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Friday, February 19, 2010

My Jewish Joys: A Community Building Activity that Can Transform the Traditional Classroom into a Jewish Community of Cooperative Learners

In a previous blog post we defined a Jewish Community of Cooperative Learners as follows: A Jewish community of cooperative learners represents the transformation of a group of individual members into a united, interdependent, mutually supportive, and cohesive unit (i.e. classroom or school) that works, studies, and learns together because of a shared set of Jewish middot such as, Derech Eretz- showing civility and respect for others, and TzelemElohim-all people are created in HaShem’s image. The chart in the previous post summarizes the major differences between a traditional classroom or school and a Jewish community of cooperative learners. See

My Jewish Joys: A Community Building Activity that Can Transform the Traditional Classroom into a Jewish Community of Cooperative Learners

Enduring Jewish Knowledge: These middot: Simcha-activities that bring joy to the Jewish people, and Kehillah-community

Materials needed: My Jewish Joys handout (see the two graphics at the top of this post) and a writing implement


1. The teacher indicates that in order for our class to be especially meaningful to you, we are not only going to learn about Judaism, but also discover things about each other. Thus, the purpose of today's lesson is to learn (a) something new about the members of our class, and (b) some of the things we do as Jews that bring us joy.

2. The teacher distributes the handout, My Jewish Joys, and first completes her own copy of the handout to model what students are expected to do.

Note: At the lower right corner of the handout is the Magic Box with the words "receive" and "put away" written inside the rectangle. This part of the handout requires some explanation. The Magic Box is an imaginary gift that the student finds at his doorstep. Inside the Magic Box is something that he has always wanted, but has not yet obtained. It can be physical (e.g. a toy, good health), emotional (e.g. hope, love), spiritual (e.g. inner peace, tikkun olam), or philosophical (e.g. appreciation of diversity). The student records the gift he has been given next to the word "receive." The student is also invited to record something that he would like to eliminate. That item can also be tangible (e.g. clutter in my room, homework), or intangible (e.g. feelings of insecurity, unnecessary guilt), and it is written next to the words "put away." After modeling how to complete the handout, the students complete theirs. See handouts below.

3. Ask students to stand with their completed My Jewish Joys handouts, form a circle or oval, and face another classmate. Members should have a pen or pencil with them.

4. The teacher models introducing herself to one of the members of the classroom community, and asks that student an open question such as, “Tell me more about why Moses is your favorite Jewish hero … ”

5. After the student has verbally shared his data, the listener records the speaker's name, and a summary of what he had said on the listener's handout. Students may ask a follow-up question.

6. Then the person who shared information asks you a question, and a follow-up inquiry. If needed, remind the students to record the name of their partner and a summary of what was said.

7. Give all members of the community an opportunity to interview at least three new people whom they did not know (well) prior to this class.

8. When all students have had a chance to speak to three new members, ask them to return to their seats.

9. Then, at random, select a student in class to identify someone (termed the “celebrity”) about whom she would like to gain more information.

10. Invite members of the class (now termed ‘the reporters’) who interviewed that “celebrity” to share what they had learned about him or her.

11. Inquire about two or three more classroom “celebrities”.

12. Explain to the students that this is the first of many activities designed to transform the class into a community of caring and cooperative learners where we appreciate, and respect the gifts that each member brings to the class.

On the next post we will share the second of four community building activities, Circles of Jewish Virtues (Middot).

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