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FOLGER SHAKESPEARE LIBRARY'S Essential Everyday Bravery: 6 Lessons Using Literature to Have Difficult Conversations


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About This Lesson

"Right now, every day, in classrooms across the United States and around the world, you and your students face this reality: as a country and across the world, we are profoundly divided, polarized by our lack of knowledge, lack of empathy, and lack of understanding of one another. Issues around our identities and differences—perceived and/or actual—tend to get us pointing at one another rather than listening to one another. If we talk, listen, and talk back to one another, if we hear each other’s stories, there’s a chance we can learn, empathize, and understand."

—Peggy O'Brien, Director of Education, Folger Shakespeare Library

Six Lesson Plans for Teachers

Check out these six stand-alone lessons—and the accompanying scripts, video clips, and resource lists—which are designed to serve as guides for this kind of conversation in your classroom.

Short scenes from two plays are the catalysts that get students reflecting and talking about identity and difference, race and religion. The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare’s brutal and still highly controversial play about prejudice, violence and materialism among Jews and Christians was written in 1596. District Merchants is a retelling of Shakespeare’s play, set in post-Civil War Washington with characters who are Jewish, Christian, white, and African-American. It was written in 2016.

You and your students can jump from the short scenes to reflecting meaningfully on identity and difference in your own lives. Teach these lessons anytime, no matter what subject you teach. The scenes and the topics stand strong on their own. 

This packet provides you with these materials:

  • Six lessons, most designed for one class period
  • Scripts of four edited scenes—two from The Merchant of Venice and two from District Merchants
  • Links to video clips of professional actors performing these four scenes—purposely up close and with no costume or set so that that the language shines through
  • An excellent list of additional resources that provides foundational questions and topics, and includes suggestions of more literature—poetry, novels, plays, short stories—related to these topics

The lessons were created by 10 excellent teachers, and designed to work in all kinds of classes with all kinds of students. These teachers are themselves people of different races, ethnicities, and religions, and they teach IB and AP, special needs, honors, and “regular” students in urban and suburban (mostly public) high schools in or near Washington, DC. 

These resources are the product of CrossTalk, a yearlong community engagement project led by the Folger Shakespeare Library and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of their Humanities in the Public Square initiative. 




February 13, 2020
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