Behrman House Blog

Project-Based Learning and the Hebrew Curriculum

Most Hebrew programs in congregational schools are directed toward language learning rather than language acquisition. In other words, students learn Hebrew as a skill (and often as a prayer skill) rather than for communication. That’s a choice education directors make based on the time available, teacher ability, practical needs such as preparing students to become bar or bat mitzvah, and other factors such as the education director’s own level of comfort speaking Hebrew or the Rabbi’s preference.

In foreign language programs where language acquisition is the goal, students do foreign language projects in the language itself, for example:
  • Planning a trip to France—in French
  • Making a video about how to cook a tapas meal—in Spanish
  • Writing and designing an e-book—in Hebrew

In contrast, Hebrew projects in the congregational school are more likely to be about Hebrew than in Hebrew. Or, at least, they will likely contain a limited amount of Hebrew.

What projects are valuable—and realistic—in a congregational school Hebrew program?

Here are some ideas. Remember that it’s key to have students identify projects that interest them.
  1. More Hebrew Please!
    Goal: To add more Hebrew language to a prayer class.

    Make the following statement to your students. “As the teacher, I’d like to include more Hebrew in our Hebrew classes. How can we do that?” Students then brainstorm ideas and develop projects alone or in small groups to demonstrate how they’d bring more Hebrew into prayer classes. Project examples include: i) Create a semi-permanent slide show with objects and their Hebrew names, ii) Write, record, and perform an original Hebrew song, iii) At each class, add a new Hebrew word of the day, represented by a picture, to the classroom wall, iv) Develop a Hebrew card game by creating one or more decks of cards, v) Develop a video game using vocabulary from one or more prayers students are studying.

  2. Our Personal Prayer Book
    Goal: For students to create a siddur that is personally meaningful.

    Tell students that together you will create a siddur that reflect the personalities and interests of all the students in the class. Have students create a class siddur that contains the key prayers in the service as well as songs, blessings, stories, midrashim, poems, and art that resonates for them. Students will examine other prayer books, do research into Jewish literature with relevant themes, find art or create original art, then pull it all together into a physical or e-siddur. Families can purchase or receive copies and use the class prayer book at a family service.

  3. Hebrew at הפסקה
    Goal: To introduce Hebrew during break time by means of original games.

    Invite students to think up original games using Hebrew words. Game ideas include: i) Hopping, skipping, or jumping to tag objects using their Hebrew labels; ii) Hebrew softball (literally, not on the board), where students get a turn at bat after answering a Hebrew question; iii) Bingo using pictures, for which students must supply the Hebrew word.

  4. Hebrew Online
    Goal: To expand Hebrew learning in the Online Learning Center (OLC) beyond the learning software.

    Challenge students to develop their own Hebrew projects for their classmates in the OLC. For these projects, you will need to give students permission to Post in the OLC class (Go to “Classroom Settings”).

    Student projects might include: i) Create a video of a short Hebrew play, skit, or song, post it on YouTube, add the YouTube link in a Post in the Hebrew OLC class, and other students comment on the video; ii) Build a Hebrew puzzle, quiz, or game, save it as a pdf, add the pdf in a Post in the class; iii) Choose a prayer the class is studying , determine a theme that resonates for you (for example, G’vurot—being a hero), and build a project around that theme. The project might include a piece for all students to do in class (say, choosing a favorite from among Jewish historical and modern heroes and saying why), a piece to do at home in the OLC (say, watching a video and responding to questions by means of the Comment feature), and a school-wide piece (say, creating a heroes wall or a Hall of Fame labeled with key Hebrew words from the same root, such as גבוּרה, גבּוֹר,and גבוּרוֹת).

Once you know the goal of the Hebrew project and students have decided on projects that interest them personally, proceed with the steps you will see outlined in this earlier PBL posting: The steps for values learning apply just as readily to Hebrew learning.

About Behrman House's Project-Based Learning Essay Series
This fall Behrman House Editorial Staff members wrote about ways to introduce this dynamic approach to learning into your own school, and provided an array of resources to get you started. Learn more and follow the PBL series here.