Editor’s Note: Over the next few months, we’ll be highlighting individual lessons from our CrossTalk education project, Essential Everyday Bravery: Thinking and Talking about Identity and Difference in Your Classroom. To learn more, check out the CrossTalk webpage. Today’s lesson comes from Baltimore teacher Amber Phelps, who gets students thinking deeply about identity and vulnerability through asides in two plays: William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and Aaron Posner’s District Merchants. To access the resources mentioned in this lesson—and to download the complete packet of CrossTalk lessons—go here.
WHAT’S ON FOR TODAY AND WHY
In part of District Merchants, we find this line: “This feeling right here… [Gestures to the heart]… this is how the world ends.” The words that we say or, perhaps more importantly, the words that we choose not to say, can create tension and conflict between and among people of different creeds, religions, races, and ideologies. Bridging the divide often means taking a position of vulnerability and sharing your truth.
WHAT TO DO
- Opening Journal Activity [6 minutes]: Find instances in the text in which what is left unsaid creates tension and conflict between and among central characters. (This could be a journal activity for students studying both The Merchant of Venice and/or District Merchants).
- Share Out [5 minutes]: Have students discuss their journaling in pairs and then have partners report back what they discussed in whole-class regroup.
- Nessa’s Aside [3 minutes]: Hand out copies of Scene 4 (District Merchants 1.4) and have students read the passage aloud.
- Performing the Monologue [5 minutes]: Have students stand up and dramatically read Nessa’s monologue. This can happen chorally, as a whole class. Encourage students to use the full space of the classroom and feel free to gesture and raise their voices. If time permits, you can invite individual students to read aloud, too.
- Partner & Whole Group Discussion [6 minutes]:
- How did you feel as Nessa? Limit your response to a single adjective.
- What words in the text felt important in helping you determine that adjective?
- What are some of the ways in which Nessa feels unheard or misunderstood by Portia?
- How did your body respond to certain words in this aside?
- Did you feel that you came to a resolution of how to interact with Portia by the end of the aside?
- Would you say that your adjective has shifted by the end of the aside?
- Watch the Video Performance of Nessa’s Monologue [4 minutes]:
- How did it feel as an audience member watching Nessa?
- What moments felt uncomfortable to watch? Why were they uncomfortable to witness
- What adjective would you use to describe Nessa’s emotions in this moment? How does it compare to the adjective you identified earlier?
- Partner Up & Perform [6 minutes]: Have one student perform Nessa’s monologue and one person portray a “silent” Portia.
- Re-Group & Share [5 minutes]:
- For the Portias: how did it feel to be able to “listen in” or be “clued in” to Nessa’s feelings?
- For the Nessas: how did it feel to share your feelings to Portia?
- For the Portias: How might you adjust your actions, behaviors, words around Nessa with this awareness?
- Closure [10 minutes]: Have students complete an identity mapping chart (follows this lesson), and find the areas in which the expectations of one world clash with another. Further, ask students to think about (a) the ways in which they have experienced a sense of liminality or being in-between and (b) moments during which the things they did not say led to internal turmoil or conflict. Discuss ways around the conflict and how moments of vulnerability could have inspired opportunities for empathy and collective understanding.
HOW DID IT GO?
- Self-reflection: Have students close the class thinking about the ways in which moments of vulnerability inspire feelings of empathy and collective understanding.
- Extension for Summative Assignment: Have students convert this identity mapping and story of liminality into a monologue to perform for a summative assignment. Students could use previous knowledge of verse/prose, iambic pentameter, and other literary and sound devices to guide their writing and be used to assess major literary concepts.
VARIATIONS, EXTENSIONS, AND OTHER COMMENTS
- Students who have not studied the plays could skip to step three of the lesson and maximize time for the closure activity and identity mapping.
- Depending on the age group, students could use asides in The Merchant of Venice (i.e. Shylock’s aside in 1.3) and watch the corresponding video.
- Depending on the classroom culture, some students may feel hesitant to share their lived experiences with the classroom, and you may need to build up to whole-class settings of sharing. In some situations, moving to whole-class share-out might be helpful in a challenging conversation and discussion.
- Extension: Have students convert this identity mapping and story of liminality into a monologue to perform for a summative assignment. Students could use previous knowledge of verse/prose, iambic pentameter, and other literary and sound devices to guide their writing and be used to assess major literary concepts.