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Twersky Award Lesson Planning Tips

Hundreds of primary sources from JWA are waiting, ready to be transformed into “aha moments” for your students! Through the study of photos, letters, speeches, sermons, and video, your students will gain new insight into Jewish values, holidays, tradition, and history.

At JWA, we know that planning good lessons takes a little finesse, a little creativity, and a lot of passion. So, we've created these tips and resources to help you get started on your award-winning lesson.

Remember, your lesson must be creative, must actively engage learners with primary source documents, and must feature the voices/perspectives of American Jewish women. Other than that, the sky is the limit!

The online application for the 2014 Twersky Award is now open. Submissions are accepted on a rolling basis. The deadline for applications is Monday, May 12, 2014. Please visit the application page for more information.

Claire and Reuven
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Claire Solomon and Rabbi Reuven Travis learn together at the 2012 Institute for Educators. Photo by Gus Freedman. Copyright 2012 Jewish Women's Archive.

Getting Started

We don't have to tell you that the best lesson is one that fits into your larger curricular goals. There are many entry points to primary source study—history is just one of them.

  1. If you're teaching a class or program that does not have an historical focus, begin by listing the Jewish values or concepts you cover in your course/program, or that would like to cover in this particular lesson/session. If you are teaching about a holiday or specific Torah portion, think about what morals or ethics you want your students to take from the story. You might also consider archetypal characters or plot lines that can be paralleled by modern historical events (e.g. David and Goliath, Esther hiding her identity). If you study traditional texts, think about documents that will complement or parallel the sentiments of the passage or text. We have a number of traditional texts about social justice you could use, or you could visit On1Foot, a text database from American Jewish World Service.
  2. Next, allow yourself to think broadly about how these concepts and characters in your curriculum may relate to historical content. Are you looking for a person who helped the poor? Who spoke out against injustice? Who stayed true to her own identity? Perhaps you are looking for an example of when Jews had to make a choice between right and wrong, or an explanation of self-identity.
  3. Now, begin to explore the exhibits and primary source materials that JWA has to offer.

Integrating Primary Sources

Depending on the extent of your students' background knowledge on the subject or time period, you may have to provide some context for the documents you have chosen. If you would like some guidance in thinking through how best to do so, try using this worksheet (and substituting the primary sources you have chosen).

If your own background knowledge is limited, you may find more information in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Women, our This Week in History feature, or (for Civil Rights and Labor Movement information) in the introductory essays of the Living the Legacy project. If you have trouble finding what you need, just contact us.

For resources on working with primary sources, graphic organizers and sample worksheets, and more, visit our Working with Primary Sources page. There you will also find tips created specifically for modifying text-based documents and teaching with photographs and works of art.

What do we mean by “engagement?”

There are two important parts to encouraging students to actively engage and interact with the primary sources.

Bella Abzug and Jewish Values
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Photo by Etta King. Students chose values that represent Bella Abzug's work and character.

First, students can do so much more with primary sources than simply read them. They can re-enact speeches and sermons, write responses to letters, or make art that reflects the tone or experience conveyed in a document. Students could also compare historical sources to current/contemporary documents and discuss their similarities and differences, make them into games, or use primary sources to design and curate their own museum. We strongly encourage you to consider which interactions with primary sources will be most exciting and interesting to your students.

Additionally, primary sources offer endless opportunities for students to explore the past. They also provide many entry points for students to explore Jewish values more generally, and to investigate and articulate their own specific identities and beliefs as Jews. Therefore, we encourage educators to move past “who-what-where” and ask some deeper questions that ask students to analyze what they find in the documents and compare their findings to their own lives. Here are a few generic examples:

  • Is this a “Jewish” text? Why or why not?
  • What is the author of this text saying about Jewish life? Do you agree?
  • What similarities do you see between the author's experience and your own? What differences do you see?
  • What about this document, or about what you have learned, surprises you? Why?
  • Do you know anyone in your community who is like this person? Have you learned about anyone from the Torah who is similar to him/her?
  • Do conflicts/events/struggles like this one ever happen in your community? What are they?
  • What lessons can we learn from studying this document?

Where can educators find primary sources and historical documents?

  • Living the Legacy has primary sources documenting Jewish involvement in the Civil Rights and Labor Movements. Read the lesson descriptions to figure out which lessons are thematically related to your course content, or search them by keyword. You can also browse the primary sources in LTL by lesson, type, and keyword, or view our list of suggested lessons based on educational setting.
  • Another excellent source for hunting down documents is the Women of Valor exhibit. Each of these 16 exhibits has extensive secondary biographical information and selected primary sources from the women's lives. From politics to social work, Zionism to sports and the arts, the work and accomplishments of these modern Women of Valor provide many parallels to stories and ideas from the Jewish tradition.
  • Each Go & Learn lesson focuses on one specific primary source and background information for that source. While these lessons offer one take on the source, you can probably think of several other angles from which to approach it.
  • You can also always use the search bar in the top right of any JWA page!

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Twersky Award Lesson Planning Tips." (Viewed on September 23, 2014) <http://jwa.org/twersky/howto>.

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