Lesson Plan for "Twelfth Night": Getting Started

By Peter Boysen

This is the beginning of a "Twelfth Night" teaching unit designed to introduce your students to ideas in the text so that they can connect the story to events in their own lives before engaging a challenging story.

Some Things Never Change

One of the more amusing things about teaching adolescents is that they are constantly dealing with love problems, and you can take advantage of this at the beginning of your Twelfth Night teaching unit. Today, you'll be helping your students understand themes at work in the play before they have to tangle with the language.

Split your class into groups of five. Ask each group to come up with a quick role-play in which one member loves another, but the beloved does not feel the same way; instead, that person loves someone else entirely. This should take 15-20 minutes. If you have the resources at your campus, give each group access to a computer so they can swiftly type a mini-script and print a copy for each group member. For each group, you should have the following roles: Lover, Beloved, and the person whom the Beloved loves. The other two people in the group can be people who are trying to trick the Lover or the Beloved in the situation, or just amused observers.

After 20-25 minutes, your class should be through writing the mini-scripts. Distribute copies of each of the following love speeches to your students: Orsino (I.i.1-15), Olivia (III.i.152-164), and Viola (II.ii.18-26 and 33-41).

Read the three speeches through with your students. Then, give each group five minutes to present its mini-role-play. At the end of the last presentation, ask students to identify each mini-role-play with one of the three speeches. Whose experiences seem closest to each mini-role-play? What comedic elements appeared in each mini-role-play that also appear in one or more of the speeches?

Accessing Shakespeare's Language

One of the most common hurdles for students to overcome in their initial exposure to Shakespeare is the difficulty of the language, and this is a helpful activity that can occur early in your Twelfth Night study.

Make enough copies of Orsino's opening speech (I.i.1-15) so that you can divide your students into pairs, and each pair will have a copy of the speech. They're not going to get a full copy, though -- you're going to cut it up into individual words and phrases, and then put each set into a Ziploc bag as part of preparing for class.

Give each pair a bag, and ask them to assemble the speech, based on what they think he might be saying. You can help them by saying that the speech is about the disappointments of love. You can also expose them to iambic pentameter, so they'll know that each line should have ten syllables. Telling them that the first letter in each line is a capital letter may also help.

As you circulate the room, monitoring, you'll want to have a correct copy of this speech in hand to help students who are having a hard time figuring out which word or phrase goes where. Give your students time to make mistakes and do some thinking, though. Don't give the answers away too quickly. Also, don't let them see the correct copy of the speech.

Give students about 20 minutes to work on this. After time is up, put the correct speech up on your document camera, or distribute correct copies for students to look at. Ask students to share with the whole group how close they got to having the correct text of the speech.

The purpose of this activity is to get your students accustomed to the nuances of Shakespeare's language. Dealing with Renaissance language in this format will make reading the play much more accessible to them than if you had just jumped right in to Act I, Scene I in a traditional read through.