Let Me Count the Ways: Highlighting the Highlighter

by Carol O. Starin

Highlighters look like markers—but they accent, they don’t obscure. And, they offer so many opportunities for teaching and learning. Teachers can use highlighters to:

  • make corrections
  • make connections between ideas or concepts
  • put things in categories
  • focus students on specific parts of an assignment or a text
  • separate a lot of directions into individual steps
  • make it easier for students to read long lists
  • address various learning styles. Take a look at this site. It discusses the 4 different learning styles and how using highlighters helps each kind of learner learn.

Here are ways teachers use highlighters in their Jewish classrooms:

1. Some teachers recommend that students could use highlighters to emphasize important concepts on handouts and other materials which they can show to their parents. Adrian Durlester suggests that teachers have the students use highlighters to emphasize crucial information in notes, forms, flyers, letters, memos sent home to parents via students. The school does use multiple distribution modes-website, email, send-home flyers, and phone trees by room parents. But having students highlight important information on send home flyers (which also go in special “take home” folders) is another way of trying to insure that parents get important announcements and information.

Adrian also uses highlighters to make Hebrew practice more personalized and efficient. “When left to their own devices, students practice Barukh Ata Adonai… with greater fervor and devotion than ‘v’ratzah v’divrehem hane’enmarem… Who wouldn’t? I would highlight individual works that each student needed to practice. Hence, same amount of practice time yielded greater improvement in overall performance. I also would use ‘generations’ of copies, highlighting words the student needed to practice, allowing students to track their progress. The less color, the better the reading.”

2. Susan Edelstein, a b’nai mitzvah tutor, uses highlighters to help teach the blessing before the haftarah. She color codes each “trope family” in a different color. As students chant the blessing together, she points out that they will definitely meet these same tunes when they learn their haftarot. She color codes their haftarah portion as well, using the same colors as in the blessing.

3. In Fran’s day school all the Hebrew students purchase three different color highlighters. The highlighters are used for color-coding new vocabulary, new grammar concepts those things that the student is confused about, trope patterns, vowels, and language patterns plural/singular, suffixes- for example past tense etc.

4. Marian has a different take. She says, “Don’t circle or underline Hebrew words/letters. They have enough lines under them already. Highlight instead. Which Hebrew words/letters? Up to you. Keep it minimal. We use them in 2 ways successfully. All the Het and Khaf sounds are always pink. They quickly stopped confusing them with Heys and Kafs. When listening to an individual student, tutor keeps a copy of the lines being read, highlights each mistake, returns the page to the student. The student sees exactly where s/he needs to focus. Repeat the process next time. Great comparison. Student sees progress.”

5. Sharon Halper suggests using highlighters to create interactivity with some materials that are challenging. “I am thinking history texts. Each student reads and ‘comments’ using highlighters: green=WOW! (good); blue=WOW! (of the OY variety); pink=’I’ve got a question’; yellow=caution/this could be a problem. Students are then prepared to discuss their responses in hevruta. (‘How come I thought this was a blue and you thought it was a green?’ ‘Let’s talk about our pinks’)

6. Peter Stark works with high school kids—and has some sophisticated and wonderful ideas for using highlighters to learn. “ In text study… to teach the concept of running motifs and keywords—select a category like “colors” and have students highlight every use of a color description (if possible, in the color mentioned). I do this in teaching Hebrew poetry. I use Alfred Noyes’ poem “The Highwayman” to teach the concept before attacking Hebrew material. Students rapidly discover that the poem moves from color into black and white and then back to color, which prompts discussion of why the poet designed the poem this way.”

Then he moves to Saul Tchernikovsky’s poem “Shalosh Atonot” and asks the students highlight rhythm patterns instead of colors. “This enables them to see structural features of the poem and forms the basis for a discussion of the poet’s use of onomatopoeia and meter to convey meaning. A highlighting of running motifs in Shakespeare’s Hamlet reveals the use of flowers as symbols, just as in Romeo and Juliet the highlighting of scene locations reveals that Romeo and Juliet are never seen together in daylight, only at night. Highlighting enables students to visualize larger patterns that may otherwise be obscured by preoccupation with individual words and grammatical features of texts. It can also be used as a tool to enable students to discover sound patterns such as alliteration. I use every one of the items I’ve mentioned in teaching the Book of Samuel, which contains every one of these features.”

Bonus idea! Do you know you can highlight words and concepts on your computer. If you use “Word,” go to the toolbar and look for the little highlighter icon. Find and select the text you want to highlight, then click on that little icon.


  • We are a people that revere books. Let’s make sure we teach our students not to highlight library books, borrowed books, prayer books, text books that will be used next year by other students. There is a bal tashkhit lesson here.
  • Some teachers recommend not using highlighters that have flavored smells. Someone is always tempted to taste them, which is unhealthy for the student and even unhealthier for the teacher if parents are litigious.
  • Know when to put the highlighters away. One teacher discovered, when she was doing a round robin Hebrew reading exercise with the class (one word per student as quickly as possible) that some students counted ahead and highlighting their word!

Thanks to: Paul Epstein, Fran Pearlman, Judy Golub, Shira Raviv Schwartz, Sharon Morton, Peter Stark, Sharon Halper, Adrian Durlester, Marian Gorman, Sasha Kopin, Susan Edelstein, Dan Bender, Dale Cooperman, and Sharon Wasserberg.