Bob Boone


Writing Ideas


Roman Moe: Inserting a little fun into Julius Caesar.


To paraphrase Emerson, “Necessity is a mother.” A few years ago my sophomores had just begun reading Julius Caesar. I had been out the previous day and for lack of a better idea had assigned the film Julius Caesar’s Rome for my substitute to show the class. In an attempt to hold them accountable/awake for the film, I had her distribute a note taking sheet to the class. She was to warn them that it was worth points and would be collected at the end of the period. This assured me that when I returned the next day I could assume they would have at least a modicum of information about life in Rome back in the day.

The question was, though, what to do with it. I certainly didn’t want to grade a bunch of busy work. Besides, I was anxious to break loose from the riveting “Brutus used logos but Antony used pathos!” death march we had been taking together through the text. We all needed to be shaken up a bit. Thus, “Roman Moe” was born. “Roman Moe” can be easily adapted to be anything from a one day shot to a full week lesson plan. Now if you own a copy of Moe’s Café (and if you don’t, feel free to stop reading right now and go purchase a copy; I’m not going anywhere), then you already know that the “Moe Method” is a term Bob and I use for a technique of eliciting creative writing from students. We present them with a prompt (person, place, situation, etc.) and then immediately ask ten questions about the scenario.

Enthusiastic writers always have plenty to say; the less enthused find themselves surprised that they had so much to say. In the case of “Roman Moe“, I had the students imagine that they were Romans who had just discovered that Julius Caesar had been assassinated. Since they had just seen the film, I knew they had enough background in Roman history to pull this off. I had anticipated that there might be a problem coming up with suitable names for the new characters, so I GOOGLED “Roman names” and immediately found so many that it’s hard to imagine the Romans being able to have used them all. After we created our characters, we shared some of their more salient attributes and generally had a congenial time. Then I broke them into groups of four and told them to write a scene (enclosed) in which these four Romans discussed how they felt about Caesar’s death.

Finally, they presented the scenes in class and I graded them on the fly using a very basic rubric (enclosed). If you’re looking for a one day shot, you can spend the first half of a class period creating the characters and then the second half discussing their possible reactions to the stunning news. If you’re feeling more ambitious, you can lead a discussion about the incident but have the students stay “in character”: “Those of us in the gladiator union feel pretty upset whenever those sissy senators pull something like this!” “That’s just the sort of nonsense we Vestal Virgins have had to put up with since the days of Romulus and Remus!”

If you want to take the full week approach, you can set it up like this:

  • Monday
  • Background Research. There are plenty of ways to handle background info on Rome: film, lecture, handout, on-line research, social studies class, etc. You probably have done something with this already anyway.
    Get the note-taking sheet here.

     

  • Tuesday
  • "Roman Moe." If you only have time for one activity, this is the one to do. Bob and I have found that these question/answers tend to work better when read aloud. That way you can supplement them with options, other questions, observations, etc.
    Roman Moe


  • Wednesday
  • Script writing/rehearsal. If you have the time, you can probably stretch this over two days. It may be a bit much to ask them to memorize their parts, but reading from note cards rather than full page scripts seems to make for more engaging performances.
    Script Writing Assignment enclosed.


  • Thursday
  • Presentation. Unless you’re teaching an acting class, you’re probably more interested in getting the kids involved than you are in the sophistication of the performance. Since the class has had only a limited time to prepare the scenes, students realize that the end products will be rather rough. This can work to your advantage, especially if you have kids that are nervous about performing in front of others. Slap down a holistic grade, jot down a couple of quick observations, and bring on the next group (Presentation Rubric enclosed). When grading the script itself, consider characterization, relevance, and overall effect. Again, the extent to which you respond is up to you.
    Script Rubric and Presentation Rubic.


  • Friday
  • Now you can go back to the play itself and see how Shakespeare dealt with the scene. Having gone through the “Roman Moe” experience, students should have plenty to say.

As the Romans say, Bona Fortuna!

Email your advice to advice@WritingTeacherHangout.com.

Read Previous Larson's Lodge Columns:

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    Inside Job: A Life of Teaching
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