OER Administrator
English Language Arts, Reading Literature
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • Grade 12 ELA
  • Shakespeare
  • Slavery
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    Reviewing Source Materials

    Reviewing Source Materials


    Where did Shakespeare get his ideas? In this lesson, students will read and annotate source materials written by Montaigne and others. They’ll discuss the question of what the materials say about native peoples of the Americas. They’ll also compare the ideas of Gonzalo and Montaigne.


    • Read the lesson and student content.
    • Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.
    • As the class continues reading The Tempest, determine which students need support, such as a reading partner or a Guided Reading Group.
    • Help students locate copies of the Independent Reading texts.


    • Briefly introduce the assignment to read and annotate excerpts from the Montaigne essay “Of Cannibals.”
    • Ask students to look for evidence that Shakespeare read this essay before writing The Tempest and used it as a source for ideas.
      • SWD: Be sure that all SWDs are engaging in the independent writing successfully. If you find that some students need support, consider grouping those who need extra help and working with them to support their process.
      • ELL: Encourage students to note all words that present difficulty to them. Be sure they feel comfortable with the pronunciation. Additionally, allow ELLs to use a dictionary.
    • See the annotation for Excerpts From “Of Cannibals” to use as a model.
    • Some advanced students may want to read the entire essay.


    Writer Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) was a contemporary of Shakespeare. Scholars are not certain, but his published essays were probably read by the playwright. Even if Shakespeare didn’t read Montaigne, both men probably knew of similar works in Latin that they used in their writing. Montaigne’s essay “Of Cannibals” is a probable source for some of Shakespeare’s ideas for The Tempest.

    Read and annotate the excerpts from Montaigne’s essay “Of Cannibals.”

    • Note any vocabulary you are not familiar with.
    • At the end of each paragraph, briefly summarize what Montaigne is saying.
    • Look for evidence that Shakespeare read this essay and used some of the ideas.

    You Have a Choice
    You can read and think about the text independently, read and discuss the text in a small group, or request a conference with your teacher.

    Of Cannibals

    • Allow students time to share their ideas.
    • Invite students to ask questions about the Montaigne excerpts.
      • ELL: Encourage other students to be patient if the pace of some ELLs is slower than that of native speakers, and explain that listening attentively is one way in which we show we care for others.
    • After students have discussed Montaigne’s ideas, pose the following question:
      • ✓ Today, how do we behave toward and acknowledge those whose culture is different from our own?
    • Give some examples from current news.

    Work Time

    When you have finished reading, share your annotations and summaries with your reading group.

    Discuss these questions in your reading group.

    • What does Montaigne say about the native peoples in the Americas?
    • What is his criticism of how his contemporary European culture behaves toward “native” peoples in newly discovered lands?

    Appoint a spokesperson to share your ideas with the whole class.

    Then discuss with the whole class Montaigne’s response to information about American Indian peoples in his essay “Of Cannibals.”

    Comparison of Two Texts

    • After students have met with their reading groups, facilitate a Whole Group Discussion about the similarities and differences between the two texts.


    Reassemble in your reading group and examine the lines from Montaigne and from Gonzalo’s speech.

    • Discuss the similarities and differences between the two texts.

    Scholars are not in agreement about whether Shakespeare read this work by Montaigne. Some scholars say that both men probably read the same source material. What do you think? Share with your reading group.

    Who Is Civilized? Essay

    • For students who need support, suggest they use the “Who Is Civilized?” Essay Planning Sheet to help them organize their thoughts.
    • Remind students to choose and locate an Independent Reading text before Lesson 12.


    Here are some of the broad questions to address in this unit.

    • Who is civilized?
    • Who decides what civilization is or how it’s defined?
    • How do we behave toward and acknowledge those whose culture is different from our own?

    ​Begin planning how you would apply these questions to the characters and situations in Shakespeare’s The Tempest . By the end of Lesson 10, you will write a brief essay in which you define “civilized” and use your definition to measure the actions and behaviors of the characters in the play. Read more about the “Who Is Civilized?” essay requirements. You can use the “Who Is Civilized?” Essay Planning Sheet to help you organize your essay.