Does Art Imitate Life? ~ Lesson Plan

Lesson Overview

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LESSON TITLE: Does Art Imitate Life?

GRADE LEVEL: Grades 9-12

TIME ALLOTMENT: Two 45-minute class periods


Writers are often told to “write what they know”.  This lesson will ask students to explore this idea using examples of great writers, with a particular focus on William Shakespeare.  In the Introductory Activity, students will look at several authors (either the authors suggested in this lesson or authors of your own choosing who better reflect your class’s study) and begin to identify ways in which authors’ lives are reflected in their writing.  In the Learning Activity, students will watch video segments from the PBS series Shakespeare Uncovered providing biographical information about Shakespeare and exploring the question of whether or not events in Shakespeare’s life may have influenced his plays.  Finally, in the Culminating Activity, students examine text from The Tempest and will assert, in a one- to two-page paper, whether or not Prospero’s speech from Act V, Scene i was in fact Shakespeare’s farewell to the theatre.

This lesson can be used during a study of Shakespeare, The Tempest, or in a unit focused on writers and writers’ lives.  The lesson is best used after students have examined the lives and works of several authors.


English/Language Arts


After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Describe how authors’ lives influence their work.
  • Identify the possible influence of events in Shakespeare’s life on his plays.
  • Collect evidence from informational sources, including texts and video.
  • Analyze text for sub-textual meaning.


Common Core State Standards

Grades 9-10

RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

RL.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).

RL.9-10.6 Analyze a particular point of view or cultural experience reflected in a work of literature from outside the United States, drawing on a wide reading of world literature.

Grades 11-12

RI.11-12.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

RL.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)

RI.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.

NCTE/IRA Standards

1. Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.

3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).

6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and non-print texts.

7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.



Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.

Segment 1: “Shakespeare’s Biography”

A brief biography of Shakespeare’s life.

Segment 2: “The Loss of a Son”

A discussion of the twins in Twelfth Night and the role twins played in Shakespeare’s life.

Segment 3: “The Resurrection”

An analysis of Shakespeare’s “resurrection” of Sebastian and its personal meaning for him.

Segment 4: “Shakespeare’s Daughter”

A look at how Shakespeare’s relationship with his daughter might have affected the story of The Tempest.

Segment 5: “I’ll Drown My Book”

An analysis of whether or not Prospero’s speech is Shakespeare’s farewell to the theatre.


This website provides a wide range of detailed author biographies, which may be used in the Introductory Activity of this lesson.

The Glencoe Literature Library Study Guide for The Tempest by William Shakespeare

This is an extensive study guide, but depending on your students’ familiarity with William Shakespeare and The Tempest, sections you may want students to read include “Meet William Shakespeare (page 9) and “Before You Read Background” (page 12).  The “Introducing the Play” section (pages 10 and 11) is used in the Culminating Activity.

American Shakespeare Center Podcast Central – Dr. Ralph Presents: The Tempest

In this 40-minute podcast, Ralph Alan Cohen talks about The Tempest.  Dr. Ralph addresses the autobiographical nature of the play at around 31:44 and again at 36:10.


For each student:

For each group:

  • One computer OR copies of author biographies if computers for each group are not available.

For the class:


Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:

Preview all of the video segments used in the lesson.  Prepare to watch them using your classroom’s Internet connection.

Bookmark all websites which you plan to use in the lesson on each computer in your classroom.

Print copies of the handouts for each student and group.

Consider other authors to whom your students have been exposed, as well as how events in their lives may have affected their writing.  Possible authors to consider include, but are not limited to:  Harper Lee, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, Willa Cather, and Ralph Ellison.  You will be breaking your class into groups and each group will focus on a different author, so the number of authors you choose will depend on the size of your class.

Confirm the writers you have chosen have biographies on or another reputable website.  If there are not available computers for each group, you may print out the biographies and prepare copies for your students.

Proceed to Lesson Activities.