This activity has been around forever; it "was" close reading before "close reading" became a buzzword for the CCSS. Basically, the students take the R&J Prologue and break it down, word by word. It can be painstaking, but -- once students get the hang of it -- they realize that it's really not hard. Working together on this small chunk of text teaches kids that Shakespeare is fairly accessible...if you take your time.
When students came in today, I presented them with this sheet. I didn't do any real instruction, I just told them that printed on the paper was the Prologue to Act I in Romeo and Juliet. The definition of "prologue" is at the bottom of the handout that I gave them, but I read it aloud. We talked about the function of a prologue, why an author might want to include one, and if they had seen a prologue before. Some students likened the prologue to a Forward in a novel, or an Author's Note. Of course, while those terms can be interchangeable, it depends on the author's purpose (ding! ding! ding! Author's purpose again.)
After the brief introduction, we read the Prologue aloud. I then challenged the students to "decode" Shakespeare's language WHILE retaining the meaning.
When the students had finished and they turned in their work, I explained to them that Shakespeare both sets the stage and spoils the ending in the Prologue, so we talked about why he would do that.
Note: I collected this assignment and I plan to read them over to evaluate their interpretations and to see who might need more help as we move forward with the Shakespeare unit. I will come back to it for instructional purposes next week, when we start the play.