Rationale: The purpose of this lesson is to provide a basic understanding of U.S. Jews and Judaism. Using the children’s book Mrs. Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco and applying research, teamwork, and presentation skills, students will be introduced to the cultural, historical and religious aspects of the Jewish community. By acquiring a basic understanding of Judaism and the Jewish community, students will be able to speak knowledgeably about the religion and the community and respond to any stereotypes about Jews that may hear using facts they learned.
Note to teachers: While this lesson is focused on Judaism, the format can be adapted for other religions, such as Buddhism, Islam, and Native American spirituality. When teaching in a public school, it is important to recognize that teaching about religion (in a secular, religiously neutral and objective manner) is not a violation of separation of church and state as mandated by the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, but that the teaching of religion (by promoting one religion over another or participating in faith-based rituals or practices, such as prayer), is unconstitutional. Religious diversity is part of the growing diversity in the U.S., and for many students, religion plays a significant role in their identity development. Parent letters can help assuage any concerns you and the school may have about introducing curriculum on religious diversity.
For more information about teaching religious diversity, please refer to the following resources:
- Students will be introduced to Judaism and the Jewish people through the experience of Mrs. Katz in Mrs. Katz and Tush (1992) by Patricia Polacco.
- Students will research a certain aspect of Jewish culture or religion using multiple resources
- Students will prepare and present their research findings in class.
National Standards ( .pdf format - 44 KB - requires Acrobat Reader)
Age Range: Grades 3 - 6
(Click on the link above for a master pdf file with all of the handouts or click on any individual title below for an html version of that single handout.)
Other Materials: Part I: Mrs. Katz and Tush (book) by Patricia Polacco; chart paper, markers and masking tape, or chalkboard and chalk, or dry erase board and markers; optional: overhead projector and transparency sheets; Part II & III: Computers with Internet access; basic art and writing supplies; masking tape or tacks
Time: 50 minutes for Part I; 30 minutes for Part II, plus additional time in and outside of class for group research and presentation work; 50 minutes for Part III (Part II and III are optional)
Techniques and Skills: applying text to research, brainstorming, communicating ideas and opinions, cooperative group work, creating multimedia presentation, critical thinking, historical understanding, large and small group discussion, presentation skills, reading skills, research skills, writing skills
Key Words: Hebrew, immigrant, Jews, Judaism, kashrut/kosher, kipa, menorah, Passover/Pesach, Poland, Shabbat/Sabbath, Star of David, stereotype, tallit, unions, Warsaw, Yiddish
Part I (50 minutes)
1. Prior to the lesson, prepare the following:
2. On the chalkboard or on chart paper, write “What I Know.” Ask students what they know or have heard about Judaism and people who are Jewish, (e.g., “When I say ‘Judaism,’ what comes to mind?”). Write their ideas underneath the statement “What I Know.” If stereotypes or falsehoods/myths are conveyed (e.g., Jews are cheap), respond in a neutral tone (e.g., repeat what was said), put a check mark by the comment and share that the class will revisit the idea at a later time. Solicit 5-10 ideas. (Note: If students have never heard the word Judaism or do not know about Jews, share 2-3 points from Introductory Facts about Judaism and skip to step #4.)
3. Review the list generated by the class. If necessary, clarify, correct or augment the information. In addition, remind students that the ideas with a check mark will be discussed at a later time.
4. Share with the class that they will learn more about the Jewish community through one specific character in the book Mrs. Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco.
5. Read the book aloud to the class with little or no interruptions. Read the book again, but in this manner: After each page, ask students to identify words, concepts and images with which they are unfamiliar, and that represent Jewish culture, history or heritage (e.g., Passover, rocks on gravestones). Write them on the board and use the handout Mrs. Katz and Tush Reference Page to add to the list the students have generated. (Optional: Copy the pages of the book onto transparency sheets and project them on a screen. Circle all unfamiliar concepts, words and images on the acetate sheet.)
6. At the end of the story, share that Mrs. Katz is Jewish and shows Larnel her Jewish heritage in different ways – through language, her experiences as an immigrant, stories of her husband, Myron, and through religious celebrations. Tell the students that while Mrs. Katz does not represent all Jews in the world, her life provides us with one example of someone who is Jewish.
7. Write on the board or on another piece of chart paper, “What I Learned.” Ask students to reflect on the story about Mrs. Katz and to respond to this statement. Write their ideas underneath the statement “What I Learned.” (Note: If not conducting Part II, refer to the Research Topics (Teacher Version) to provide additional information about the different images, concepts, and words in the story.)
8. Compare the “What I Know” list with the “What I Learned” list, and comment on the amount and type of information gained from reading the book.
9. If stereotypes or misinformation was presented about Jews during the “What I Know” exercise, continue to step #10. Otherwise, skip to step #13.
10. Tell students that some of the ideas brainstormed under the “What I Know” list are not completely accurate. Let them know that sometimes what we learn about different groups of people is actually exaggerated or untrue.
11. Share the following definition of the term stereotype with students: a stereotype is an idea that many people have about a thing or a group and that may often be untrue or only partially true. Elaborate that sometimes we look at groups of people and think they are all the same in one way or another. Provide an example of a stereotype, e.g., all four-year olds are crybabies. Elicit a few examples of stereotypes from the students.
12. Go back to the items that were checked on the list, and identify them as stereotypes and/or myths. Provide a very brief explanation about the origins of the stereotype. If necessary, refer to ADL’s Confronting Anti-Semitism: Myths and Facts booklet.
13. Conclude by asking some or all of the questions below:
- What was the most interesting thing you learned about Judaism and the Jewish community?
- Are you surprised about how much you learned between the start of the class and the end of class? Why or why not?
- How is your heritage/family/culture similar to Mrs. Katz’s? How is it different?
- What do you still want to learn about Judaism and the Jewish community? (Optional: Write “What I Still Want To Learn” on the chalkboard or chart paper, and write students’ responses underneath.)
Part II (30 minutes)
1. Prior to the start of the lesson, prepare the following:
2. Explain that in order to better understand Mrs. Katz and Tush and the Jewish religion and community, students will be assigned to do group research work on different aspects of Judaism and the Jewish community based on Mrs. Katz’s life.
3. Introduce the research topics listed in the Research Topics student handout. [For additional research topics, see the last page of Research Topics (Teacher Version).] Explain that the class will be divided into research groups and will receive a handout that explains in more detail what they will research. Tell them that they will work as a group to put together a presentation for the class, and indicate how much time they will have to prepare it.
4. Divide students into research groups and assign each group its research theme. Pass out the appropriate Research Topic handout to each student. Use the remainder of the period to check in with each group in order to make sure they understand the assignment, and to help them divide the work appropriately. Work with students to begin to identify research materials. (Optional: In addition, distribute Resource List about Judaism and Jewish Community, or relevant portions of the list, to assist students in identifying research materials.)
Part III (50 minutes)
1. Prior to the small group presentations, identify six areas in the class where the groups can display their presentations, with at least 5-7 feet of space between each presentation area.
2. Instruct students to display their presentation in one of the designated areas (or ask students to submit their presentation to you for you to post).
3. Begin the presentation process. Two types of presentation processes are described in the Suggested Guidelines for Group Research and Presentation handout.
4. At the conclusion of the presentations, instruct students to take a seat. Ask students what new information they learned from the presentations. Add their ideas to the “What I Learned” list from Part I, but as a second column. Compare the “What I Know” and the “What I Learned” lists from Part I to this new list, and comment on the amount and type of information gained from their group research and presentations. (Optional: If students generated a list for “What I Still Want to Learn” in Part I, refer back to the list and assess with the class which ideas from the list were addressed in the presentations.)
5. Conclude by asking some or all of the questions below:
- What part of the research process did you find enjoyable, and why? What part of the research process did you find difficult, and why?
- How did you feel when presenting your information to your classmates?
- What is the benefit of doing research about different people and cultures?
- How will your new knowledge about Jews and Judaism benefit you? How might you use or apply this knowledge?
- In Mrs. Katz and Tush, Mrs. Katz talks to Larnel about vacationing in the Catskills with her husband because of discrimination and, later in the book, about slavery. Discuss the connection between Jews and African Americans and their experience in struggling against prejudice and discrimination, particularly during the Civil Rights Movement.
- Invite a parent or community member who is Jewish to speak to the class about a certain aspect of Judaism or Jewish life. Have this become an interview session, and encourage students to prepare questions ahead of time to ask the guest. Following the visit, students can add new information to their presentations.
- Because Mrs. Katz and Tush is accessible to 1st and 2nd graders, have the students (in grades 3 – 6) read this book to 1st and 2nd graders and explain parts of the story based on their research projects and presentations.
- Replicate this lesson with other religions. Create an exhibit of different religions studied, and display them in the hallway for other students, parents and community members to see.
- Visit local Jewish museums or exhibits about the Jewish religion and experience. Go to the American Historical Jewish Society for a list of different Jewish museums across the U.S.