Monday, October 19, 2009


What a treat to be immersed in the "easy to read and explain" narrative of B'raisheet!! Here are the stories we all know and love - the ones we remember from the picture books of pre-school and the simplistic Bible stories of the primary grades. Isn't it so much easier to teach stories our students already know?!?

Thought for the teacher: If you are teaching the same 'story' year after year, are you really surprised that at some point the learners are bored? Or that at the end of their formal Jewish educational experience they distance themselves from the childish knowledge that is the extent of what they have been exposed to?

Let's continue to try something different. And let's begin by updating the challenge we faced in teaching B'raisheet
Here's the challenge -
  • how do we make the 'old' story of Noah and the Flood and the Tower of Babel 'new' in the eyes of our students?
  • How can we transform a narrative that our learners have been reading and hearing forever into something they find important?
  • How can we get from "How did the animals get onto the ark" to some really big thinking about what the point is in studying Torah?
  • How can we help our students answer the fundamental question I think all learners should be able to answer, "What did you learn today/this week/this month that is important?"
Big Ideas:
  • Not all the important ideas in Torah are stated outright.
  • Filling in the blanks in Torah is really important for understanding its message to us.
Some Important Questions:
  • What do we know about Noah from the text?
  • How do we know about Noah from the text? Who is telling the story?
  • What did you learn from Noah's experience that is important to you in your life?
  • What lessons are there for us in the story of the Tower of Babel?
Learning Activities:
  • Read the story of Noah line-by-line, stopping at the end of each verse, as if you have never seen or heard it before. Each time you stop, try to describe what you have just read. Also, try to predict what will happen next. Did anything you read surprise you? Explain.
  • The first word of Chapter 6 verse 16 is "tsohar". This word is called a "hapax legomena". You can read more about this here in an article from the Jewish Encyclopedia. How can we understand a word that appears only once in the entire text? Why is that a problem?
  • Read the comments about the word "tsohar" here in the post on October 27, 2006. What did you learn? Is it important information?
  • Read the story of the Tower of Babel the same way you read the story of Noah, and go through the same process. Do you think God punished the people or rewarded them in this story? Explain your thinking.
  • The United States is a country made up of many diverse populations, coming from or descended from hundreds of native countries, with hundreds of native languages spoken by its population. How is this a good thing? How is it a problem? How is your thinking influenced by the story of the Tower of Babel?
  • What new understanding of Torah in your life do you have as a result of these activities?
  • What important ideas have you uncovered in studying this parasha?
  • What else are you curious about that we have not studied together - and how might you learn more?

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