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Pop Sonnets

I hardly watch television, and it's been months since I've been to a movie. Students are always quick to express their disbelief when I share this with them. Books and reading take centerstage in my life, and I'll occasionally indulge in a Netflix binge.

And because reading is at the forefront of my life, it's often easy to forget that it isn't (yet) for students. Sometimes their exposure to words and ideas comes from popular culture--popular culture that I really don't know as much about as I should.

I also know that students fear Shakespeare. Many of them hadn't even met the bard yet, but they were quick to share their apprehensions. I encounter something similar with To Kill a Mockingbird. Word can sure get around that texts are difficult, that you "don't really need to read them," etc.

To prevent this, I started off our reading of Romeo and Juliet by looking at pop sonnets. If you haven't checked them out, go here. Today we looked at "Baby Got Back," and students instantly recognized it.

Sure, I wanted students to recognize that reading sonnets can be fun. More importantly, however, I wanted students to recognize that you don't need to know every word in order to make meaning. You can use what you know to make sense of what's there. It's like Peter Rabinowitz and Corrine Bancroft would argue: kids know things when they come into our rooms, and sometimes we help them forget what they know. I want my kids to remember!


  1. Hey Kevin: My co-author, Kim Askew, and I are trying to make Shakespeare a little less scary, too, with our Bard-inspired YA novels, published by Merit Press. (So far we've reinterpreted the Tempest, Macbeth and R&J in our Twisted Lit series.) Would love to mail you some complimentary copies of our novels to enjoy personally or share with your class. Email me at if you're interested!

    Amy Helmes


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