I add to my Julius Caesar lesson plans every semester! Why? I love it!
Of all literature, Julius Caesar may be my favorite to teach. The deception, the plotting, the powerful speeches, and the memorable lines make it fun for me and students. When teachers love what they teach, students get involved and enjoy the material.
I may have taught Julius Caesar more than any other piece of literature and have years of acquiring materials. What I include in my Julius Caesar lesson plans are below, and you should be able to incorporate most of these ideas into any unit. Enjoy!
- Show students that movies and books today model many Shakespearean plays. A student told me that the movie “Mean Girls” was modeled after Julius Caesar. I have still never seen the movie, but many students bring up that point. There is some validity to the connection.
- Help students with characters. Many characters have similar names. Make a character list or print one. Normally, I make anchor charts for married people (Brutus and Portia), then conspirators, then the sides of the war.
- Explain different uses of words. For instance, men reference each other as “lovers,” but they really mean “friends.” The conspirators accuse Caesar of being “ambitious” which today is generally a positive word. During the play, Caesar is ambitious for power, and this has a negative meaning.
- Research background information. My students read Romeo and Juliet the year before reading Julius Caesar, so I don’t repeat the study of Shakespeare. We focus on the Roman government, customs, and culture. Relate this information when reading about the treatment of women, the behavior of plebeians, and overall belief systems.
- Warn students of upsetting parts. If you show the movie, some students will be bothered with blood—so warn them. Caesar’s stabbing is a bit gruesome, and the conspiracy stoops and washes in his blood. Just… tell students what they will see.
- Show a commercial. After reading Act II, discuss how Calpurnia wants her husband to stay home with her. Discuss Caesar’s famous “the valiant never taste of death but once” speech. Talk about allusions and references to Shakespeare in pop culture. Then, show them the Caesar Geico commercial.
- You, too? Students always wonder how Caesar could speak the line, “Et tu, Brute?” after being stabbed. The History Channel covers that answer.
- Connect the plebeians to today. At the end of Act III, the crowd riots! Have students ever seen riots regarding decisions made by the government or choices influencing the government? Hmmm…
- Connect the Roman government to today’s government. In Act IV, Brutus accuses Cassius of taking bribes—of having an “itching palm.” Do politicians ever take bribes? Do students see that in today’s government? (Yes!)
- Learn about the real Caesar. Sometimes students busy themselves with Shakespeare’s portrayal of the characters, sometimes they are curios about family trees, and other times the stories of the real Julius Caesar fascinate them. I suggest the A & E retelling of Caesar’s life. Plus, it’s free.
- My Shakespeare. Just like in my Romeo and Juliet blog post, I suggest using parts of My Shakespeare. The interviews really bring the play to the present day.
To start the unit, I create a modified KWL chart with students. I start with building on prior knowledge because students have often heard of a few ideas surrounding Caesar: he dated Cleopatra, his friends stabbed him in the back, he crossed the Rubicon, and he died on the Ideas of March.
Sometimes students know other factoids, but other times they have misconceptions, like that “caesarean sections” are named after him. Not only does this practice activate prior knowledge, but it also allows me to clarify history.
After we make the first section of our chart, we watch this ten-minute video. We take notes on what we learn about Caesar.
Because Shakespeare’s plays can be difficult, I try to present information in varying ways. I hope you can use some of these methods work for your Julius Caesar lessons.
I add ideas to my Julius Caesar lesson plans every semester. I want students to relate Shakespeare to their lives, and I want them to know they can read difficult material.