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A Different Way to Mark the Coming of Spring

Most people are familiar with the two major spring festivals in the west: Easter and Passover, but there are several other lesser-known spring celebrations, which come from pagan tradition.  We will take a look at some of the pagan festivals, which although ancient – and a bit off the beaten path – are still held today.

Ancient Pagan Festivals

Many of these festivals stem from ancient fertility rites, so caution must be used, as some celebrations in antiquity involved sexual rituals.  Thus, content should be closely reviewed before presenting to students.

Beltane

Beltane means “fires of Bel” in Gaelic (Bel was a Celtic god).  It is a fire festival that celebrates spring and the fertility of the coming growing season.  Springtime is the beginning of the agricultural calendar, and farmers would be hoping for a fruitful year for their families and crops.

Rituals of Beltane often included courting between young men and women who would collect blossoms in the forest and light fires in the evening.  These rituals would often lead to marriages in the coming summer or autumn.  Fire was thought to cleanse, purify and increase fertility, so it played a central role in Beltane.  To ensure the fertility of the herd, cattle were often paraded between two fires.

Although agriculture is no longer the center of contemporary life, some modern pagans celebrate Beltane as a way to cultivate the “fertility” of an individual’s creativity.  Fertile minds are needed for our work, our families, and our health.  Celebrants today will leap over fire to bring good fortune, happiness, and fertility to mind, body, and spirit.

Every year on the last night of April, thousands of people come together in Edinburgh, Scotland, for a huge celebration to mark Beltane.  A procession led by the May Queen (fertility) and the Green Man (growth) marks the change of seasons.  Winter concludes when the Green Man’s winter attire is removed to reveal his spring costume.  A dance takes place as the Green Man and the May Queen are married.

Floralia 

The Roman pagan fertility-focused festival of Floralia occurred for six days beginning April 28, and this seems to be the likely origin of some of the things we associate with May Day.  Roman poets Ovid and Juvenal mention the wearing of bright colors, lots of drinking, and sexual permissiveness during this celebration dedicated to Flora, the goddess of flowers.  Romans marked Floralia with a set of athletic games and theatrical productions known as the Ludi Florales.  After the performances, the celebration continued in the Circus Maximus, where animals were set free and beans scattered to ensure fertility.

Walpurgisnacht

An old Germanic festival also involving bonfires, which later merged with the feast of the eighth-century German Saint Walpurga became known as Walpurgisnacht (or Hexennacht, meaning “Witches’ Night”).

According to tradition, on the eve of May Day, all witches and warlocks would fly in from all around Germany on broomsticks or goats, and come together on the Brocken, the highest peak of the Harz Mountains.  Here they would await the arrival of spring with bonfires and dancing.  In reality, though, the gathering was probably not made up of witches, but rather ordinary pagan people who were forced to secretly practice their ancient rituals because church law forbade them to do so.  The lofty Brocken was often shrouded in cloud cover, making it a good place for clandestine meetings.

Festivals co-opted by the Roman Church

By the Middle Ages, what had once been the fertility rituals Floralia and Beltane had been subsumed into the Roman Church calendar and converted into the Christian celebration of Whitsun, or Pentecost.  The Welsh tale of Geraint begins with a description of the Welsh kings’ Whitsun feast, one of the three times feasts of the year, along with Christmas and Easter, when vassals were gifted with new clothes.  Although disputed, it is thought by some that the word Easter was derived from Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility.

Bringing in the May

May Day (May 1) celebrates the return of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, with origins in the fertility rites of ancient agrarian societies of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.  May Day falls exactly 6 months from All Saints Day (November 1).  This ancient festival survives today, including decorating a May tree or maypole, around which people dance.  May 1 has also become linked with political action in association with International Workers Day.

In most places, people would “bring in the May” by gathering flowers and branches to make garlands or wreaths.  The English poet and author Geoffrey Chaucer mentions woodbine (a honeysuckle shrub) and hawthorn (a flowering shrub of the rose family) in The Knight’s Tale, while birch was more common in Wales and sycamore in Cornwall.  The flowers were given as prizes or gifts to friends and neighbors.  The quaint custom of washing one’s face in the morning dew of May Day was supposed to bring youth and radiance to one’s complexion.

The most lasting May Day image is the painted and ribboned-trimmed maypole which was displayed prominently on the village green.  Despite the earliest recorded mention of the maypole in a mid-fourteenth century Welsh poem, it seems to have English, rather than Celtic, roots.  There are many theories as to the maypole’s original significance, but there is no definitive explanation.

May Day rituals go back a long time but were not enjoyed by everyone.  In the 1600’s the fun-loving festivity of May Day was frowned upon by the Puritans, who banned dancing and merry-making in England.

May Day Rituals

In the fifteenth century, pantomimes of Robin Hood stories became a popular part of May Day celebrations, as did Morris dancing.  This form of English folk dance is based on rhythmic footwork and the performance of choreographed steps by a group of dancers wearing bells on their shins.  The dancers may also brandish sticks, swords, and handkerchiefs.

The ‘Obby ‘Oss Festival takes place in the town of Padstow in Cornwall on May Day.  The main activities revolve around the two Obby Osses (hobby horses), which resemble a one-man pantomime horse.  The horses’ main task is to cavort around the town in search of maidens followed by a team of dancers, dressed in white, playing accordions and banging drums.

The beginning of May, and the association of spring in general with fertility and courtship, was popularized by the medieval French troubadours.  A famous song from the twelfth century known as Kalenda maya (“Calends (first) of May”) celebrates the unrequited love of a knight for a lady:

Gracious lady,

everyone praises and proclaims

your worth, which gives such pleasure;

and he who forgets you,

prizes life but a trifle

and so I adore you, distinguished lady.

Teaching Resources

Help Teaching offers related educational resources

KidsKonnect.com has 

Other resources include these videos 

So, there you have a quick tour of some of the lesser-known festivals which celebrate the blossoming of the earth each spring.  Get dressed up, wash your face in the morning dew, leave a surprise wreath of flowers for someone special, and find a sunny spot to revel in the coming of spring!

Image source: Freepik.com

How to Teach Kids about Passover

In Judaism, Passover ranks just below Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in importance. Learn more about this religious holiday as well as access resources perfect for the classroom.

What is Passover?

 Passover commemorates the miraculous deliverance of the Hebrew people from 400 years of slavery in Egypt sometime in the 14th century BCE.  This event is detailed in Exodus, the second book of the Torah.  Passover, also known as Pesach, is an eight-day festival celebrated by Jews the world over.

In 2021, Passover is celebrated starting on the evening of March 27 through April 4.  Although the dates vary from year to year, Passover is a spring festival in the northern hemisphere.  Passover is always on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan, but since the Jewish calendar is lunar (based on the moon’s cycle), the dates in the secular calendar change each year.

The First Passover

The great story of Passover actually begins near the end of the book of Genesis, the first book of the Torah, when ancestors of the Hebrew people (the patriarch Jacob and his sons and their families) migrated from the land of Canaan (modern-day Palestine and Israel).  Jacob’s family left their homeland because of a famine, and found refuge in Egypt where one of Jacob’s sons—thought to be dead—had previously risen to second in command after the Egyptian king (or pharoah).  This story is also a great one, but for another time!

Jews enslaved

Sometime after this migration, the children of Jacob (who were also descendants of Jacob’s grandfather Abraham, the founder of Judaism) became known as Hebrews and became numerous in the land of Egypt, so much so that a new pharoah sought to control them by making them slaves.  This period lasted about four centuries.

Exodus says the Hebrew people cried out to the Lord for deliverance from this harsh slavery.  God heard their prayers and raised up a man who would lead a mass escape from this servitude.  That man was Moses.

God anoints a deliverer

Moses actually grew up in the pharaoh’s household when the king’s daughter discovered him as an infant in a basket in the Nile.  What was this infant doing floating in a basket in a river?  Well, Moses had been placed there by his mother to hide him from a slaughter of Hebrew babies carried out under the pharaoh’s orders.  He was raised as an adopted son of the pharaoh’s daughter.  Subsequently as a grown man, Moses fled Egypt after murdering another Egyptian who was abusing a slave.  He hid out in the land of Midian tending flocks for about 40 years.  Eventually, the Lord spoke miraculously to Moses through a burning bush, appointing him as the leader who would return to Egypt to lead his people out of slavery.

The plagues upon Egypt

Moses, along with his brother Aaron, confront the pharaoh, demanding the release of the Hebrew slaves (by now numbering about a half million).  To move the king’s hand toward this end, God delivers a series of ten plagues on Egypt.  Plagues of frogs, locusts, darkness, boils, you name it, were thrown at the kingdom of Egypt.  The last plague is the impetus behind the Passover event.

This tenth plague was the worst of them all.  It involved a night when an angel of death, sent by God, struck down all the first-born sons in the land of Egypt as well as all first-born male animals.  The Lord told the Hebrews to save themselves from this plague by sacrificing a lamb and smearing its blood on their doorposts thus sending a signal to the angel of death to “pass over” that home leaving the occupants unharmed.  They were to roast and eat the lamb and stay in their homes all night.

Immediately after this plague, the pharaoh summoned Moses and told him to take all his people out of the land of Egypt.  The Hebrews left so quickly they took their bread dough before they had a chance to add yeast to it.  This is why Passover is sometimes referred to as the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

How is Passover celebrated today?

Passover is divided into two parts.  The main ritual is called the seder, which happens on the first two nights (in Israel just the first night) of the festival.  The first two days and last two days (the latter remembering the parting of the Red Sea) are full-fledged holidays.  Holiday candles are lit at night, and sumptuous holiday meals are enjoyed on both nights and days.  Most Jews don’t go to work or drive.  Some more devout Jews will not write, or even switch on or off electric devices.  The middle four days (Chol Hamoed) are semi-festive when most forms of work are permitted.

In 2021, the first Passover seder is on the evening of Saturday, March 27.  It’s a holiday meal that involves the re-telling of the Exodus through stories and song and the eating of symbolic foods. The seder’s rituals and other readings are recited from the Haggadah.  The most significant missing ingredient is hametz, or foods with leaven.  This is to remember how the Hebrews were in such a hurry to exit Egypt after the tenth plague, that they didn’t have time to wait for their bread to rise.

Matzah, or unleavened bread, is the main food of Passover.  It’s available at most supermarkets, or you can make your own.  Other traditional foods include haroset (a mixture of fruit, nuts, wine, and cinnamon) representing the mortar used by Hebrew slaves, and matzah ball soup.  A roasted shank bone represents the Pesach sacrifice, and an egg represents spring and the circle of life.  Some households will serve gefilte fish too.  Drinking four cups of wine, dipping veggies into saltwater, children asking the Four Questions (Mah Nishtanah: “How is this night different from all other nights?”), and singing late into the night are also a part of the celebration.

The joyful cycle of psalms called Hallel is recited both at night and day (during the seder and morning prayers).  Passover also commences a 49-day period called the Omer, which memorializes the enumeration of offerings brought to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.  This count culminates in the holiday of Shavuot, the anniversary of the receiving of the Torah at Sinai.
Relevant political or social justice themes have been incorporated into contemporary Passover seders.  Rabbi Arthur Waskow, for example, published the “Freedom Seder” in 1969, which discusses the Civil Rights movement and the women’s movement.  The American Jewish World Service offers a free Global Justice Haggadah to spark meaningful conversations at your seder. 

Resources for Teaching about Passover

Printed resources

Help Teaching

KidsKonnect

Free resources online

Online videos

Free virtual online Passover seders

Passover is a marvellous story of deliverance that can be taught in many ways.  Young and old alike will enjoy the retelling of this central tale of Judaism.

May you have a chag Pesach kasher vesame’ach (“kosher and joyous Passover” in Hebrew)!

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Valentine’s Day Teaching Resources

Flowers, candy, and cards decorated with hearts are used by many to express love to that special someone.  The day offers many fun and creative ways to teach about friendships, poetry and prose, marriage, and relationships.

History of Valentine’s Day

Despite flowers being the number one gift given on Valentine’s Day, the holiday’s origin is not so rosy. 

The real Valentine

The most noted theory about how Valentine’s Day began, is rooted in Ancient Rome.  In the third century CE, the Roman emperor Claudius II wanted to develop a fierce team of young men to be soldiers in his legions.  It was his belief that when young men are in love, this makes them weak.  Naturally, a man with a wife and children tended to be more cautious in how he fought on the battlefield.  So, Claudius outlawed marriage for young men serving in the Roman armies.

Well, not everyone or everything can be commanded by an emperor.  As Claudius found out, he could outlaw love, but he could not stop it.  Young men and women still fell in love and wanted to marry.  A brave Christian priest named Valentine, who thought the law was horribly unjust, risked his life to perform the banned wedding ceremonies in secret.

News of Valentine’s clandestine ceremonies made its way back to the emperor.  The cleric was arrested, and while in prison, Valentine sent a love letter to a young woman — possibly his jailor’s daughter — who visited him during his imprisonment.  He allegedly signed it “From your Valentine”, hence the expression.  He was executed soon afterward.  Centuries later, when the Roman Catholic Church made the kindly priest a saint, St. Valentine’s feast day — February 14 — was chosen because it was the day he was put to death.

Literature of love

It wasn’t until almost 1,000 years later that the first known Valentine’s Day poem was written.  It also was penned by a prisoner, and was sent from the Tower of London to the prisoner’s wife in 1415.

My very gentle Valentine,

Since for me you were born too soon,

And I for you was born too late.

God forgives him who has estranged

Me from you for the whole year.

I am already sick of love,

My very gentle Valentine.

Well, not the most remarkable of poems, but it’s good for a first effort.

Everyone is familiar with Shakespeare’s love sonnets, most notably number 18 which starts out famously: 

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

And there’s Scotland’s remarkable bard Robert Burns: 

O my Luve is like a red, red rose

   That’s newly sprung in June;

O my Luve is like the melody

   That’s sweetly played in tune.

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

   So deep in luve am I;

And I will luve thee still, my dear,

   Till a’ the seas gang dry.

And then there are the first love poems written by school kids:

Roses are red

Violets are blue

Faces like yours

Belong in the zoo

The economics of true love

In the 21st century, greeting card companies each year produce over a billion cards of love and affection just for St. Valentine’s Day.  The impact that Valentine’s Day has on the U.S. economy is stunning.  In 2019, more than $20.7 billion was spent on the holiday.  It’s thought the most expensive Valentine’s Day gift ever purchased is a heart shaped 1001 Nights Diamond Purse.  Decorated with over 4500 yellow, pink and transparent diamonds totalling 38,192 carats, the retail value of the gift is a gobsmacking $3.8 million.

Valentine’s Day symbols

  • Red Roses: the most popular flower of Valentine’s Day, this enduring symbol of passion, beauty, and love has the power to impress anyone when a dozen of the long-stemmed variety are wrapped in a large bouquet.  An ancient Roman legend has it that a beautiful maiden, Rodanthe, locked herself indoors while being pursued by overzealous suitors. When they eventually broke down her door, an enraged goddess Diana changed Rodanthe into a beautiful red rose and turned the suitors into thorns.
  • Cupid: He was the son of Venus (goddess of love) and Mercury (the winged messenger of the gods).  This mischievous little god carried around a quiver of arrows tipped with love potion.  Anyone struck by one of Cupid’s arrows would fall in love with the first person they saw.
  • Chocolates: Since ancient times, chocolates have been associated with sensuality and fertility.  This is perhaps because when eaten, chocolate stimulates the production of a hormone that is similar to the chemical produced when a person is in love.

Valentine’s Day Around the World

Although Valentine’s Day started as a Catholic feast day, the saint’s death and the tradition of love that he exemplified is celebrated worldwide by people of many faiths.  People send cards, flowers, and candy in many countries.

  • In the Philippines, Valentine’s Day is the time when many young couples marry in an event sponsored by the government as a form of public service
  • In Ghana, February 14 is celebrated as “National Chocolate Day”.  The Ghana government established this day in 2007 to increase tourism in the country, as Ghana is among the largest cocoa-producing countries in the world.
  • In Bulgaria on February 14, the “day of winemakers” (San Trifon Zartan) is celebrated.  Young and old couples celebrate their love with a glass of local wine.
  • In Denmark, Valentine’s Day is not limited to roses and chocolates. Friends and lovers exchange handmade cards with pressed white flowers that are called snowdrops
  • In Estonia, February 14 is celebrated as a friendship day known as Sobrapaev. This festival includes everyone, from couples to singles
  • In Japan on February 14, women buy gifts and chocolates for their male companions.  Men can’t return gifts until March 14, which is called the “white day”.
  • In England on Valentine’s Day, women used to place five bay leaves on their pillows.  It was believed this would bring them dreams of their future husbands.

In Slovenia, St. Valentine is a patron saint of spring.  It’s thought that on February 14, plants start to regenerate.  This day marks the first day of working in the fields for the New Year.  Slovenians also believe that birds ‘propose’ to each other on this day, and to witness this occasion, one must walk barefoot through the frozen fields.

Resources for Teaching about and around Valentine’s Day

Help Teaching has many fun educational resources which use the holiday to teach math and English.

Worksheets

 KidsKonnect.com has Valentine’s Day Facts and Worksheets, and check out these free resources from BusyTeacher.org:

Lesson plans

Videos

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Resources for Teaching Chinese New Year

Each year, Chinese New Year takes place. It’s a tradition that spans over 4,000 years! Read more to learn about its history, practice, and why it doesn’t fall on the day you’d think!

An annual tradition celebrated for more than 4,000 years

There will be hands filled with red packets of money and streets filled with dancing dragons as people worldwide, predominately of Chinese descent, welcome the Year of the Ox.  Known to the Chinese as Lunar New Year, what we in the West call Chinese New Year falls on Friday, February 12, 2021, and celebrations will climax with the Lantern Festival on February 26.

What is Chinese New Year?

Also called Spring Festival, the holiday marks the beginning of the lunar Chinese calendar.  The Chinese New Year is packed with tradition, family gatherings, superstition, and great food.  Each day has a special name and tradition.  The standard public holiday for mainland China is seven days from Chinese New Year’s Eve to the sixth day of the lunar calendar new year.

Since all stores in China are closed during the first five days of the Spring Festival, and some remain closed until the very end, people have to stock up on New Year supplies ahead of time.  Spring Festival really gets underway on Lunar New Year’s Eve (this year on February 11) with a reunion dinner which is considered the most important meal of the year.  After dinner, the children receive red envelopes, and the family stays up late to await the New Year.

Each day of Spring Festival is unique

New Year (February 12 this year) starts off with a bang as firecrackers punctuate a day of greetings and blessings among neighbors.  The original name for Spring Festival was Yuán Dàn (Yuán means “the beginning”).  In ancient times, the Chinese recorded and analyzed the weather, stars and moon to predict the fortunes of the year, a practice known as zhàn suì.  On Lunar New Year people may celebrate with Tu Su wine.  Tradition holds that it is forbidden to sweep or clean on this day, so that good fortune will not be swept away.

The next day of Spring Festival is called “to the in-law’s”.  On this day, a married daughter must bring her husband and children to her parents’ home along with a gift bag of crackers and candies, which her mother will divide between neighbors.  This simple gesture by the daughter expresses her longing for her hometown.

Day of the Rat

Following “in-laws” day is the “Day of the Rat”.  In 2021 it so happens to fall on February 14, Valentine’s Day, appropriately because, according to folktales, this is the day that rats marry.  On this day people will leave out some grains and crackers to share their harvest with the rats.  They will then retire early so as not to disturb the “wedding”.  The hope is if they do this, the rats will not disturb them during the coming year either.

Day of the Sheep

The fourth day of Lunar New Year is the “Day of the Sheep”.  In the Chinese creation story, sheep were created on the fourth day.  On this day the Chinese would traditionally pray to the god of wealth on this day.  At midnight, people will welcome the god into their home by opening the windows and feasting until daybreak.  Special foods for this feast are kumquats and sugarcanes — meant to represent a sweet life and successful road ahead — plus cakes, a whole pig, chicken, fish, and soup.  Superstition says it’s forbidden to slaughter a sheep on this day. 

Take a break

“Day of the Sheep” is followed by “Break Five”, when after praying to the god of wealth, markets and stores open again.  A traditional dish of dumplings are eaten on “Break Five”.  Some say that the taboos of other days can be done on the fifth.  Others claim it’s wrong to work on this day.

Day of the Horse

Day six of Spring Festival is known as the “Day of the Horse” because this noble beast was created on the sixth day.  On this day people will send the spirit of poverty away.  This frail-looking man who likes to drink thin porridge and turned his clothing into rags on purpose is chased away by burning scraps and offering banana boat candles.  It’s also believed that the god of bathrooms will visit to check on a home’s cleanliness, so everyone in the house is expected to clean on this day.

Day of the Human

Day seven of Lunar New Year is called “Day of the Human” because — you guessed it — humans were created on the seventh day.  Originating in the Han dynasty, “Day of the Human” traditions include wearing a hair accessory called rén sheng and eating seven gem porridge.  This delicious dish includes seven types of vegetables: kale, leek, mustard leaves, celery, garlic, spring vegetable and thick leaf vegetables.

Day of the Millet

After the “Day of the Human”, it’s “Day of the Millet”.  Legend has it that this is the millet grain’s birthday.  Ancient Chinese society was agrarian and, therefore, people highly valued the grain.  On this day, pets such as fish and birds are released back into the wild as a gesture of respect for nature.  Today, some families visit rural areas to learn about agriculture.  Fair weather on this day is a sign of a fruitful harvest, but a gray sky warns of losses ahead.

Providence Health

The ninth day of Lunar New Year is called Providence Health.  It’s the birthday of the sovereign god of the universe, the Jade Emperor.  The main activities on this day are ceremonies for the Jade Emperor.  In some places, women will bring perfumed flower candles to natural wells and harbors and offer prayers to the gods.  Everyone must fast and bathe before praying.

Stone Festival

The Stone Festival is the tenth day of Lunar New Year.  In some places the night before, people freeze a clay jar onto a smooth stone.  On the morning of the tenth day, ten youths will carry the jar around, and if the stone doesn’t fall, it’s an omen of a good harvest.  A traditional lunch on Stone Festival is a meal of baked bread.  It is believed that after the luncheon, the road to wealth will be open and smooth for that year, unless one uses stone tools, such as rollers and millstones, on the day.

Son-in Law Day

The eleventh day is Son-in-law Day when fathers will invite their daughters and sons-in-law to dinner.

Lantern Festival preparations

On days twelve, thirteen, and fourteen, people make preparations for the Lantern Festival by purchasing lanterns and constructing light sheds.  The old adage goes: “make noise on the 11th, build light sheds on the 12th, light the lantern on the 13th, light is bright on the 14th, a full moon on the 15th, end the light on the 16th”.  When spoken in Chinese, the saying has a nice rhythm.

The Lantern Festival

Lunar New Year culminates in the five-day Lantern Festival.  The most important activity during the festival is creating lanterns.  Lantern Riddles is a game played by writing riddles on lanterns.  As it is a full moon that day, moon-gazing amidst lanterns is the best way to celebrate.  Traditional food includes glutinous rice balls called yuan xiao.  Either boiled, steamed or fried, they represent reunions.  Lanterns are lit by those hoping to add children to their families.

New Year Oddities

Beyond the usual Spring Festival traditions, the holiday is full of interesting quirks and customs.

  • Traffic is chaotic

The world’s largest annual movement of humans happens before and after Lunar New Year.  It’s so big, it has its own name — Chunyun.  It’s when all of China travels at once.  The Chinese push their way into packed buses or stand for hours on a crowded train to visit loved ones.

  • Odd language customs

There are some things you can and can’t do over the Lunar New Year in China — simply because of how they sound.  Footwear purchases are a no-no for the entire lunar month, as the word for shoes sounds like “losing” in Cantonese.  One can, though, invert the Chinese character for luck to make “dao” (which sounds like “arrival”) and put it on your door to bring in good fortune.

Ever wonder why firecrackers are associated with Lunar New Year?  Legend has it that the half-dragon, half-lion monster “Nian” comes out of hiding and attacks people (especially children) during the Lunar New Year.  So the firecrackers are used to scare him away (apparently he has sensitive ears).

  • Wearing red

In Chinese culture red is associated with luck and prosperity, but it’s also used for protective purposes.  In addition to being spooked by loud noises, “Nian” is frightened by the color red.

  • Lunar New Year has its own movie genre

The “hesuipian” film genre in China and Hong Kong is devoted to Lunar New Year.  The films are usually uplifting comedies focusing on families and happy endings to make viewers feel warm and fuzzy.  Kind of like Christmas movies in the West.

Resources for Teaching about and around Chinese New Year

Help Teaching has many fun educational resources which use the holiday to teach math and English.

KidsKonnect.com has Chinese New Year Facts & 30+ Worksheets, and check out these free resources from BusyTeacher.org.

Here are some fun Chinese New Year learning activities from ReadWriteThink, and this Chinese New Year Fan Dance hands-on lesson from Teacher.org integrates social studies concepts with performing arts.  Students will delve into customs of Chinese New Year by exploring traditional artifacts and dance.

The Asia Society is planning virtual celebrations for 2021, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum is ringing in the Year of the Ox with online celebrations.  The Southern Oregon Chinese Cultural Association presents the Year of the Ox virtual celebrations, and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is streaming a 12-hour broadcast event completely free (and no registration is required).  From art making classes to online dance and music, puppet shows and talks, there are many ways to celebrate.  Usher in the Year of the Ox with online events provided by The Museum of Chinese in America Lunar New Year Family Festival.

However you choose to celebrate or learn about Chinese New Year, we at Help Teaching offer you this traditional greeting: 恭 禧 發 財 or “Gong Xi Fa Cai” (pronounced goong ssee fah tsign), which is Mandarin for “wishing you great happiness and prosperity”.

Image source: Freepik.com

Black History Month in the Classroom

When commemorating and celebrating Black History Month, it is critical to involve your students in activities that get them thinking critically about all the facets of the African American experience.  Lessons should incorporate history, politics, human experience, art, and  literature.

The history of people of African descent in the U.S. is American history, and Black History Month offers the opportunity to dig deeper.  Each February gives us a chance to support students as they discover the impact African Americans have had on culture, society, politics, and science.  The key for social studies teachers is to avoid pigeonholing the achievements of Black Americans to just one month.  Although the emphasis during February is on African American history, this subject should be included in social studies education year round.

Origins of Black History Month

Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history

Carter G. Woodson

The distinguished Black author, editor, publisher, and historian Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson (1875 – 1950), penned these words as he worked to establish Negro History Week (the precursor to Black History Month) back in the opening decades of the 20th century.  Woodson believed that African Americans should be aware of their past so they can participate intelligently in the country’s affairs.  He strongly held that Black history, which others have tried so hard to obliterate, provides a strong foundation for young African Americans to build on to become productive citizens.

Woodson’s numerous scholarly books and many magazine articles on the contributions of Blacks to the development of America supported his message that Blacks should be proud of their heritage and that all Americans should also understand it.  This championing of African American history earned him the nickname the “Father of Black History”.

Expand Your Horizons

While teachers typically tend to stay with the same few topics during Black History Month (think civil rights, historical Black leaders, and significant achievements), there are also plenty of other important concepts to consider introducing your students to, such as: 

The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity (grades 9-12) (National Archives Museum Online panel discussion, Thursday, February 25, 2021, 7-8 p.m. EST)

African American History Month Teaching DO’s and DON’Ts*

DO…

  • Incorporate Black history year-round, not just in February.  Use February to dig deeper into history and make connections with the past.
  • Continue Learning.  Explore how to provide an in-depth and thorough understanding of Black history.  What textbooks include is limited, so use the textbook as one of many resources, but be sure to explore multiple resources and allow for opportunities to learn along with your students.
  • Reinforce that “Black” history is American history.  Make Black history relevant to all students.
  • Connect issues in the past to current issues to make history relevant to students’ lives.  Making the subject matter relevant to student’s lives drives the point of a lesson home.
  • Include the political and social context of the community’s struggle for social justice.  For example, talk about Daisy Bates’ political affiliations and her political ideologies.  You see her bravery not as just a personal act but as coming out of community determination.

DON’T…

  • Stop your “regular” curriculum, to do a separate lesson on Rosa Parks, on the Civil Rights Act or on Martin Luther King Jr.  This trivializes and marginalizes anything you are teaching, making these leaders a token of their culture and ethnicity.  Students will get the message that the diversion is not as important as the “regular” curriculum.
  • Focus on superficial cultural traits based on stereotypes.  It’s okay to celebrate Black music, but teachers should also explore the political and social contexts that give rise to musical forms like hip hop.
  • Talk about Black history in solely “feel-good” language, or as a thing of the past.  This fails to help students examine how racism manifests itself today.  Be sure to draw connections between how events or people’s actions in the past affect society today.
  • Limit the presentation to lectures or reading.  Be sure to allow students an opportunity for discussion and reflection.
  • Shy away from controversial, ambiguous, or unresolved issues.  Share the real-life experiences about racial realities in developmentally appropriate ways.
  • Think that you can’t talk about black history because you’re a white educator.  You do not need to be a person of color to talk about race.  But you do need to be comfortable in your own skin, build your knowledge about the topic and be in alliance with educators of color for support and feedback.
  • Don’t simply focus on the famous people.  Use Black History Month as an opportunity to highlight the often-unacknowledged contributions that people of color make every day.

*source: www.Tolerance.org

Resources for Teaching Black History Month

Help Teaching has the following resources

Free and Slave States (HS)

Civil Rights Test (HS)

Triangular Trade (MS)

Three-Fifths Compromise (MS)

Benjamin Banneker (older ES)

Pre-Civil War – African-American History (older ES)

Nat Turner (older ES)

Sojourner Truth (older ES)

Underground Railroad (older ES)

Harriet Tubman (older ES)

Discrimination and Slavery in the 1800s (MS)

Frederick Douglass (older ES)

Frederick Douglass Quotes (HS)

Abolitionists (MS)

Emancipation Proclamation (older ES)

Civil War Amendments (13, 14, 15) (MS)

Jim Crow Laws (MS)

Booker T. Washington (older ES)

George Washington Carver (MS)

Granville T. Woods (older ES)

Buffalo Soldiers (MS)

W.E.B. Du Bois (MS)

W.E.B Du Bois Quotes (HS)

The Great Migration (HS)

Harlem Renaissance (HS)

Tulsa Race Riots (MS)

Tuskegee Airmen (MS)

The Civil Rights Movement (older ES)

Montgomery Bus Boycott (HS)

Martin Luther King, Jr. (MS)

King Quotes (grades 11-12) 

Letter from Birmingham Jail (grades 11-12)

Medgar Evers (MS)

Madam C.J. Walker (MS)

School Desegregation (older ES)

Greensboro Sit-Ins (older ES)

The Freedom Rides (MS)

Emmett Till (older ES)

Malcolm X (MS)

John Lewis: Civil Rights Icon (HS)

Selma March (older ES)

Civil Rights Test (HS)

Shirley Chisholm (MS)

Maya Angelou (MS)

Maya Angelou’s poem “On The Pulse Of Morning” (MS)

George Floyd Demonstrations (HS)

Read-Aloud: Martin Luther King, Jr. (older ES)

People of Peace: Martin Luther King, Jr. (HS)

Martin Luther King Jr. Spelling (younger ES)

A Dream Like Martin Luther King Writing Prompts (younger ES)

Martin Luther King Jr. Writing Prompt (older ES)

Martin Luther King Jr. Timeline (older ES)

Martin Luther King Jr. Words (older ES)

Martin Luther King Jr. Reading Passage (older ES)

Martin Luther King Jr. Reading Passage (older ES)

Juneteenth (self-contained lesson) (MS)

The Civil War Amendments (13-15) (self-contained lesson) (MS)

You may also find this list of Black History Month Readings – 30 Titles for Grades K-12 helpful.

KidsKonnect.com has the following resources

BusyTeacher.org has the following free ESL resources

These groups and institutions can also help you teach about African American history

Brimming with comprehensive, cross-curricular content, including videos, primary source images and documents, compelling photo galleries, interactive maps, artwork, music, and more, this virtual collection invites students into an engaging exploration of some of the most significant events of the Civil Rights Movement.

Students discover the purpose of Black History Month as well as other historical facts, firsts, and figures about the month-long celebration with a downloadable backgrounder.

Help students understand the significance of the 1963 March on Washington and the role it played in the Civil Rights Movement with this collection of multimedia educational resources.

Use this collection of interviews from National Public Radio (NPR) with high school students to chronicle seminal people and events in the hip-hop movement.

Maya Angelou’s talent was not defined by just one medium. Throughout her life, she was a poet, novelist, dancer, playwright, actor, and educator. In this lesson from PBS NewsHour Extra, students learn more about her extraordinary life.

Students in all grades can make decisions as they follow Harriet Tubman and escape from a slave owner in this online interactive.

To help those who may not know why, where, when or how to begin this conversation, USC Rossier has created Speak Up: Opening a Dialogue With Youth About Racism — a collection of interviews, resource guides, and op-eds aimed at answering some of the questions that can make these topics difficult, and prompt needed discussions about identity, inequality and education for children of color.

Examine social media’s influence in America’s Civil Rights movement and its role in democratizing the media.  The video answers the question, “How does social media support the work of social change protesters?”

These are just a few of the many free resources available online for teaching about African American history.

Image source: Vectoreezy.com

Teaching Inclusivity Through Australia Day

In the American mind, little is known about the “land down under” when compared to their knowledge of other parts of the world. So here’s where you learn about Australia, Australia Day, and why it’s controversial for some.

Australian History

Most Americans’ knowledge of Australia is limited to the unusual animals like the kangaroo and duck-billed platypus, Hollywood’s Crocodile Dundee, and “put another shrimp on the barbie”.

But any understanding of Australia Day must begin with knowledge of the colonial history of the country and an overview of how that narrative is intertwined with the culture and history of the first people to settle the continent thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans.

The First People of Australia

Although it is considered among the world’s oldest cultures, Aboriginal Australians have a rich, vibrant, and living culture today.  Aboriginal peoples form two groups: those descended from people who already inhabited the continent when Great Britain began colonizing the island in 1788, and the Torres Strait Islander peoples, who are descended from residents of the Torres Strait Islands, part of modern-day Queensland, Australia.

Academics believe there is evidence of complex social behaviors among the native people including cremation, personal ornamentation in the form of shell beads, and long-distance trade.  Watercraft were used for some travel by aboriginals to Bali and Timor, and this is thought to be the earliest confirmed seafaring in the world.

Traditional scholarship holds that Australia’s indigenous peoples were hunter-gatherers who did not practice agriculture.  Recently, though, some historians and archaeologists have argued that native peoples did use agricultural practices.  Despite being nomadic, aboriginals were very much attached to their home territory.

Aboriginal peoples understood the world through interpretation of “the Dreaming” (or “dream-time”), a concept embodying the past, present, and future.  This comprehensive belief system includes creation at the dawn of time when supernatural beings made the land with flora, fauna, and humans.  These beings also gave rules for social life. 

Aborigines make up nearly 800,000 out of a total Australian population of 25 million.  Per capita, they suffer higher rates of suicide, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and incarceration when compared to the general populace.  This is the legacy of British colonial rule which decimated the aboriginal population through the introduction of new diseases such as  smallpox, measles, and influenza, the acquisition of native lands by British settlers, and direct and violent conflict.  It’s estimated that in the ten years following the arrival of the British, the indigenous population was reduced by 90%.  Since aboriginal culture connects with the land, the annexation of native lands was particularly disastrous for indigenous peoples. 

European Knowledge of Australia

As far back as the 2nd century CE, the Roman mathematician, astronomer, and geographer Ptolemy, despite no observational evidence, hypothesized the existence of terra australis incognita (“the unknown land of the south”).  This southern land intrigued medieval European scholars for centuries.  From the 16th century, European cartographers and navigators began including this “Australia” on maps, and as sailing technology advanced, it was inevitable that Europeans would eventually reach the continent.

British Arrival in Australia

By the 1700’s, Great Britain was ascending to the place of unrivaled dominance of the high seas.  By 1770, Captain James Cook planted the Union Jack on what is now called Possession Island, claiming the eastern half of the continent for the British.  On January 26, 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip, commander of the First Fleet of convict ships from England arrived at Sydney Cove to establish the colony of New South Wales.  January 26 has become known as Australia Day by the general population, but also as “Invasion Day” by Aboriginal Australians (more about this below).

Through the 1800’s, the British control and colonization of the continent continued rapidly, and this meant persecution of native peoples, including dozens of massacres throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.  By 1901, the various British Australian colonies federated to form the Commonwealth of Australia which was given “dominion” status in the British Empire in 1907.  By the 1940’s, most of the constitutional ties with the United Kingdom were severed, and the Australia Act of 1986 dissolved the rest.  Today, Australia has a federal democratic parliamentary system of government but remains a constitutional monarchy with the British sovereign as a figurehead.

Famous Australians and Their Accomplishments

Daisy May Bates (born Margaret Dwyer in Ireland in 1859) was an Australian journalist, welfare worker, and lifelong student of Australian Aboriginal culture and society.  Revered among some aboriginal people, Bates was referred to by the name Kabbarli, or “grandmother.”

Vincent Lingiari (born in 1908) was an Australian Aboriginal rights activist.  Early in life he was a stockman at Wave Hill Station, a pastoral lease in the Northern Territory.  A pastoral lease, or run, is when Australian government-owned Crown land is leased out for the purpose of livestock grazing.  Aboriginal workers were paid only in rations, tobacco and clothing.  In 1966, after workers demanded higher pay and improved working conditions, Lingiari led the workers in the Wave Hill walk-off, also known as the Gurindji strike.  In 1976, Lingiari was named a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to native aboriginal peoples.

Rupert Murdoch (born in Melbourne in 1931) is an American media mogul and billionaire.  He owns hundreds of local, national, and international publishing outlets worldwide, including in the United Kingdom (The Sun and The Times), in Australia (The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun and The Australian), and in the United States (The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post).  He also owns book publisher HarperCollins and television network Fox News.

Germaine Greer (born in Melbourne in 1939) is among Australia’s most controversial authors seen by many as one of the major voices of the radical feminist movement in the second half of the 20th century.  Her first book, The Female Eunuch, published in 1970, made her a household name.  Greer has also championed the environment.  Her book, White Beech: The Rainforest Years, is the story of her efforts to restore part of a rainforest in the Numinbah Valley in Australia.
Emily Kame Kngwarreye (born in Alhalkere country in 1910) one of the country’s most significant contemporary artists.  She grew up in a remote desert area known as Utopia.  Kngwarreye began painting late in life (age 80), however she was a prolific artist producing over 3,000 paintings in her eight-year painting career.  That’s an average of one painting per day.  Her work was inspired by her cultural life as an aboriginal elder, and her custodianship of the women’s Dreaming sites in her clan country.  She died in 1996.

Australia Day

January 26 is an important date in Australia’s history, but its meaning has changed over time.  Australia Day started in 1808 as a celebration for pardoned convicts and gradually developed into a celebration of Australia that reflects the nation’s diverse people.  However, for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the date has long symbolized sorrow and mourning.

Opposition to Australia Day

Aboriginal leaders formally met for the first time in Sydney in 1938 to mark a Day of Mourning to protest the mistreatment of native peoples by the British and white Australians.  They also were seeking full citizen rights for aboriginal people.  50 years later, many native leaders renamed Australia Day as ‘Invasion Day’.  Protests have been held almost every year on Australia Day with some calling it “Survival Day” to emphasize that despite British colonization, aboriginal culture has survived.

Protesters have pushed for treaties between native and non-native Australians and recognition in the county’s constitution.  They also want the date of Australia Day to be altered or abolished.  Victoria state is working toward a first-of-its-kind treaty with its aboriginal population that would recognize the sovereignty of Aboriginal Australians and include compensation.  However, federal Australia itself has never made such a treaty.  It’s the only country in the British Commonwealth not to have ratified a treaty with its indigenous peoples.

Changing the Date

For many Australians, January 26 is a symbol of inequity and institutionalized racism.  However, a survey by the Institute of Public Affairs says 69% of Australians want the date to remain unchanged.

Several dates have been proposed, including January 1, when the Commonwealth of Australia was born in 1901 and Australia, as one united nation, was created.  Some feel, though, that this date change would do nothing to address the unfair treatment of native peoples in the past and present.

Some have argued that Australia’s “National Sorry Day” (observed each year on May 26) should be a new date for Australia Day.  National Sorry Day memorializes the mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Another, more tongue-in-cheek, suggestion for a new Australia Day date is May 8.  Say the date quickly and you’ve got the word “mate”.  Proposers say being a mate can surmount cultural and racial barriers.

Resources for Teaching about Australia

Help Teaching has created many educational resources including

KidsKonnect.com has worksheets on

Check out these free resources from BusyTeacher.org.

There are free curriculum resources from Australians Together.  Cool Australia has produced 52 lessons that investigate racism, privilege, truth-telling, cultural pride, and resilience.  Mr. Donn has produced many worksheets and activities about Australia.  In Clarendon Learning’sAll About Australia” lesson plan, students learn Australian history and culture.

The National Museum of Australia has loads of free resources for teaching about Australia.  You will find plenty of resources for teaching specifically about Australia’s indigenous population at the Aussie Educator website.  ABC Education offers free educational content including videos, digibooks, games and audio lessons about many aspects of Australian history and culture.

Australia is a wonderfully diverse place worthy of study.  G’day, Mate!

Image source: Freepik.com

How to Teach Religions on World Religion Day

Did you know the third January of each year is World Religion Day? It’s a perfect time to foster tolerance and diversity. We offer tips and advice on navigating religious studies in the classroom.

Religion is important to many

It’s estimated that seven billion of the world’s nearly eight billion people adhere to some kind of religious faith or spiritual belief system.  Religion is an important part of many people’s lives, and to ignore its study is to cut out a major part of our understanding of societies and cultures.  Even for the non-religious person, knowing about the many religious beliefs around us is important to help explain history and the motivations for people’s behavior.

What is religion?

Religion is a set of ideas about our world and our place in it.  It addresses questions such as: Where have I come from?  Who am I?  What is my purpose?  These are all questions raised by children and young people in their formative years.  The non-religious among us also hold a set of beliefs about the world and each individual’s place in it, therefore traditional non-religious worldviews can successfully be studied within the context of religion.  Atheism, for example, is a belief that a supreme being does not exist.  It is an existential belief similar in scope to the way a Christian, Jew or Muslim believes God does exist.

The big three monotheistic religions

Almost everyone is familiar with “the Big Three” faiths — Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.  But did you know these religions, though they appear quite dissimilar to the casual observer, spring from a common source?  All three trace their foundations back to a BCE figure called Abraham.  He is revered in all three faiths as the originator of a new kind of understanding about God, namely monotheism.  4.3 billion Christians, Muslims and Jews claim Abraham as the beginning of their spiritual lineage.

Eastern religions

Faiths which have their origins in east, south and southeast Asia include Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Confucianism.  Hinduism, which has no specific founder and is believed to have originated in the Indus River valley, is considered among the oldest of the world’s religions with roots and customs dating back more than four millennia.  With about 900 million followers, Hinduism is the third-largest religion behind Christianity and Islam.  Like some other oriental religions, Hindus are polytheists — they believe there are multiple gods who perform various functions.  However, Hindus also believe there is one supreme god whose three main forms are Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the sustainer) and Shiva (the destroyer).

Another popular eastern religion is Buddhism which dates from the 6th or 5th centuries BCE. Buddhism is a non-theistic religion; in other words, adherents have no belief in a creator god.  Buddhism, founded by the sage Siddhartha Gautama, is considered a philosophy and a moral discipline.  It’s thought there are about half a billion Buddhists worldwide.

There are many religions, or perhaps we should more rightly call them philosophical systems, which have their roots in ancient China.  Confucianism is maybe the most well-known.  Confucius (551 to 479 BCE) was a philosopher whose teachings focus on ethics, good behavior, and moral character.  Like some other religions from the Far East, such as Taoism and Shinto, one aspect of Confucianism is ancestor worship.

Other religions

Here are some religions you may not be aware of:

  • Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest religions of the world.  It is a pre-Islamic religion of ancient Persia (modern Iran)
  • Taoism is also very old.  It is a Chinese philosophy based on the writings of Lao-tzu, advocating humility and religious piety.  Here’s a unique lesson plan related to Taoism from The Art Institute of Chicago
  • Sufism, a mystical branch within Islam, is explored in this KidsKonnect worksheet set about the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi

Folk religions

Some less familiar belief systems which are based upon tradition and culture still exist today in many lands.  Although the practice of folk religions can be influenced by organized religious doctrines, it does not adhere to authorized accepted truths.  Folk religion does not have the organizational structure of established religions, and its practice is often restricted to a certain geographic area.  Many people within the Han ethnic background practice the Chinese folk religion Shenism which includes elements of Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese mythology, and Buddhist beliefs about karma.  This blending of elements from various sources is typical of folk religions.

Folk religions are sometimes called tribal religions when they are practised by a particular people group.

  • The warriors of the Shuar people of South America practice a ritual where the head of a slain enemy is cut off and then shrunk.  It’s believed this traps the soul of the dead enemy inside the shrunken head preventing it from taking revenge against the killer.
  • In remote areas of the world, some ritual ceremonies involve the consumption of mushrooms. This practice is common among the descendants of the Aztecs, Mayans, Toltecs, and other indigenous peoples who live in rural areas of Mexico and Central America.  The mushrooms contain psycho-active elements which can produce wild experiences, including vivid hallucinations, which are mistaken for visions of the supernatural.
  • In Kenya, the Luo people have traditionally worshiped a sacred python named Omieri, which they believe lives in the waters of Lake Victoria but appears during droughts to summon rain to save the crops. 

Teaching about religion vs. religious instruction

Worldwide, the teaching of religion in state schools varies widely.  Many countries have compulsory religious education, some offer parents the option of withdrawing their children from religious education classes, and some state schools have no teaching about religion.  In our Western pluralistic society, there are many shades of religious education in state schools with most (as in the U.S.) avoiding the subject except in the context of social studies curriculum, and others making religious studies compulsory.

The teaching of religion also varies greatly in sectarian and parochial schools.  These schools are free to teach a chosen faith as the “right” one.  Often, sectarian schools seek to instill its brand of religious practice into students, but will also teach students about other faiths in a comparative way.  Some sectarian schools have a greater emphasis on making disciples of a particular faith, while other sectarian schools are satisfied with tolerating all religions.

Ask the experts

You might want to consider inviting faith leaders into your classroom to tell students about their religious beliefs.  If you do this, it is wise to include clergy from at least the “big three” — Christianity, Islam and Judaism — but you may also consider inviting an atheist, agnostic or humanist to speak.  If you live in an urban area, it’s probably not hard to find leaders of Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh communities who would be willing to visit your classroom.  This might be harder in rural areas, so consider connecting online with leaders of faith communities.

Keep parents/guardians informed

Let the parents and guardians of your students know ahead of time what and how religions will be studied.  In this way, parents can nuance what you are teaching in the classroom with their own beliefs.  Some parents may want their child to opt out of those lessons dealing with religion, so be prepared with an appropriate response.  Let your school administrator know what you will be doing with regard to teaching about religions, and follow the school’s guidance on the issue.

Teachers and administrators may find this article from ADL helpful when assessing options for instruction about religions in U.S. public schools.  The National Education Association also offers some advice here.

So, whether you are teaching students that all religions (or no religion) are equally valuable, or that your private/parochial school’s religion is the true one, Help Teaching has many resources you can use, as do many other reliable institutions.

Online Resources

Help Teaching

Here are some of our recommended resources:

Other educational content providers

KidsKonnect.com has countless worksheets and activities on various religions

And more…

The National Geographic Society’s resource library has many interesting resources for teaching about religions including

The BBC has produced six short videos based on Bible stories for elementary-age students.  Each is told with a humorous twist.

The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding offers a set of resources for community educators called American Muslims 101.

Teach about religions can be an exciting and rewarding experience for the teacher and the student. 

How to Teach Kids About the Holocaust

On January 27, 2021, the world observes Holocaust Remembrance Day to remember the millions of Jewish people and other minorities who were systematically persecuted and murdered by Nazi Germany. Learn how to teach this dark (but important to know) period of history to kids.

What was the Holocaust?

Auschwitz-Birkenau, Buchenwald, Treblinka: these and the names of the other Nazi concentration, labor, and extermination camps raise the spectre of a living hell of hopelessness, human degradation, and gripping fear.  The Holocaust was an unprecedented, systematic, and total genocide perpetrated by Nazi Germany and its collaborators, with the goal of completely wiping out the Jews and other “undesirable” minorities. 

The primary motivation for the genocide was the Nazis’ anti-Semitic, racist ideology that positioned them as superior to all other races.  Between 1933 and 1941, Nazi Germany followed a policy that stripped the Jews of their rights and their property, and subsequently branded and concentrated the Jewish population. This policy had broad support in Germany and much of occupied Europe.

In 1941, following Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, the Third Reich and their collaborators launched the systematic mass murder of Jews.  By 1945, nearly six million Jews had been executed according to Adolph Hitler’s “final solution”.  The Nazis also murdered a quarter of a million handicapped persons and over 200,000 Roma.  Soviet civilians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and those the authorities deemed “asocial” were also killed.  When totaling all civilians killed, not as collateral damage due to military conflict, but those murdered in cold blood by the Nazis and their collaborators, the total dead reaches a staggering 11 million.

Most of Europe’s Jewish population was exterminated by 1945.  A civilization that had flourished for millennia was no more.  The dazed and emaciated survivors were bereaved beyond measure.  They gathered whatever strength which remained and rebuilt. They never sought out justice – for what justice could ever be achieved after such a heinous crime?  Rather, they turned to rebuilding.  Their new families were forever under the shadow of absent loved ones.  Their new life stories were forever twisted by terrible physical and psychological wounds.

The human tragedy of the Holocaust would be unimaginable if it hadn’t, in fact, happened.

What is Holocaust Remembrance Day?

International Holocaust Remembrance Day, is an international memorial day held every January 27.  It commemorates the tragedy of the Holocaust that occurred during the Second World War.  This day of remembrance was so designated by the United Nations General Assembly on November 1, 2005.  January 27 was chosen because that was the day in 1945 when Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration and death camp, was liberated by the Soviet Army.

The January 27 International Holocaust Remembrance Day should not be confused with Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Holocaust Day, (known in Hebrew as Yom HaShoah).  This memorial day occurs on the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan (which falls in April or May).  This day is observed in Israel and by many Jewish communities in the United States and elsewhere.  The date is tied to both the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which began 13 days earlier in 1943, and to the Israeli Independence Day, which happened eight days later in 1948.

Holocaust survivors

It’s estimated that approximately 67,000 survivors of the Holocaust are living in the United States and about 400,000 survivors worldwide. With most eyewitnesses to Nazi atrocities now in their 80s and 90s, it’s imperative that our society keep their story alive to that it never happens again.  You can do this with your students by using some of the resources highlighted below.  Help Teaching has scanned the many websites which offer Holocaust content, and the best are listed here.

Teaching about the Holocaust

If you are nervous about teaching this very sensitive subject, you are not alone.  Teaching Holocaust history calls for a high level of sensitivity and a keen understanding of the complex subject matter.  The photographic and film images can produce emotional reactions in students (and adults, too).  The heart-wrenching stories of survivors may have an unforgettable impact on students.  Here are some articles you might find helpful:

Holocaust Resources

There are countless resources out there for all grade levels.  Here are a few.

From Help Teaching

From KidsKonnect

Online resources

These groups and institutions offer resources to help you teach about the Holocaust:

Online events

Here’s a sampling of the many live and recorded online events planned for this year:

Hollywood films about the Holocaust

A word of caution: Always preview any film you are going to show to students for appropriateness of content for the given age group.  The films recommended here best shown only to high school students.

  • Eight lessons on Schindler’s List from Facing History
    • Steven Spielberg’s 1993 epic starring Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Kingsley remains at the top of the list. (Rated “R” for violence, nudity, language; here is a critique of the film’s elements)
  • Defiance study guide from the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation
    • Jewish brothers in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe escape into the Belarussian forests, where they endeavor to build a village, in order to protect themselves and about one thousand Jewish non-combatants (Rated “R” for violence, nudity, language; here is a critique of the film’s elements)
  • Denial discussion guide from the ADL
    • Denial recounts Deborah E. Lipstadt’s legal battle for historical truth against British author David Irving who sued her and her publisher for libel after she declared him a Holocaust denier in her 1993 book (Rated “PG-13” for language; here is a critique of the film’s elements).  For resources specifically addressing this issue see below.
  • The Book Thief activity guide from the Unitarian Universalist Association
    • Based on the novel by Markus Zusak, this film tells the story of a young girl living with her adoptive German family in the 1930s and 40s.  After her foster father teaches her to read, she begins “borrowing” books and sharing them with the Jewish refugee sheltering in their home. (Rated “PG-13” for violence; here is a critique of the film’s elements)
  • Life Is Beautiful discussion questions from ReadWriteThink
    • Director/actor Roberto Benigni’s Italian-language (with English subtitles) recounting of Holocaust atrocities is injected with a story of hope, joy and a love more precious than words.  The film won three Oscars in 1999.  (Rated “PG-13” for violent content; here is a critique of the film’s elements)
  • The Hiding Place curriculum created by the Holocaust Museum Houston 

The true story of the Ten Boom family, members of the Dutch Resistance during World War II who found shelter for dozens of Jews, including many children. Corrie Ten Boom and her sister were caught and sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp.  (Rated “PG” for mild violent content; here is a critique of the film’s elements)

Holocaust denial

Sadly, we must note that in recent decades, Holocaust denial has become more widespread and sophisticated worldwide. The Miami Herald reports one in ten young American adults thinks Jewish people caused the Holocaust. Another one in ten doesn’t believe the Holocaust happened.  However, encouragingly, 80% of Millennials in a survey commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, responded they felt it is important to continue teaching about the Holocaust.  In October 2020, Facebook placed a ban on posts espousing Holocaust denial.

Holocaust denial is a form of historical revisionism which denies that the murder of six million Jews ever happened.  This phenomenon gained some popularity after World War Two among former supporters and participants of the Nazi regime who refused to accept responsibility for the crimes of genocide.

The general aim of Holocaust denial is to challenge and ridicule the history of Jewish suffering during the war.  Holocaust denial is the most extreme form of antisemitism.  Here are some classroom resources which specifically counteract this dangerous retooling of history:

Image source: www.freepik.com

Time-Saving Tips for Teachers

Time-Saving Tips for TeachersTeachers work a lot. In fact, many teachers work well beyond their contracted hours grading papers, planning lessons, and overseeing extracurricular activities. Add in trying to spend time with a spouse or raise children and it becomes clear that there just aren’t enough hours in the day. For teachers, anything that can save a little time can be life-changing. If you find yourself giving up sleep or foregoing fun activities to get classroom work done, try some of the time-saving tips for teachers below to gain a little more margin in your life.

Embrace the 40 Hour Workweek

Many teachers have taken on Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Workweek which focuses on strategies to help keep school at school and allows teachers to spend more time with their families and friends. There’s always a waitlist to join the latest cohort, but you don’t have to officially join the movement to try it out. Look for Facebook groups and blogs from teachers who have taken on the challenge and start by implementing some of their strategies.

Develop Routines 

The more routines you have in place in your classroom and at home, the less time you have to spend planning. For example, maybe you always teacher grammar on Wednesdays or your students spend every Friday brushing up on their math facts. At home, you can plan to eat pizza every Friday or tacos every Tuesday and be sure to always have the ingredients on hand (or a delivery app on your phone) ready to go.

Stop Reinventing the Wheel

While it’s true that every group of students has different needs, that doesn’t mean that you need to write an entirely new curriculum every year. If you have lessons that have consistently worked well, keep using them rather than trying to come up with something fun and new. And remember that you don’t have to have an exciting, fun lesson every day. In fact, spacing out the exciting lessons and filling the time in between with practice opportunities and reinforcement can help improve student retention.

Additionally, don’t feel like you have to create everything yourself. Did you see the perfect rubric or slideshow presentation online? Use it. If you find the perfect resource on TeachersPayTeachers, buy it. You don’t have to feel bad because you didn’t create it yourself. Sites like HelpTeaching.com exist to help teachers save time by providing worksheets, video lessons, and other activities for their classrooms.

Get Digital Assistance

In today’s digital world there are tons of resources designed to save teachers time. You can keep up with an entire class of parents at once by using a service like Remind or quickly log behavior issues (positive and negative) with Class Dojo. There are also numerous Word, Excel, and Google templates designed to make record-keeping easier.

If you teach online for a service like VIPKid or have to keep detailed notes about your students and their performance, consider signing up for a service like Feedback Panda. Their templates make it easy to record student progress, write detailed course notes, and quickly review critical information about students.

Pay Attention to When and What You Grade

How many times have you brought a bag of papers home to grade only to take it back the next day with the papers ungraded? Even when teachers don’t look at the work they bring home, they spend a lot of time thinking about it. If you’re feeling stressed or have other things to get done, just leave the work at school. Then you don’t have to spend time worrying that you should be grading them because it’s not an option. Additionally, try to set due dates for larger assignments at times when you know you’ll be able to get the grading done and don’t be afraid to extend a due date if your week is filling up. Your students likely won’t complain about the extra time to get the work done.

Along with looking at when you grade, think about what you grade. Do you really need to grade every paper? If the students’ quality of work wasn’t up to par, consider chucking the assignment and trying again. If something was just for practice or participation, slap a check mark on it and hand it back, only adding comments if there are serious issues.  If you give a writing assignment, rather than marking every error, provide more general feedback at the end. You can also look for ways to give students feedback on their work in class rather than offering a formal grade or implement peer grading for assignments that carry a lower weight.

Learn to Say No

It’s definitely easier said than done, but knowing your limits and learning how to say no can help you free up time in your schedule. Does a parent want you to tutor a student after school? Maybe you can suggest some resources for the student to review at home instead. Does your principal need someone to chair another committee? Maybe you can suggest a colleague who’d be better suited for the job. Do your kids want you to cart them around to activity after activity? Maybe you can have them choose one activity every 6 weeks or ask their friends’ parents to help carpool so you don’t have to be responsible for drop off and pick up every time.

Take Care of Yourself 

Even though self-care takes time, taking time to take care of yourself can actually add more time to your schedule. When you are tired and stressed, you work at a slower pace and likely don’t think as clearly. Taking a few hours every week to focus on relaxing and recharging can make it easier to get everything on your list done without feeling overwhelmed.

Embrace Imperfection

The problem with Instagram and Pinterest is they can make teachers feel like they have to have the perfect classroom, the perfect lesson, the perfect… everything. At the end of the day, your students and loved ones don’t care if you had a Pinterest-worthy lesson or the most Instagrammable classroom decor. They just want someone who loves and cares about them. So if you don’t have a classroom full of color-coordinated flexible seating, your walls aren’t covered with your professionally designed anchor charts, and you don’t have a Cricut-made t-shirt for every occasion, it’s okay.* That’s probably not what your students will remember anyway.

*And if you can maintain that Pinterest-worthy classroom, have a Cricut-made t-shirt for every occasion, or create anchor charts that show amazing graphic design skill, there’s nothing wrong with that either as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of taking care of you.

Create Your Own Lessons

How to Create Online Lessons with Help Teaching

In addition to the online lessons already available on Help Teaching, Pro and Group Pro subscribers have the ability to create their own lessons and assign them to students using our online lesson creator.

Below we’ll share some tags you’ll need to help you get started as you create online lessons.

For general instructions on how to set up a lesson, you can watch our online tutorial.

Embedding a Video

To embed a video into the lesson, use the following video tag:

[video type=youtube]videoID[/video]

In place of the video ID, insert the video’s YouTube id. You can find this in the video’s link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H17QPo0kS6I

Adding Practice Questions

If you add practice questions to your lesson, you will see a “Practice Questions” button appear on your lesson. You can move this button by placing the practice button where you would like it to appear in the lesson.

[practice/]

Adding Images

You may add images to the lesson from the Help Teaching library or from your uploaded images by simply clicking or tapping on the image you would like to add. This will automatically insert the image in your lesson.

If you would like to move the image, you can copy and paste the code where you would like the image to appear. Additionally, you can add float=left or float=right tags to your image to have it appear on the left or right hand side of the page.

Example: [img float=left]Baseball[/img]

Text Formatting

If you would like to change the font, you can wrap the text in font tags.

Example: [font size=large]This is my text[/font]

Our site supports the following font sizes:

  • medium => 16px
  • large => 20px
  • xlarge => 30px
  • xxlarge => 40px
  • xxxlarge => 50px
  • huge => 100px
  • xhuge => 120px
  • xxhuge => 140px
  • xxxhuge => 160px

Additionally, you can bold or italicize the text by adding a special code to the font tag.

Example: [font size=large bold=yes italic=yes]hello, world![/font]

Adding Tables

Our lessons also support the addition of tables. Be mindful of the lesson width when creating a table and limit the number of cells (columns) you add. If you add too many, your table will not show up properly on the screen.

To create a table, use the following:

Start with: [table format=advanced] 

Then add a row tag: [row]

Add cell tags within the rows for columns: [cell][/cell]

Finish a row with an end tag: [/row]

Finish the table with an end tag: [/table]

You can also align content in cells with tags, such as the following:

 [cell header=yes align=center valign=center][font size=medium]Fossil[/font][/cell]

If you need more help creating or assigning online lessons, please reach out to our help desk.

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