had an experience like Romeo's or Juliet's?
      2. Have you ever been in love?
      3. Do you think teenagers fall in love easily? Why or why not?
      4. What might happen when teenagers fall in love?
  5. Have students use the last few minutes of class to write down their individual responses to the questions "Why do we read Romeo and Juliet today?" and "How does the story connect to the lives of teenagers today?" If necessary, have students complete the assignment for homework.

Session Two

  1. Review and discuss the summary of Romeo and Juliet from the Tragic Love: An Introduction to Romeo and Juliet PowerPoint Presentation.
  2. Discuss students' responses to the questions: "Why do we read Romeo and Juliet today?" and "How does the story connect to the lives of teenagers today?"
  3. Continue viewing the PowerPoint presentation, starting with Part II: TRAGEDY (slide 9).
  4. As you go through the slides in this section, facilitate a short, student-led discussion of everyday tragedies people experience. Examples may include natural disasters such as hurricanes or tornadoes, car accidents, natural deaths, tragic deaths such as that of Latina pop singer Selena, and so on (slide 10). You can also read and discuss the article about a local tragedy that you printed.
  5. As a class, discuss the question: How does tragedy affect people's lives?
  6. When you come to the final slide (titled: Tragic Love?), have students take a few minutes to define tragic love and write down the responses in their notes.
  7. As a class, create a list to define "tragic love," giving contemporary examples from the media and pop culture. Consider showing excerpts from various media to spark interest and discussion. Some useful media include the following:

Sessions Three and Four

  1. Have students take the Tragic Love: An Introduction to Romeo and Juliet Assessment Questionnaire again to assess how much their background knowledge and opinions of the play have improved and changed.
  2. Place students in pairs, and hand out the Tragic Love Dialogue Assignment to each pair. Explain that they will work together, following the instructions on the assignment sheet, to create a dialogue that demonstrates their understanding of tragic love. Encourage pairs to be creative with their characters and scenario; in other words, they should not rewrite Romeo and Juliet. Go over the rubric at the bottom of the page so they are aware of the criteria on which they will be assessed. Review the Tragic Love: A Tale of Litigious Woe dialogue sample with students and give them time to ask any questions they may have about the assignment.
  3. Allow students to work on their dialogues for the remainder of the session and the beginning of the next session, using the Story Map interactive if you prefer. You may give students additional time if needed.
  4. After students have completed their dialogues, have each pair present its dialogue to the class.


Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Ask students to compare their knowledge of the play as demonstrated on the pre- and post- assessments.
  • Use the rubric included in the Tragic Love Dialogue Assignment to assess students’ understanding of the concept of tragic love.
  • Throughout the reading of the play, ask students to reflect and reconnect to the work in this lesson to guide and clarify their responses to the text.