Gen Ed Torah is a blog series by Rabbi Lee Buckman, in which he reviews current literature in education and applies it to the world of Jewish education.
Ending the Year with Hebrew Language Games
The school year is coming to a close in the northern hemisphere, and in-class parties (to the extent they are not on Zoom) have begun. A sine qua non is food, of course. But the typical end-of-year rituals include more than just treats: award ceremonies, outdoor fun in the fresh air, time capsules (lots of pandemic memories to store away for a later date), a recap of the past year, or sharing of summer plans.
A Hebrew teacher in one of my schools ended the year in a most atypical way. She used the last week of school to continue teaching…but with games. Here are three of her favorites and the reasons why these games were my favorites too–even though I was only invited to observe, never to play.
Game #1: Two Truths, One Lie
Each student was asked to write three sentences about themselves in Hebrew on a piece of paper, two of which were true and one was false. The sentences could be about summer plans, some little-known facts about the students themselves, or something special that happened during the year. Students read their sentences aloud, and the rest of the class asked questions in Hebrew to identify which statement was the lie. Often this teacher would split the class into four or five groups. That way, each student had even more opportunities to speak and ask questions. What I liked about this game was that it was completely non-teacher-centered. Students did the talking. The room was filled with Hebrew chatter. Plus, without being too didactic, she reviewed future tense with the students (“write statements about your summer plans”), present tense (“write three little known facts about yourself”), and past tense (“write a highlight of the past year”).
Game #2: Taboo
In the “basic” version of Taboo, my game-oriented Hebrew teacher divided students into groups of four or five and gave each group a pile of nouns written in Hebrew. One person picked a card and gave hints in Hebrew. Whoever guessed the noun correctly kept the card. The person with the most cards was the winner. In the upper-level Hebrew classes, this teacher divided the class in half. One student from each team volunteered to give the clues, and someone from the opposite team served as the monitor. The student who picked the word and gave the clues was also given a list of Hebrew words that could not be used in the clue. The monitor from the other team made sure the taboo words weren’t used as clues. Each student got two to three minutes to see how many Hebrew words their teammates could guess. Like Two Truths, One Lie, this game got students talking Hebrew.
Game #3: Pictionary
Each student was paired up with a fellow classmate and given a picture face down so that the partner could not see it. Each student also received a blank piece of paper and a crayon or marker. One of the partners described the picture in Hebrew and the other had to draw it. Then, partners switched roles. Of course, this game could get competitive if two sets of partners were given several pictures and a limited amount of time to describe and draw as many as possible. Like the first two games, this one emphasized “output.” Once again, it succeeded in getting students to speak to each other.
Like most Hebrew teachers, this one had one goal all year: to encourage her students to speak more and thereby gain confidence and fluency. Her assumption was that the best way to do this was simply to give students opportunities to speak more frequently. But unlike most teachers, this teacher didn’t have the students speak to her but to each other. She was focused less on correcting mistakes than on encouraging output, speaking, talking, chatting. Hebrew had a communicative function and it was social. Many of her learning activities like Two Truths, One Lie, and Taboo were collaborative. Classmates built on each other’s guesses and clues and talked to each other.
On the last days of the year in this woman’s classes, Hebrew music played in the background, and Hebrew speaking filled the foreground–not between the students and the teacher, but between the students and their peers. Not a word of English could be heard in the classroom; that was the common rule for every game. It was a fun and instructive way to end a year…and, truthfully, to bring into the next year too!
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Rabbi Lee Buckman
Rabbi Lee Buckman lives and works in Jerusalem. He heads up the Israel office of the Holocaust Claims Conference which funds education, research, documentation, and films related to the Shoah. As well, Lee is the Executive Director of JEDvision, which provides educational services, consulting, and executive coaching to Jewish organizations and institutions globally. Prior to making aliyah, he served as Head of School at three institutions: TanenbaumCHAT, the Greenfield Hebrew Academy, and the Frankel Jewish Academy. Lee has been a Lookstein Center contributor for more than 10 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.