Teaching Strategies

People own things they discover on their own. They don’t always own something that they are told. How do we empower our students to discover what they are learning? Discovering vs. covering the material.

3 Rules for a healthy, productive, cohesive classroom:

  1. The content must be interesting and engaging, but it can be neither too challenging (too frustrating) nor too easy (too boring).
  2. There must be time to interact with other students. If not, students will do it anyway.
  3. The environment must be safe. A student must be able to speak without fear of judgment or derision.

Teaching Strategies:

  • Authentic Jewish Experiences: My favorite is…A Time When I.. I felt… My response was… the skills I had were…
  • Barometer: post-its on the wall to take a stand physically. Go stand along the spectrum according to what you believe. Share and discuss why you stood where you did.
  • Beachball Toss: write questions on a beachball and toss the ball to each person. When each person catches the ball, they have to answer the question that their hand landed on, then toss the ball to the next person. 
  • Big paper, silent conversation: Give each pair of students a piece of easel paper with a text in the middle. Give each pair a different quote. The pairs write comments and questions around the text without talking. Then you can pass the paper around to have pairs read and respond to another text and to other comments. This technique allows everyone to contribute, even students who usually don’t participate. Then you have a record of their thoughts and feelings, and students are responding to each other. Slows the process down, gives the students time to think. Choose texts that inspire dialogue.
  • Concept Strips: Hand out an envelope with strips of paper to each small group and have them decide whether or not each strip connects to the concept being taught.
  • Creative Tefillah: first study a tefillah and its meaning, then using a concept from the meaning, have small groups create their own song, picture, poem… These works can be shared during a Shabbat service in the community—Jr. Congregation, family service, main service… Through this project, the students experience what they gain from being part of a community—both collaborating with and learning others’ ideas which enrich how they look at tefillah, and participating in communal prayer. Now when they hear the original prayer in services, they can connect to it with a personal connection. 
  • Debate a topic: have students listen to others with opposing ideas, such as whether to have a kosher kitchen in the synagogue. Listen to the needs of others, think about Jewish mitzvot and traditions, what does your community stand for?
  • Four Corners: Post signs with categories around the room. Have the students go to the corner that is most meaningful for them. Each small group at each corner shares their connection to the category.  For example, for Rosh Hashanah the signs can read: ate a new food, traveled to a new place or went to a new camp, read a new book, gained a new family member--birth, wedding.  Come back together as a whole group and have students share something new they learned about someone else.  Then say the Shehechiyanu prayer to show gratitude for the new things in our lives.
  • Gallery of Quotes: hang up quotes around the room that connect to a topic studied, then have students stand next to the quote that is most meaningful for them.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Poster: Cut up a piece of foam poster board. Do jigsaw learning. Give each small group a piece of the foam poster board to summarize what they learned. Then put the whole poster together.
  • Journal: Examine a value- Why as Jews are we doing this? What does it mean to be a holy person, place…? To me…means? To me, the most important idea in this prayer is….Or, draw, cut a picture…about the following line from the parsha/text/prayer….
  • Meeting Circles: inner circle and outer circle, inner circle stays still, outer circle moves clockwise with each question. Introduce themselves then answer question. Go from basic to in depth of the person. It’s important to address the participants’ lives with the first question.
  • Personalize the content: For example, we say the Modeh Ani to express gratitude for a new day. Did something happen this week that made you especially excited to wake up in the morning?
  • Puzzles: Hand out puzzle pieces and small groups make the puzzle then answer the question on the puzzle.
  • Question Cards: Have students write down questions and answers about a topic you are studying on notecards.  Mix up the cards and hand each student a question or answer.  Have each student find the student who has the card that goes with their question/answer.  Have the students sit with their partner.  Each pair asks the class their question and shares the answer if the class doesn't know it. 
  • Take Action: What actions can we take together for our community—organize or help support an event in your synagogue, take part or initiate a social action project, reflect on the impact we can make when we come together, how do our Jewish values help inspire and shape how we engage in Tikkun Olam. Start with a value from your curriculum.  For example, in Birchot HaShachar we express gratitude for what we have in life.  With the class choose one of the things for which we are grateful, and come up with a social action project- coats for the winter….collect eye glasses for those who need….
  • TTYN- Turn to Your Neighbor and discuss a response to a question and share with the class.
  • TWPS –Think, Write, Pair, Share: ask a question, have everyone think about the answer and write their response down, share their response with a partner, then share their ideas with the whole group.  Before they get started, tell your students that they will be sharing their partner's responses with the whole group, so that they listen closely to others' responses.
  • Who Am I?: give each person an identity on a headband or put their identity on name tags on their back.  Everyone walks around the room asking each other questions to figure out their identity. Can use characters from Torah or holidays that you are studying.

Written and compiled by Abby Reiken and Susie Tessel

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