Do your students already know how to light the candles? Do they already know about the Maccabees?
Here is a list of 21 fun and creative activities to make Chanukah come alive in the classroom. Some are appropriate for elementary school students, while others are better for middle and high school.
1. Chanukah Living Museum: Break down the different parts of the Chanukah story (e.g. life for the Jews in Judea, the ascendancy of Antiochus and his new laws, dilemmas for Jews, Judah organizes, Maccabees fight, cleaning of the Temple, Temple rededication). Assign each group one part. Each group should use costumes and props to act out their part of the story. Invite parents to visit the classrooms in order and see a re-enactment of the Chanukah story. This activity can be done in one classroom, class-wide, or school-wide.
2. Study and Debate: Study Talmud, Shabbat 21b. Divide your high school class into two groups (Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel) and debate how to light Chanukah candles.
3. Olive Oil: Learn all about olive oil. Research how and where olive oil is made.
4. School-Wide Chanukiah Competition: Divide students into groups to create original chanukiot. Let their imaginations run wild. Award points for creativity, originality of theme, workmanship, etc.
5. Chanukah Today: Discuss the “assimilation versus tradition” message of Chanukah. Are Jews culturally assimilated today? What makes Jews distinct from the larger population? To what are your students loyal? What lifestyle would they defend?
6. Chanukah Serenade: Visit different classes and sing Chanukah classics for schoolmates. Alternatively, the students can rewrite the lyrics of popular songs to retell the story of Chanukah.
7. Chanukah Around the World: Research the differences in Chanukah celebrations in Ashkenazic and Sephardic households. How is Chanukah perceived in Israel? How is it perceived in the rest of the world?
8. Poetry: Ask the students to write a poem with Chanukah themes of light vs. dark, freedom vs. oppression, etc. Highlight the poems at a Chanukah party.
9. ABC Chanukah Game: Go around the room, with each student saying a word that is connected with Chanukah in alphabetical order (i.e. applesauce, blessings, chanukiah, dreidel, etc.).
10. Chanukah Concert: Offer a Chanukah concert to a local nursing home. Don’t forget to light candles with the residents.
11. Green Chanukah: Organize a green Chanukah fair where participants can make beeswax candles, create chanukiot, dreidels, and decorations from recycled materials, learn about Israeli geography including Modi’in where the Chanukah story began, visit an oil press demonstration and exhibits about green initiatives in Israel.
12. Stage a Debate: Divide your high school class into two or three groups (Hellenist Jews, Traditional Jews, optional: Syrian-Greeks). Debate the wisdom of each ideology.
13. Chanukah Geography: Learn about the battles of the Maccabees. Where were they? What kind of terrain did they fight on? How did this help in the battles with the Syrians? See battle maps here.
14. Chanukah Charades/Mime Contest: Make a list of Chanukah scenes or stories (e.g. finding the oil in the Temple, Chana, and her seven sons, etc.), write each one on a separate card, then divide your class into groups and play charades or run a miming contest.
15. Menorah History: Research the history of the menorah using the Internet. What does it symbolize? When has the menorah been used in history (i.e. hint: Bar Kokhba revolt, State of Israel)? Collect menorah images and use them to make a huge collage in the shape of a menorah to hang in the school hallway. Submitted by D. Weinberg.
16. Chanukah Wordle: Using Wordle, create word clouds in Hebrew or in English with Chanukah vocabulary. These make wonderful Chanukah decorations! Inspired by Educational Technology in ELT blog.
17. Chanukah Giving: Raise money in school to buy Chanukah presents for Jewish children in need. Submitted by Chavi Berger.
18. Chanukah Freedom Discussion: The Maccabees revolted to fight for religious freedom. When have there been similar rebellions/revolutions? What happened? Is there religious freedom in the world now? Where? Where is there little/no religious freedom?
19. Chanukah Alef-Bet: Write a list of Chanukah words in Hebrew. Students have to put the words in the order of the Alef-Bet.
20. Chanukah Heroes: Class discussion on the Jewish heroes, the Maccabees. Examine the concept of Jewish heroism, focusing on modern-day examples. What are Jewish heroes’ characteristics? What Jewish values do they embody?
21. Chanukah in the Media: Ask your middle school students to write newspaper headlines/breaking news alerts announcing the Chanukah events (e.g. Greeks Take the Temple!). Students might have more fun writing about how they would instant message/tweet the narrative. Submitted by Daniel Swirski.