Okay, so where was I? (That’s the problem with “vacation” – it’s hard to regain your momentum!)
Improv. theatre…. setting …. the script…. oh, yeah – the props! Now I remember.
“Props” can be anything that help your script come alive: things that your students can experience – taste, touch, smell, hear.
If you’re teaching a lesson on what I used to call “the Jewish uniform” – bring it in! Bring in a tallit (or three). Let your students finger the fringes. Let them trace the Hebrew letters on the atarah/collar. Let them tent themselves in the tallit/prayer shawl as they repeat the blessing after you. Let the tallit settle on their shoulders – show them how to fold the edges up, so they are able to hold a siddur/prayer book at the same time. Let them experience laying on tefillin – examine different styles of kippot.
If you’re teaching about Passover – let them smell and taste the maror/horseradish; let them chop the apples and add a little grape juice – and have that as snack instead of challah; let them break the matzah to hide an afikoman.
If you’re teaching about the Dead Sea – fill a basin with super salty water. Place it next to a basin of clear water. Let them take turns dropping objects into the basins and watch how they float in the super-salty water.
If you’re trying to evoke the solemnity of Kol Nidre – or the joy of Simchat Torah – play instrumental music softly in the background while students are working.
When you learn about Chanukah together, have them bring in their Chanukiyah from home – and let them tell the stories associated with their personal Chanukiyah.
Let them hold the lulav and hear the branches whisper as they are shaken east, west, north, south, up and down. Let them gently scratch the surface of the etrog and smell its lemon-like odor.
When you study Torah with your students, use a Chumash that includes both Hebrew and English, if possible. If that’s not possible – photocopy the page you’ll be studying together. If that’s even beyond what you can provide – type your text as it’s found in a Chumash, including the verse numbers interspersed within the text.
Take them to see a Torah scroll up close. Let them help undress it and carefully roll it out. Let them use the yad/pointer to point to the Hebrew words – and let them tell you “there are no vowels!” Let them touch the wood of the etz hayim/rollers. Let them be responsible for dressing the Torah, hearing the clink as the breastplate is settled into place – and the jingle of the bells in the crowns. Let them feel the texture of the Torah cover – and open and close the ark carefully as it is replaced.
Then take a moment to catch your breath – and think about the experience.
Use lengths of material as costumes when studying biblical characters…. as tents when they’re Israelites wandering in the desert….or pioneers settling in the Land of Israel… or to block off a special area in the classroom in which they can repair to think calming thoughts.
The more we make the learning real, the easier it is to engage our students. The greater the level of engagement, the greater the likelihood of retention. Using all of our senses in teaching and learning helps make the learning come alive.