Let Me Count the Ways: Triggers

by Carol O. Starin

Ira Wise shares this teaching experience:

I put a pile of paper—6-8 foot chunks of the four foot wide bulletin board backing variety—in various colors on the floor in the middle of the room. I ignored it as students came into class. Finally, when the bell rang, we took attendance and collected tzedakah. Within a few minutes several kids were waving their hands all dying to ask what the mess was all about. I told them it was a globe—a round map of the earth. They shouted no it wasn’t—it was a just a mess. I suggested that they help me fix it. So we got of the floor, mashed it all together in a massive 4 foot diameter paper, multi-colored wad. Then my madrikh helped them wrap it with twine to hold the ball together. Then we hung it from a pulley in the ceiling.

It looked better. But one of the kids usually said, “I’ve seen the world in better shape.” This began a lesson on tikkun olam. During the lesson we discussed ways to repair our real world. At the end, we made band-aids out of construction paper and wrote on them the ways and agencies we might use to effect tikkun olam. We then affixed them to the “globe.” I explained that band-aids don’t heal things, but they do create the proper conditions for healing to take place.

Ira’s activitiy was a ‘trigger.’ Some teachers call them motivators or set inductions. Each term has a particular meaning. A ‘trigger’ focuses students on the classroom rather than on what was going on in their lives before they came in. ‘Triggers should grab students’ attention, stimulate their interest and orient them to the new lesson.

Triggers should be short—just 3-5 minutes. But, they are of value far beyond their short duration. Here are a lot of good ‘trigger’ ideas:

• Show a trigger film (or portion of a film); an accompanying task is essential. There is a good ‘trigger’ for a lesson on t’shuvah in “Shrek” in which he apologizes to donkey and donkey finally accepts.

• Use a cartoon: with or without a caption; a political cartoon

• Open the lesson with a controversial statement: eg: Judaism and Zionism are diametrically opposed (students are required to defend or oppose the statement)

• Greet students with a provocative question on the board. They share responses with another student and then with the class. Examples: When/Have you ever felt God’s presence? Have you ever imagined what it was like at the beginning? Would you have been a Maccabee? What would you have done if you were Joseph? Was the Emancipation good for the Jews? What is the purpose of being free?

• Create a sequencing activity on either previously covered material or something new.

• Ask a troubling question—one that will “bother” students until they know the answer.

• Present a document/ article: list the five errors in this article; or identify the most controversial statement in the article

• Fill in the metaphor: The Shema is like_________ because ___________. or Passover Seder is like __________________ because ____________.

Students might contribute to a large poster or complete Post-its to be added to the class response.

• Whip/ fill in the blank: Last week my favorite activity was; the most puzzling part of Exodus is ….

• Rearrange the classroom—randomly and chaotically—to “grab” interest in a Beresheit discussion about making order out of chaos.

• Play a variety of songs and ask students to “ Name that Tune” and the holiday that is associated with the song.

• Place colored dots on students’ desks. Use this as the method to divide the class into groups

• Put up a picture or poster with a question: Who is the hero here? What is a leader?

• Compare and contrast any 2 things with the more provocative the comparison, the higher the engagement. This gets students thinking at 4:00 P.M. (or 9:00 A.M.). You might use a Venn Diagram handout for each student or make one using 2 hula hoops. Students add their contributions on slips of paper in the correct hoop segment.

Compare: Yom Kippur and Purim, Haman and Ahasuerus, Rosh ha-Shanah and January 1, Noah and Jonah, Noah and Abraham, Beresheit and Shemot

My favorite set induction is The Mystery Box. I have a large shoe box that is covered with question marks. I put something in it that focuses on the Big Question of the lesson. It could be an alarm clock instead of a shofar or the shofar depending on what the lead-in question is.

For Sukkot, I will put in an ad for a pumpkin picking farm or a bag of sand (desert). For Simhat Torah, I might put in a book or perhaps an artifact that shows the beginning of something and then that shows the end. I am working on this one for next week.
My kids love The Mystery Box. They beg for it. (Idie Benjamin)

A special thank you to Fran Pearlman whose piece on ‘triggers’ inspired this column.

And with thanks to Rabbi Jerry Kane, Peter Stark, Judy Golub, Sharon Morton, Judy Aronson, Marian Gorman, Pesha Loike, Sharon Halper, Paul Epstein, Ira Wise and Idie Benjamin.