A Personal Journey through Parshat Hashavua

By: Henny Bartfield
from Hebrew Academy Community School

Development of Critical and / or Creative Thinking

Subject(s) of entry:
Art, English/ Writing/ Language Arts, Philosophy/ Values/ Ethics/ Hashkafa, Social and Emotional Learning, Tanach

Experiential Education, PBL - project based learning, Social and Emotional Learning, Soulful Education, 21st Century Skills

Grade(s) to which this was taught:
1, Elementary school

Grade(s) for which this will be useful:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Elementary school

Parshat Hashavua – The Weekly Torah Portion:
The weekly Parsha becomes relevant and personal in our First Grade class and prepares students for life in the 21st century. With the advent of the internet, information is at our fingertips. The challenge is what do we do with that information? In addition, devices are becoming more accessible and usag

Entry Narrative

The weekly Parsha becomes relevant and personal in our First Grade class and prepares students for life in the 21st century. With the advent of the internet, information is at our fingertips. The challenge is what do we do with that information? In addition, devices are becoming more accessible and usage is on the uptick. Consequently, we are interacting more with electronics than people. These two realities are the inspiration for the Parsha Program in my classroom.

The goal is to use the knowledge acquired from the Bible to engender critical and creative thinking and to learn from the experiences detailed therein to develop good character and better social skills. These goals are achieved through a process that includes multiple dimensions, intelligences and modalities. However, for this entry we will focus on the end products which were built through higher order thinking skills.These samples exemplify critical and creative thought as defined by the top 3 categories in the new Bloom’s Taxonomy; Analyze, Evaluate, Create. The following 10 samples will demonstrate how teachers can enrich the learning experience of their students by offering thought provoking assignments which stimulate deeper thought and creativity; resulting in a rich learning environment where children thrive spiritually, emotionally and academically.

Although these examples are presented here as a cognitive experience, please note that many of them also enrich the children on a socio-emotional level as well. In addition, they offer students opportunities to experience learning through various modalities and engender the use of multiple intelligences. The examples are listed in chronological order as the topics appear in the Torah.

Finally, these activities have broad appeal as they can be used in a Day School, Yeshiva, Hebrew School and Sunday School, in all elementary grades.

Example #1 Never Judge a Book by its Cover
Part 1

This activity is done in conjunction with Parshat Chayai Sara when Eliezer is tasked with finding a wife for Yitzchak. Who shall he choose? The girl who looks the most beautiful or the one who demonstrates the nicest character? The students differentiate between external trappings and what makes a person beautiful inside out. They delved a little deeper to discover what makes their friend unique and a true friend. Below please find  a sample of student’s product depicting this theme and a link to the PowerPoint presentation referenced in the activity.

Below? is a li?nk to the Po?werPoi?nt refere?nced here. Please n?ote it con?tain?s o?nl?y the pictures a?nd n?ot the full in?teractiv?e acti?vity: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1v8OfpAX7MNz1m8a2Q1jU-W26WGwTMtonm4e9f3PnxGA/edit#slide=id.p3

Part 2

Below is a sample of a superficial description. What the eye can see.

Below is a picture of a friend on the inside; behaviors and talents.

Example #2 Encounters with the Infamous Fraternal Twins

This activity is completed in conjunction with Parshat Toldot. The Parsha in which the first set of fraternal twins are born – Yaakov and Esav. In this activity children find parallels between the twins and people and objects in their own world. They use that information to create paper dolls depicting the twins and a comparative analogy comparing the twins to something in their own experience. Below you can find a sample of the Venn diagram referenced in the chart, a picture of the children’s work and a  video in which some children share their work.

Example #3 Honoring our Parents

This activity is also done in conjunction with Parshat Toldot. The students create an acrostic poem using the word PARENTS. It folds up into an accordion book. Below are a few samples of students’ work. Enlarge to read their poems.

  • P- plan a Birthday party for them
  • A- Always be quiet when they are sleeping
  • R- Race to do what they say
  • E- Everytime my mom comes from the store I will help bring in the groceries
  • N- Never bang on the door when your mother is in the bathroom
  • T- tell them I love you
  • S- Say nice things like please and thank you


  • P- play quiety when your parents are sleeping
  • A- Answer them when they call me
  • R- Remember to clean the dishes so Imma doesn’t work hard
  • E- Everyday don’t complain when it is time to go to sleep
  • N- Never interrupt my mother when she is talking to my father
  • T- tell my mother when my father needs her
  • S- Say thank you when Imma gives you stuff


  • P- protect your parents stuff from little kids touching
  • A- Always be quiet when my mother is talking
  • R- Respond when my father calls me to come
  • E- Everyday I clean my room
  • N- Never talk when my mother is on the phone
  • T- Tell my father when it is Mincha time
  • S- Speak without saying bad words to them.

Example #4 – Praying at the Kever of a Tzaddik

Prayer is a cornerstone of our faith. And there is an advantage to praying at the gravesite of a Tzaddik. In Conjunction With Rochel Imainu’s passing in Parshat Vayishlach, students reflect upon their daily morning prayers and determine what they would focus on had they the opportunity to pray at the gravesite of a tzaddik.

Below is a group picture of students with their work and a video in which a few students share their work.

Example #5 The Evil in Jealousy

This assignment is done in conjunction with Parshat Vayeshev when Yosef has some conflicts with his brothers. In this activity the children come to recognize that jealousy arouses negative feelings which can lead to bad behaviors with terrible consequences. The final stage of the activity is to devise a plan with strategies that could help us avoid feeling jealous.

Please read student samples below.

  • Jealousy can make a person behave crazy like when the brothers put Yosef in the pit with snakes.
  • Jealousy made me unhelpful like when I didn’t prepare my lunch because I  couldn’t play lego and Yehuda was

  • Jealousy can make a person behave nasty like when the brothers killed the sheep and put the blood on the coat.
  • Jealousy made me cry like when Meir got a gatorade and I got nothing.
Example #6 Mind Reader

This project is associate with 2 Parshiot, Miketz and Vayigash which encompass the reunion of Yosef Hatzaddik and his brothers. The students sort through pictures of the story and analyze the details. Using facts in the Parsha they deduce what Yosef may have been thinking as the events unfolded. Below are pictures to help you visualize what the final product looked like and a video where children explain their work.

Yosef Hatzaddik looking sad and worried. Scroll down to see what is on his mind.

Example #7 Flags are symbols with meaning

In Parshat Vayechi, Yaakov Avinu blesses his children and symbolically compares them to animals of the field and other characters that reflect their persona. These symbols are later depicted on each tribe’s flag. In this exercise students work in groups of 3 to analyze the symbols and what they represent. The students use a chart to categorize each symbol by Property, Job or Personality. Students discuss their perspective with group mates and reach a consensus. If there is no agreement they agree to disagree and each student classifies the symbol as they see fit. Finally, students use their charts to  create their own flags; they depict the symbol and justify why they identify with that tribe.

Below are samples of the children’s flags , a sample of the chart the children use to complete this activity and a video demonstrating the groupwork in action.

Example # 8 Slavery vs Freedom

This exercise is done in conjunction with Parshat Shemot, when the Jewish people were enslaved to Pharoh in Egypt. Students use their imagination to write a little scenario and then use their knowledge about the Jewish slaves in Egypt to determine whether their story demonstrates an example or non-example of slavery. This is achieved by comparing the 2 experiences.

Below please see 2 examples of student’s end product. You may need to enlarge the pictures to read their work.

Note: The successful execution of this exercise demonstrates the depth of understanding that the child has on the topic. Slavery is indeed very different than paid labor or volunteer work. Please see picture for a visual example of a child’s product.

Example #9 An Attitude of Gratitude

This activity coincides with Parshat Va’era. We learn the important middah of appreciation and reciprocity from Moshe Rabeinu who refrains from hitting the Nile river since it saved his life.Yes, we must appreciate and show gratitude even to inanimate objects! Children create Thank You cards to an object that they cherish.

Please see video in which students present the Thank you cards they have created.

Example #10 Our Home is our Sanctuary.

This activity is based on the verse, “ Build me a Sanctuary and I will rest in them.” Them indicates that every home may be a sanctuary if we allow it to be. This concept coincides with Parshat Terumah, where all the details of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its vessels are described. The students will demonstrate how their home can become a holy dwelling place for the Almighty. First they must recognize how the vessels of the mishkan are manifested in their homes and then they determine how those vessels can be utilized for holiness; thus transforming the home from the mundane to a place of holiness.

Below are some pictures depicting students’ final products and a video where children share their ideas.


The higher order thinking activities included in this submission, are part of an all-encompassing Parsha Curriculum in which the learning experience includes many modalities such as music, movement, visual presentations, tactile interactive activities, innovative games etc… and appeal to multiple intelligences as defined by Howard Gardner. Students complete 1-2 of these on a weekly basis. The level of excitement and engagement by the students is very high and students enjoy sharing their products with their classmates. All related work is compiled in a file and brought home at the end of the year in a beautiful keepsake box. Nevertheless, reflection is always important and there is always room for improvement.

Higher order thinking tasks are thought provoking and stimulating. It is a different approach than knowledge acquisition, and rote responses and for some such tasks can be challenging or intimidating. Therefore, the teacher must come prepared with tools to make adjustments and tweak it as necessary.  This takes extra preparation, but the results make it worthwhile. Scaffolding the lesson helps all children find success. The scope and depth of the students’ products reflect their abilities, but the teacher’s  job is to help each child develop his skills to the best his ability. It is all about the process and the Progress! As the teacher extends herself to the struggling student by providing  extra attention, strategic questioning and probing, she enables the student to complete the task with pride and encourages him to maximize his potential.

Over the years it has become apparent that the quality and design of the lessons, have a direct impact on student performance and their final products; putting much of the onus on the teacher to plan well. Therefore, to enhance the learning experience for all our students, it is incumbent on us as teachers to always be searching for new techniques and pedagogic methods to improve our lessons and how we execute them.

Overall, it has been amazing to watch the students’ analytical ability and confidence increase over the course of the program. In addition to improved critical thinking skills, children have become more comfortable with presenting their products to their classmates, which is a healthy first step in public speaking. In addition, students were given much opportunity to express themselves in writing which helped them in General studies as well. And finally, raising a mentch is equally important to academic achievement. Gleaning life lessons from the weekly Parsha broadened their understanding of human behavior and contributed to healthy emotional growth. There is much data to suggest that a healthy balance of IQ and EQ is imperative for real life success and happiness and it is evident that this program addresses both.

Entrant Bio(s)

Henny Bartfield has taught at the Hebrew Academy since 1992. She has a MS in Education from Nova University. Henny has a passion for teaching and develops curriculum that will help her students maximize their potential. She is a mother and wife and lives in south Florida with her family.