Six Quick Rosh Hashanah Activities for Rich Learning
Rosh Hashanah Interview
Educator Batsheva Frankel devotes an entire chapter of her essential Jewish Educator’s Companion to experiential education for formal educational settings. Here’s one idea for an experience, based on the idea that Rosh Hashanah is like a year-end review between an employee and the boss. Have students prepare for their reviews, filling out a self-reflection form (create a template) about their strengths and weaknesses, areas in which they’d like to improve, and accomplishments from the past year. Children can dress up nicely—to impress their employer—adding to the drama. They meet with one of the boss’s assistants (a great way to incorporate older students or teens) to review the form and together make a concrete plan of action for success in the coming year. Place each of the assistants in a different room or at workstations around a larger room. Younger students can dictate their self-reflections to the assistants. Send home the action plans after the holidays.
Rosh Hashanah Show-and-Tell
For younger children who are just learning about Rosh Hashanah, ask them to pick an item from a table that has items on it such as a shofar, honey, apples, a machzor, a tzedakah box, a pomegranate, etc. Have the students pretend that they are bringing that item for show-and-tell. What do they say about it? How do they describe it?
Lenses of Questioning
“Traditional Jewish learning focuses on questions, showing us that good questions are the answer to real learning,” writes Frankel in The Jewish Educator’s Companion. A surefire way to train learners to ask and analyze strong questions is the Lenses of Questioning method, which is based on the idea that all questions fall into six categories, each with its own purpose.
- • Facts: questions that explore data, information
- • Benefits: questions that explore best scenarios and optimism
- • Big Picture: questions that explore process, summary, and themes
- • Cautions: questions that explore risks and potential problems
- • Creativity: questions that explore alternative solutions and creating thinking
- • Emotions: questions that explore feelings, fears, impact on others
Imagine each category corresponds to a different colored lens to focus the questioning. By seeing questions through different lenses, children will gain valuable practice in critical thinking and analytical skills. Try it by cutting different colored paper into glasses shapes (or just cut holes in the center and hold up to look through), and ask different questions about the topic while prefacing each question with an explanation about its lens color. For example:
• Orange Question: In what Hebrew month is Rosh Hashanah?
This is fact based. Students know that even if they don't know the answer, they can look it up.
• Blue Question: What is the purpose of Rosh Hashanah?
This is a blue question because it deals with the themes, agenda, and bigger picture of the holiday, and is thus a larger question to discuss and debate. Students could research it first, if they needed to, and then bring back what they've learned to the discussion. As an open-ended question, it may have more than one answer.
• Green Question: What new traditions would you add to celebrating Rosh Hashanah?
This is a green question because it requires imagination and creative thinking.
• Yellow Question: What are the benefits of new beginnings?
This is a yellow question because it deals with positive thinking and benefits.
• Gray Question: What are the challenges of starting over?
This is a gray question because it deals with weaknesses, challenges, and potential risks.
• Red Question: What does Rosh Hashanah mean to you?
This is a red question because it deals with emotions and impact.
Who Am I?
This notion of teaching the underlying Jewish ideas and values of the holidays is the approach behind Make, Create, Celebrate: Jewish Holidays Through Art. This method uses art as a lens to examine the big ideas of each Jewish holiday.
Here’s a lesson about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and their key theme of reflection:
Have students examine this self-portrait by Marc Chagall and think about what they see and what might be happening in the image. Lead them in a routine called See/Think/Wonder, which was developed through Harvard University’s Project Zero. Ask what they see - a green face or a cow, for example. Then ask what they think is happening. Follow up with wonder questions - I wonder why the face is green, for example.
Elizabeth Diament, the senior educator at the National Gallery of Art and consultant for Make, Create, Celebrate, has written that, “Thinking routines have the capacity to activate student’s deep thinking by privileging their own ideas as a valuable source of information, getting them personally involved, and using questions to drive learning and uncover complexity.” This could be a definition of the goals of Jewish schools as well.
Students can then make their own self-portraits, based on the Chagall model. The Chagall piece is an excellent vehicle to teach about Rosh Hashanah because the holiday’s theme of self-reflection. A self-portrait, such as Chagall’s, is a way to think about these values.
After students create their interpretive art, teachers might talk about how knowing who we are is important to who we can aspire to be next. We can’t become better if we don’t know who we are to begin with, and the self-portraits help us understand a little more about ourselves.
Birthday Cards for The World
Have children think about and illustrate their wishes for the world this new year. Encourage them to think about strategies to help these wishes come true.
- Wishes for the physical world
- Wishes for all people of the world
- Wishes for your family (a part of the world)
- Wishes for yourself
- Wishes for the Jewish people
- Wishes for Israel
Teaching Jewish Holidays is a comprehensive reference that offers a wealth of creative strategies, plus complete historical overview, vocabulary, and more, for each Jewish holiday. Here's one activity for primary grade students from the Rosh Hashanah section:
Teach the concepts that (a) we are partners in God's creation of the world, and (b) creation is not finished - we are helping God continue the process. Tell children that God created lemons, water, and sugar cane. We can create lemonade. Then make lemonade and share it. Then tell the children that God created corm. We can create popcorn. Then make popcorn. Talk about this experience of partnership with God in the continuation of creation.
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