Posted in Jewish Studies

A Peak into a Language Detour

We have been just over 30 days at school now and when I think of the Hebrew my students knew when walking into my room the first day and how much they know now, I feel so proud of them. It is the immediate feedback that I get/give from/to them as we travel this language learning/teaching road that continues to evolve and stop at both foreseen and unforeseen intersections; planned and unplanned interactions. The light in their eyes and the smiles on their faces when they get the connection between words, which in turn allows for greater comprehension and recall, is one of the best feelings when teaching a language.

One such intersection happened this week, as we spoke about Seffer Bereshit, before reading the Parashat Shavuah. As we began to review the first two Parashot from the past weeks, I knew most of them could tell (if asked) that bereshit is at the beginning/the start… but I wanted them to understand the why and to be able to connect this word to other words we have used/learned… so… I wrote the word בראשית (BERESHIT) on the board and circled 3 letters ראש (ROSH) knowing that we used it during different parts of our learning already (Rosh Hashannah, Rosh Chodesh, Body part, Front of line etc…)

Then I asked (the way I do every day during our daily quiz): Mee Yodeah, mee Yoda’at Mah Zeh Rosh? (Who knows what is Rosh?)

I need to digress, to explain that during our daily quiz, students are allowed to call out the answer – the person I hear first, sits down and is not allowed to answer aloud any more – this way, everyone gets to shine, and everyone gets to hear correct answers even if they do not remember… so it is a wonderful and fun way to review our increasing vocabulary.

The second the question was asked, a collection of voices called out happy to share their knowledge: “head!”  While some pointing to their own Rosh – saying the word in Hebrew. What a wonderful feeling! Then we moved to the challenging question, where else did we meet this word before? Now the room was still abuzz… but the answers were with question marks at the end of them and went in different directions… not really understanding what I was looking for…. They were thinking in English… searching for ideas from their past knowledge in the language they are more proficient in….  So I had to refocus them and remind them we need to search our brain for the Hebrew we know, and that I am actually looking for the word ROSH to be part of the memory (not only the meaning itself)… I gave a hint to think of our Tishrei holidays… now someone called: “ROSH HASHANNAH!” This got someone else association going as she called: “ROSH CHODESH!”

YES! they are in their Hebrew brain drawer now… 😉

The challenge was not over… now I asked them to look around the room and think what other word has a similar meaning (it also has the letters ראש in it). Curiosity peaked…. it was actually very quiet…. and again, they needed some hints – it is part of a routine song we sing daily… it is part of of the shavuah (week). A few more seconds… and as they were searching around the room, few students called at once: ראשון! (Rishon! Sunday!)  WOOHOO!

Now I added ראשון  to the board, beside the word בראשית and with their help circled the same 3 letters – ראש!

This discovery of course begged for more questions:

Me: Mah zeh RISHON?

Students:  FIRST!

Me: Lama Sunday Zeh Yom Rishon?

Students: Because it is the FIRST day in the week! It is the start of the week! It is like a number!

Me: Nachon! (True)! Mah od milah Le’RISHON? (What’s another word for Rishon?)

Students: ROSH! ROSH! ROSH!

Me: Lama yesh ראש be’Rosh Hashanah? (Why does Rosh Hashannah has the word ROSH in it?) (raised hand please)

Student: Because it is the first holiday of the year.

Me: Be’Ivrit?

Student: Rosh Hashanah RISHON ba’shanah!

Me: Yofi! Lama Yesh ראש Be’Rosh Chodesh?

Students: It is the first day of the month. It is Alef like ONE!

Me (not letting them get away with it ;): Be’Ivrit?

This is not an easy recall… we give time to think… to struggle… to search…

student: Yom ….  Rishon ….. ba… Chodesh (a bit hesitant…)

Me: METZUYAN! (excellent)! Lama yesh ראש be’Bereshit?

Students: “Because it is the first!” “It is the Rishon!” “It is the start of everything…”

Me: Az mee yodeah Mee Yodaat, Mah Rosh Hatorah?

Students: BERESHIT!

Connections made… for now! Successful detour! We will definitely need to return to this road again and again in order to not require a guide!

This is one example of the importance of digging into the language we learn. Learning a language is understanding it, not only memorizing words! We use many words throughout our day – a lot of routine words that the students are getting used to and understand more and more. it is these opportunities, to take words out of the familiar context and together discover it’s meaning(s) that allows our students to more easily fill up that ‘other language drawer’ and open it when needed.

This takes me back, to our daily quiz (חידון יומי)… as it provides the opportunity to work on the quick recall of a word, which one can only do once one knows the meaning with no context.  NOT AN EASY TASK! …and guess what… The students LOVE this challenge! If I forget to do it, they ALWAYS remind me.

2 thoughts on “A Peak into a Language Detour

  1. Wow Morah Ada, this is amazing!! This makes my heart feel so happy! I love that your students in Grade 1 are diving into the morphology of Hebrew words!! I am impressed that they were able to find the base in ראשון since the vowels make it sound differently that when you are just saying ראש! These word investigations absolutely take practice… I am looking forward to seeing more and more as you continue to guide your class, Morah Ada!
    Kol HaKavod, Kitah Alef!!

    1. Toda Morah Lianna,
      Using word inquiry with our students, in English, always looks like such a brilliant way to delve into language, that as this detour was happening it made me feel a part of this initiative that you and Ms. Reichstein brought to our school.
      It is not exactly the same, as the languages are structured differently, but the idea of better understanding is there…
      With regards to your surprise regarding rosh and rishon – we looked for visual cues, rather than auditory – the root in Hebrew is primarily 3 letters (the vowels change) 😉

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