Acting and Reacting: How Intonation Impacts Understanding

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SWBAT analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone by presenting short scenes and evaluating the content of the scenes.

Big Idea

Let's get up and moving: time for some acting... with the entire freshmen class, all 350 of them.

Getting Started

2 minutes

Happy (belated) 450th Birthday, Shakespeare! Shakespeare's birthday fell while we were on spring break, but we still want to celebrate. Just before break, I saw that the Folger Shakespeare Library invited groups to perform a truncated version of the Balcony Scene, record it, and send it to them as a birthday tribute to The Bard. All the English teachers at my school banded together and planned time today for our freshmen to perform this scene. In class this morning, I will introduce this AWESOME plan to my class and we will practice the scene together, then meet up with the rest of the classes to perform together. We are lucky enough to all have freshmen English at the same time twice a week, so we can actually make this happen.

I'm Late

25 minutes

To prepare us for the flash mob and for reciting lines with emotion, I pulled out my trusty Folger Shakespeare Library's Shakespeare Set Free. This text outlines a great lesson called "I'm late." In this lesson, students pair up, and each pair creates a scenario for the same 6 lines. I will give each group 10 minutes (which invariably turns into 15 minutes) to create the scenario for the lines and practice them (SL.9-10.1b). Students need to consider a few questions:

  • who is speaking in this scene?
  • why is one person late?
  • what does the other person want to give them?
  • are they angry/happy/ disappointed?


The scenario is open-ended, so students often decide to be a teacher and student, a couple getting engaged, or even two people in a drug deal. The key to the activity is that they can't mess with the lines of the scene at all. They can only change the meaning with their intonation and actions (L.9-10.3). Each group will act out their scenario for the class and the class will decide who they are and what's happening.


I like this activity because it's a fun way to get everyone involved. It also shows students that lines on a page can be interpreted in different ways, depending on how they are said and by whom. This lesson will help us read the lines for the flash mob with more meaning, but it will also prepare us for several of the scenes will be read together this week. In several upcoming scenes, Juliet has to guard her language carefully, so as to maintain her secret relationship with Romeo, but she doesn't want to lie to her mother, so she speaks cryptically. It will be critical to understand what she is trying to say and how she says it, if we are to fully appreciate the scene.

Practicing the Flash Mob

15 minutes

We will run through the scene once or twice together using the scripts created by Folger's Shakespeare Library. I love they have kept the scene to one page, making it easy to copy and read in a large group. Girls will stand on one side of the rooms, boys on the other. This will be especially fun, since the girls drastically outnumber the boys in my class (SL.9-10.1). I will challenge the boys to be louder than the ladies. Each side will talk together for a few minutes to determine how to say certain lines (RL.9-10.4), just like they did in the last activity.  Take a look at a practice round of the Balcony Scene.


I'm really excited to take part in this national endeavor. Too often students think that only English teachers read Shakespeare and that as soon as they get out of high school, they never have to think of him again. I guess that may be partly true, but there is something poetic about participating in an activity as a freshman class (350 students) that isn't about school at all, but about being a part of something even greater than us. This is a moment to show students that what we talk about today is only limited to this classroom if they want it to be. There are people in the world that think this stuff is cool.. and useful.. and important. Maybe, just maybe, they can think of it that way too. Or maybe, it's just about doing something fun and spontaneous in school, which is also important.

The Flash Mob

20 minutes

Once we have had a chance to practice the lines, we will meet up with the entire freshmen class and their English teachers to perform the scene together. Boys will meet up in the courtyard with the male teachers, while the girls line the windows of the second floor (all English classrooms) to perform. It should be a lot of fun!