One From the Blog: Using Facebook Profiles for Character Analysis
If Romeo Montague had a Facebook profile, who would the last four posts be from? Well, all of them might be from Juliet, saying things like, “It’s been five minutes since my last post and I still miss u <3!” Or perhaps Friar Laurence will be trying to contact Romeo in Mantua, saying, “Friar John left yesterday, you should be hearing from him soon. Good news! There is strength in men again!” Maybe the last post on Romeo’s profile page will be a status update from Romeo himself, saying, like one of my students thought up, “I like it not in Mantua. FML.”
Yes, it is that time of year again when teachers across the country are teaching Romeo and Juliet to confused 9th graders. Every year we struggle with the best way to teach such a difficult play to students who are wondering why why why. Introducing them to Middle English, and having them memorize the meaning of words like “anon,” seem ridiculous at times seeing as most of them have no idea what the difference is between “there”, “their”, or “they’re.” Yet every year we invoke the Great Bard for another generation of youth, and try to convince them Shakespeare is worth reading.
I’ve written a lot about Shakespeare over the last year. Whether it is my introductory Shakespeare Unit for teachers, available here at Teach4Real, or my post on the beauty of teaching African-American boys these plays, I always enjoy the end of winter and the beginning of Romeo and Juliet, or Othello, or Hamlet.
No matter which play I’m teaching to what grade level, I’ve found some interesting ways of making Shakespeare relevant to today’s inner-city students. As usual, I didn’t come up with these strategies myself, but have blatantly stolen them, and changed them to my own liking. I encourage you to do the same.
A few years ago a colleague came up with the great idea of using blank MySpace profile sheets as a tool for character analysis. It was a wonderful idea, back when people still used MySpace and wooly mammoths walked the earth. I used these archaic MySpace dittos and sat back and watched as my students created “About Me” bios, listed “Favorite Movies”, and drew profile pics and wrote posts on the characters’ walls. It worked great back then, and today, it works just as well with one big difference. I now use Facebook.
Using the Facebook template, I have created Profile pages for each of the important characters in Romeo and Juliet. Keep in mind, I have created the Profile page, not the News Feed. I encourage each student to think about who the last five or six people to post on that character’s wall would be and what they would say. Here are some great nuances to this activity that show just how deep the students can go into character analysis and character interaction (LRA Standards 3.3 and 3.4 for 9-10th graders, which are essential standards and some of the most tested types of questions).
-Students can get symbolic with the profile pics, choosing concrete objects that represent a deeper idea or characteristic.
-Students can earn extra points for using Elizabethan English, or a mixture of text-talk. Remember, it should still sound like a Facebook page. I encourage them to use this mixture, as that is when it is the most fun. I’m sorry, but “I like it not here in Mantua. FML” is freaking hilarious.
-Make sure the students pay attention to the chronology of the posts. On most pages, the latest posts are from “thirty seconds ago” to “a day ago”. This is important, because if you’re in Act IV, you could still have Mercutio and Tybalt make a post, because they were still alive a day ago. The chronology takes them back in the play, and the posts should reflect that.
-This year I had them work in groups, and gave them a group grade. I make sure each student in the group has a different character, and they have to help each other out. Some groups actually have the same Profile Pics on each person’s page, so when Juliet posts on the other pages, visually I can see where Juliet is.
-Other years I have taken this one step further and assigned as many characters as I could around the room (you won’t have enough in a class of thirty, but that’s okay) and have the students get up out of their seats and walk around the class making posts on each other’s walls. So if Juan and Mikey both are assigned Romeo, they walk around the room and write on other people’s profiles as that character (how awesome is that?). Also, if you do it this way, you can create a News Feed out of butcher paper and require each student to make a post at the front of the room.
-On the back of their Profile page, I usually have them write an “About Me” paragraph, and maybe add boxes for “Favorite Movies” “Music” and other things that are on the Info page. This forces them to think about the characters deeply. You’ll get some cool answers, like Friar Laurence’s favorite author will be William Shakespeare. Or Romeo’s favorite actor might be Leonardo DiCaprio.
When you do this activity I promise you the students will love it. I don’t make many promises in inner-city education, but this is one of them. My students told me it was fun, it made them think about the characters, it made them see the characters in a new way, and it didn’t feel like work. This activity is everything a good lesson should be. So whether you’re teaching Romeo and Juliet, or any book, novel, short story, play, or epic poem, think about using Facebook for character analysis. Try using Facebook in the classroom, you use it for everything else, right?
I once asked my students to write about the cultural differences between them and the other cultures they see around them. I don’t remember the exact book I was teaching at the time, but I do remember one student’s response. We’ll call him Aaron. Aaron was a 9th grade African-American student, and his response sounded almost exactly like this:
We blacks are just hyphier than the others. I guess Mexicans can get wild too, but not like us. We just hyphier than everybody else.
Aaron was supposed to write a page, and it was obvious he had just written this on his way to my class from lunch. Even so, I think he makes a good point.
I think there are some important cultural aspects we should recognize in all our students so that we can better reach them. But I think that when we think about culture and race in education, we must avoid looking at students of different cultures as deficient — like they are missing something, or need special help because of what they are lacking. It is human nature. We look at what people don’t have, and forget to see what is great. Sometimes we even look at culture in this light. But I don’t look at it like that at all. Instead of focusing on how culture makes students different, I like to focus on how it makes them stronger. Let’s focus on the good stuff, or in Aaron’s words, the hyphiness.