Determining Who's to Blame for Romeo and Juliet's Death (Day 1 of 2)

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SWBAT develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience by prepping for an upcoming essay. SWBAT analyze how the author unfolds a series of ideas and the connections that are drawn between them by reading and annotating a Kerschen's essay.

Big Idea

Romeo drank the poison, but is he to blame?

Getting Started

5 minutes

Last class, we finished reading the play. We even rated it on a scale of 1-5. Today we begin our final analysis. Once students get settled, we will begin the intro work that will prepare us for an argument essay. I will explain to the class the work we do this morning is foundational and we will return to it all week, as our work progresses.

List and Rank Factors

15 minutes

Once we are settled, I will ask students to list in their notebook all the events and people that could be held responsible for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet (RL.9-10.1). Then we will compile a list on the board based on everyone's individual lists. I will ask one student to act as the scribe while the others add to the group list. Once we have everyone's additions on the board, we will group like categories together. For instance, the fact that Juliet can't travel outside alone and the fact that her father can arrange a marriage for her can be grouped together under the umbrella of "societal factors." Here's what our list looked like at the end. At this point, I will ask students to return to the list in their notebooks and rank the factors and categories. Who/what is most responsible? Who/what comes next?


So many things can be blamed for the final outcome of the play. Creating the list illustrates just how many elements helped nudge the couple toward tragedy. Plus, this exercise prepares us for the essay we will begin on this topic next class (W.9-10.5).

Critical Essay

35 minutes

Together we are going to read and annotate this essay by Lois Kerschen. The essay itself outlines many causes of Romeo and Juliet's deaths. Each paragraph tackles a specific element and explains how the characters themselves could be blamed, as could fate and societal limitations. Kerschen holds her main argument until the conclusion (RI.9-10.2), wherein she reminds readers that Shakespeare was smart enough to write a nuanced text that is good enough to read hundreds of years later. This strategy is unfamiliar for my freshmen, so we will discuss the effects of this choice -- I will ask my students questions like, "How does this structure of the argument appearing at the end affect your understanding of the message?" "How does the author structure her support for her argument in this essay?" (RI.9-10.3). We will read single paragraphs, have time to annotate in the margins, and then discuss reactions/ask questions-- probably about vocabulary (RI.9-10.4)-- before reading the next paragraph. Here is a sample of one student's annotations.


Reading this essay together has several benefits. First, the reading itself illustrates just what an argument essay can sound like. Reading it together and in a slow pace allows students to read actively, meaning that they are developing their own opinions about the topic itself and-- hopefully-- also considering the beauty of writing. We will use the essay in multiple ways. First, it will act as a guide when we compile the elements of good writing. We will also use it as a source in our own essays, which will be begin outlining next class.