The Power of a Story to Heal

We all love reading and listening aloud to stories, but did you know that recent research has shown that stories have the power to lower stress hormone levels and alleviate pain? Storytelling can transport us to a better place, a place that has less stress “by weaving a tapestry of language, text, and imagination.” (See the Jerusalem Post June 6th, 2021 article by Amina Khan for the larger article)

Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Toronto, involved in the study on the power of the narrative to ease stress, believes, “Stories provide mental stimulations that can help reframe personal experiences, broaden perspectives, deepen emotional processing abilities, increase empathy and regulate self-models and emotional experiences”.

Scientists wanted to prove this theory with scientific data. A group of researchers focused their efforts on children in intensive care at Rede D’Or Sao Luiz Jabaquara Hospital in Sao Paulo. The children were from ages two to seven. They were randomly split into two groups. In one group a volunteer read a children’s tale for 25-30 minutes. In the control group, the volunteer spent time asking the children to solve riddles.

The researchers collected saliva samples from each participant before and after the sessions to track changes in levels of cortisol (a hormone linked to stress) and oxytocin (a hormone linked to empathy and emotional processing).  The results were astonishing. The stories appeared to be about twice as effective as the riddles! Oxytocin levels rose ninefold after the storytelling, versus a fivefold increase after the riddles. Cortisol levels dropped by about 60% for the children who heard stories, compared with a drop of 35% for those children who had worked on riddles.

The results of this study help to confirm the power of the story to transport us to another place, perhaps a less stressful place. Jorge Moll, a neuroscientist at the D’Or Institute for Research and Education in Rio de Janeiro, argues that adults can also benefit from letting a story transport them.

For teachers and families, these past two years have been a time of stress and in some cases pain. We have the ability to use the vehicle of the story to help our students use their imaginations to relieve some of those pressures. I would also suggest that we should take the opportunity to not only read aloud to all our students of all ages, but also encourage them to write their own stories, poetry, and journals.

If any of you would like to share your literature units, stories, or creative writing activities, I am sure that we will all benefit from them. I have been working on another site: in which I create stories for my grandchildren and anyone else who connects to the blog. As a result, I wrote two children’s storybooks this year for young children. You can see them by clicking on the following link.

Wishing you all a happy and less stressful year,


“Energy Transference”

It has been quite some time since I have posted on the ETC blog, although every once in a while new teachers join to see what materials we have available to enhance creativity in their teaching. At a time when many teachers and students are learning at home, we have had to add many new updated tools to our pedagogical toolbox. 

I read an interesting interview with Keith Richards, guitarist in The Rolling Stones band. He is talking about how before Corona he was expecting to be on the road with his band but instead, he is cutting a record at home on the computer with the band.

“You get all geared up for that, then-nope. So, it’s like energy transference.”

I thought that is how it is with teaching now, we get all organized to do something one way and then – nope, it’s not going to be that way. So, what do we have to do with all those plans and energy- an “energy transference”!

The work from myself and some of my colleagues that I am uploading to the site is exactly that, an “energy transference”. These lessons and activities represent some of the most creative output by teachers who suddenly had to change the way they teach and still continue to motivate, impart information, and engage their students in learning. I hope that you find these helpful. If you would like to contribute some of your ideas and share them with other educators, we would love to see them.

Warm regards,


The following are slide presentations from Lisa Melamed on:

Thank You Ma’m By Langston Hughes, Musee des Beaux Arts By W.H. Auden, Cautionary Tales for Children By Hilaire Belloc and Isaac Asimov’s, The Fun They Had, which is a science fiction story that certainly speaks to us during these times as we have all become, “the teacher in the screen”.

When we went into lock-down, Lisa transferred a lot of her energy into transforming written literature units into on-line units that she could teach her students in Zoom sessions. Enjoy the following examples of her, “energy transference”!

Thank You M’am

Musee des Beaux Arts

Cautionary Tales forChildren

The Fun They Had

Another amazing teacher, Jennifer Mayer, created a slide show for teachers on how to teach vocabulary to our students. This has some excellent ideas for all English teachers to utilize in our on-line and in person teaching.

If you are searching for more Bridging ideas for the poem Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Jennifer shared this worksheet with us:

I found that sometimes it is fun to close the books and delve into the speaking aspects of a language which include expressions. Each English speaking country has its own culture and expressions. I was born in America and realize how many of our expressions are connected to American sports, especially baseball. For example, “he never made it up to bat” or “he couldn’t get to first base”. Rather than try to explain the game to my students, I decided to create a slide show for them on some of the American English expressions or idioms that they may or may not find in their own language.

They had a lot of fun trying to guess the meaning of these expressions, and I had a lot of fun listening to what they guessed! Here is the slide show with the answers. You may make a copy for your students without the answers and then show them the answers or read it to them after they try to guess the meanings of each expression. Here is an example of my “energy transference” over this period of lock-down, enjoy!

Teachers, the Shapers of Society

Percy Bysshe Shelley, in his essay, “A Defense of Poetry” wrote, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” (What a great quotation to use as a Bridging for Ozymandias!).  In a recent article on the Parsha of the week, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks amended that statement while writing about Moshe Rabenu (Moses our teacher) to, “It is not poets but teachers who shape society, handing on the legacy of the past to those who build the future.” I often tell my teachers that we have the privilege of “touching the future” through the work that we do with our students.

Although I have not been active this year in adding articles and teachers’ work to this blog, I have been collecting some wonderful, creative work and before we all return to the classroom I wanted to share the variety of excellent lessons which have been sent to me.

Sharon Botesazan has been busy creating more activities which use Band 3 words in context. The link to her Google Docs for these creative lessons are below:



Batammi Paltiel created a visual video for Shelley’s, “Ozymandias”, which one could argue finally explains the meaning of this poem to teacher and student alike. She has a reading of the poem by the actor, Vincent Price, and then she takes the song, “Work of Art” by Demi Lovato, which shows how the theme of “Ozymandias” lives on- the power of the artist. Whether you decide to use this in your classrooms or not, it is worth seeing!


Ester Lerner created a fabulous activity for Holocaust studies and art. She wanted to connect this to a poem that they studied in her class by Dan Pagis. The poem is below and you can access Ester’s unit by clicking the link below the poem:

Written in Pencil in the Sealed Freight car”

Here in this carload
I am Eve
With my son Abel
If you see my older boy
Cain son of Adam
Tell him that I…


Writing VTS Holocaust bridging activity

Thank you to those of you who continue to share your work with us. We appreciate all of your efforts and creative endeavors!

Wishing you all a wonderful rest of the summer holiday and a creative and productive year ahead,


Vocabulary and Stories

There is often disagreement as to the best way to teach English as a second language to our students. The Ministry of Education in Israel is testing a new program to teach students lists of vocabulary words (Bands I, II, and III) hoping that our students will succeed in their endeavor to learn the English language.  Several teachers have begun teaching these lists to their students and many have created Quizlet tests online to help facilitate their learning of the vocabulary bands.

One teacher, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at a Sheva Brachot at her home, feels that one of the best ways to learn vocabulary is in the context of a story, even a simple story. Sharon Botesazan has created a story and worksheets with some of the band III words. She was gracious enough to let me share these with you on this site. I would encourage all of you to begin to create some of your own stories with the vocabulary words.  Below are Sharon’s worksheets.

In addition, speaking of stories, I have started a new site which is called, Tell Me a Story Bubie.  We have grandchildren living in a very religious community in Jerusalem and we are not allowed to read them the stories which we read as children, and that we read to our children. Because of this, I began making up my own stories, to impart some of my values to them as well as to teach them English. I encourage all of you to read stories, tell your stories and create stories for your children and your grandchildren. Stories are the key to language acquisition because as human beings we have the need to communicate with one another. We want to express our thoughts, our passions our challenges, our successes, and our failures. We want to receive encouragement and understanding from one another and so we continue to tell our stories and learn from each other. The site for my new blog is :

band 3 vocabulary worksheet 01 Sharon B.

band 3 vocabulary worksheet 01 gap fill 01 Sharon B.

band 3 vocabulary worksheet 01a Sharon B.

New Year, New Beginnings

The school year has begun and here in Israel we have just enjoyed our New Year’s festivities, including Rosh Hashana, which we celebrate with the beginning of the Hebrew Calendar.  I wanted to share with my readers some excellent Literature units that student teachers created over the Summer holidays. I hope that you will find them useful in your high school classrooms this year.

The first set that I am uploading deal with issues that have to do with Good and Evil. Literature is a wonderful vehicle for encouraging our students to think about values and how to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. Also, if we do nothing, if we choose not to get involved, is this also a choice? The following units were created by one of our English teachers at the boys Yeshiva where I work. Her name is Lisa Melamed and she is both talented and passionate about her teaching. We should all have teachers the caliber of Lisa, both as colleagues and in our classrooms. I hope that you will enjoy teaching the following units!

They include:

Musee Des Beaux Arts  By W.H. Auden (poem)

One Ordinary Day with Peanuts  By Shirley Jackson (short story)

Negro Mother  By Langston Hughes (poem)

negro mother for mekor haim as a pdf file

OneOrdinaryDaywithPeanuts pdf

one ordinary day with peanuts log for mh 2018 as pdf

musee des beaux arts for mekor haim as a pdf file

Wishing you all a successful and enjoyable year!


Teaching Teachers to Teach

This summer I have had the pleasure to be an instructor in a course at the David Yellin College to students who want to re-train to become EFL teachers in Israel. The group is intelligent, motivated and eager to bring their skills into our EFL classrooms. I have designed the course to show the students how to teach literature and higher order thinking skills in the EFL curriculum. The course includes articles discussing the background of EFL in Israel and the rationale for infusing higher order thinking skills into an English based literature curriculum. Below are two articles I wrote for the course.

In addition,  the students are required to create a “mini” literature unit at the end of the course which I hope to share on this site with other EFL teachers. As always, your comments  and your ideas for literature units and projects are welcomed. Wishing you an enjoyable rest of the summer holidays.


Article One-

Higher Order Thinking- Definition, Traits and Methods for Teaching These Skills- Results of One Study on Students’ Bridging Essays and Opinions on the Literature Module for Infusing HOTS

Dr. Karen Guth

Higher order thinking is a reasoned, purposive and introspective approach to solving problems or addressing questions with incomplete evidence and information for which an incontrovertible solution is unlikely (Rudd, Baker & Hoover 2000:5). The essential aspect of this definition is the approach to problem solving and the expectation that there probably will be more than one plausible answer to any given problem. Inherent in this concept of higher order thinking is the belief that there could be many perspectives to the dilemma and therefore, solving it involves an on-going process and a commitment to hard work, as well as embracing uncertainty along the way.

Higher order thinking firstly encompasses the skill and ability to discern the difference between information which is relevant and useful and that which is not in viewing and understanding a situation or a problem. This means being skeptical of ideas or solutions that do not differentiate between the various aspects of a dilemma or predicament. Secondly, it includes organizing that information into useful chunks or categories that enable one to begin to clarify the process needed to address the situation or problem. Thirdly, higher order thinking entails developing initiatives, methodologies or solutions that include logical, creative and moral thinking. It requires a commitment to open-mindedness, the ability to recognize one’s mistakes when proven wrong and an on-going understanding that to embrace higher order thinking involves hard work. Higher order thinking can be taught and it can be measured.


  1. Scepticism and trust

To learn to think critically we must be able to discern clearly what we can trust to be as it seems from what is not true and to know when it is useful to be skeptical. Lipman (2003:32) actually defines higher order thinking as the ability to practice a “healthy skepticism.”

  1. Inquisitiveness

The inquisitive person is one who values knowing how things work, being well-informed and sees the value in learning even if there is not an immediate reward for it. The process of asking questions leads to discovering knowledge and without that trait of inquisitiveness; human beings would not advance in their understanding of their world or the people in it.

  1. Creativity

Higher order thinkers must be creative thinkers as well, generating many possible solutions and choosing the best one. . Liaw’s (2007:4) research supports this theory which states that learners must be creative in their production of ideas and be able to critically support them with rational explanations and examples.

  1. Fair-mindedness or open-mindedness 

According to MacKnight (2000:38), a critical thinker must be able to examine logical relationships in arguments, respect diverse perspectives and look at phenomena from different points of view. These abilities enable higher order thinkers to be flexible enough to change their thinking when their reason leads them to do it. Paul (1992:12) concludes that to be fair-minded we must interact with and exchange ideas with others as a way to correct and balance our thinking. “If we commit to fair-mindedness, we struggle intimately with our own limited insight and hence with our bias.”

  1. Critical attitude

McPeck (1990:16) posits, to think critically about one’s own thinking means to appreciate the strengths and limitations of one’s own knowledge. He refers to this as a “critical attitude”. For Norris (2003:5), thinking critically is a necessary condition for being an educated and moral person while Siegel (1980:14) argues in the same vein that, in the end students must become critical thinkers so that they are able to make decisions for themselves.

6.    Confidence in reason

The higher order thinker must have what Paul (1992:14) refers to as intellectual perseverance. To become a critical thinker is not easy. It takes effort and the ability to struggle with confusion. A higher order thinker must develop confidence in reason, “confidence in reason does not deny the reality of intuition; rather, it provides a way of distinguishing intuition from prejudice”.

Methods for teaching HOTS

1.    General reasoning approach and scaffolding method

The general reasoning approach advocates teaching higher order thinking as a skill or trait separate from the content area. Advocates of this philosophy argue that just as domain specific knowledge is essential to acquiring more domain specific understanding, teaching general skills in higher order thinking and practicing them in different situations makes them more transferable to a variety of domains and circumstances both inside and outside of the classroom setting. This general reasoning approach views higher order thinking skills and traits as having their own rules, definitions and pedagogy. When its concepts are taught and practiced, outside of the context of a specific topic, they are more transferable to specific subject domains.

2.    Subject specific approach and infusion method

Those who advocate the subject specific approach when teaching higher order thinking conclude that those people who have a strong ability to critically think are able to do this because of their mastery of content knowledge. They argue that reasoning and learning develop together through active application of subject specific knowledge, within a problem solving context.

3. Mixed approach and schemata and cooperative learning methods

Other researchers argue that what is essential in learning and understanding is the ability to transfer what one has learned to a new situation or subject. In order to do this, students need to learn the general principles of higher order thinking as well as examples of and practice within specific domains of knowledge.

Why HOTS should be integrated into the study of literary texts

Literature is a vehicle for learning and practicing HOTS. Shen (1997:258) showed in her study that higher order thinking emerges from discussions on the literature studied in class. Abu Shihab (2007:209) argues that when we read we predict, compare and evaluate. Reading involves an interaction between thought and language in which the reader must interact with the text in order to create meaning. Elder and Paul (2010:32) concur with this argument by stating that the critical mind improves reading by reflectively thinking about how it reads and what it reads. This research also shows the success of infusing HOTS into the learning of literature. The study of quality, relevant and varied literary texts enable students to engage in HOTS. Therefore, EFL programs should encourage the reading of literary texts and the development of HOTS exercises which include discussions and writing using HOTS.

The following are some of the results revealed by a study conducted in 2016 as part of my Doctorate of Education in Curriculum Studies.

  1. Students enjoy the challenge of an EFL literature curriculum which infuses HOTS

The majority of the students who responded stated that they did enjoy reading the literary texts studied in the program. Answers varied from it caused them to think, improved their English, taught them about other cultures, imparted strong life messages and the material was interesting to them.

The stories, novels, plays and poems naturally lent themselves to infusing HOTS. The top four choices of HOTS that the students chose to mention and that they described properly were, predicting, cause and effect, uncovering motives and compare and contrast. These four HOTS encouraged discussions on characters in a story (uncovering motives, comparing and contrasting), or the plot of the story (cause and effect, predicting what will happen), or poetry (compare and contrast the stanzas and their meaning). These are only a few examples of how natural it is to infuse HOTS into literature as a domain subject.

Moreover, students explained that the learning and practicing of these HOTS skills are something which they can and will apply to other reading and writing tasks.  Students felt that they would be able to apply the HOTS of, predicting, uncovering motives, cause and effect and making connections, as the top choices of HOTS that could be applied to their reading. The students chose cause and effect, compare and contrast, uncovering motives, predicting, applying and explaining patterns as HOTS that they now knew how to apply to written formats.

All of these HOTS skills were taught and practiced in the literature program. Students learned to identify them in the literature and practice them when answering questions on the literary texts. As a result, they understood the meaning of the HOTS because the teacher had several opportunities to spiral the various HOTS within the literature while reading and analyzing each piece

  1. HOTS infused in an EFL literature programme improves students’ writing 

The empirical findings reveal that the curricular initiative of infusing HOTS into a literature program helps students to become stronger English writers. The students’ improvement in their overall writing skills with each subsequent essay was steady. The application of HOTS in the students’ bridging essays also showed improvement over the two year period.


Abu Shihab, I. 2007. Critical thinking and reading. Journal of Adolescent Adult Literacy, 51(4):300–302.

Elder, L. & Paul, R. 2010. Critical thinking development: A stage theory. Critical Thinking Organisation. Available at: (accessed on 7/6/2013).

Liaw, M. 2007. Content-based reading and writing for critical thinking skills in an EFL context. English. Teaching and Learning, 31(2):45–87.

Lipman, M. 2003. Thinking in education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

MacKnight, C. 2000. Teaching critical thinking through online discussions. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 4(4):38–41

McPeck, J.E. 1990. Critical thinking and subject specificity: a reply to Ennis. Educational Researcher, 19(4):10–12.

Norris, S.P. 1985. Synthesis of research on critical thinking. Educational Leadership, 42(8):40–45.

Paul, R. 1992. Critical thinking: what, why, and how. New Directions for Community Colleges, 77(77):3–24.

Rudd R., Baker M. & Hoover, T. 2000. Undergraduate agriculture student learning styles and critical thinking abilities: Is there a relationship? Journal of Agricultural Education, 41(3):2–12

Shen, F. 1997. Enabling higher-level thinking process in ESL reading: an examination of three instructional approaches. Proceedings of the 22nd Conference on English Teaching, Ohio State University, Ohio

Siegel, H. 1980. Critical thinking as an educational ideal. The Educational Forum, 45(1):7–23.

 Article two-

Background, Influences and Development of the English Teaching Curriculum in Israel

Dr. Karen Guth

The principles and standards for learning English as a foreign language in Israel have been influenced over the years by three major forces; firstly by English becoming the lingua franca in the world; secondly by the Communicative language teaching movement’s influence on teaching English as a second and foreign language and thirdly the movement from Behaviorist to Constructivist-oriented methodology in the classroom.

The 21st century has seen an unprecedented global expansion of EFL learning as English has developed as the leading global lingua franca (Fishman, Cooper &Conrad 1977: xii). Graddol (2006:70) argues that extensive curriculum reforms are taking place as people are required to operate in this globalized world and improving proficiency in English forms a key part of the educational strategies in most countries, including Israel.

The second factor, the Communicative Language Teaching Movement, which can trace its beginnings to the end of the 1960’s, through the 1970’s (Tarone &Yule 1989:17; Howatt & Widdowson 2004:258; Swarbrick 1993:1) evolved into a methodology which promoted communicative competence in the English language). Under the influence of Communicative language teaching (CLT), grammar-based methodologies gave way to functional and skills-based teaching, which includes fluency activities based on small interactive group work (Richards 2006:3; Nunan 2003:6-7).

The third influence, a move from Behaviorist to Constructivist methodology, shifted the EFL classroom from a teacher-centered environment to a more student-centered one and laid the foundation for alternative assessments such as portfolios. The EFL Curriculum prior to 1977 focused on grammar, vocabulary acquisition and literature (oral exam for students in the Government state schools that were not specifically teaching a vocation). Because of the three major forces that influenced EFL mentioned above the 1977 EFL Curriculum, introduced by the English Inspectorate in Israel, emphasized English as a global language of communication and focused on the practical use of the language. This also had an effect on the English literature that was being taught in EFL classes in Israel. The literature syllabus was altered to include more modern works which would contribute to communication skills (Gefen 2012:31).

The 1988 EFL curriculum which replaced the 1977 curriculum stated as one of its aims that English should be taught as a means of heightening intellectual awareness through language study, raising linguistic consciousness and attaining insight into language (Culture Ministry of Education English Curriculum 1988:5). It, however, does not mention, in any of its aims or objectives, the study of literature and relegates literature to part of an oral test given only to students at the highest level of English competency.

Literature becomes part of an external oral examination in the 1988 EFL Curriculum, worth approximately 5% of the overall English Matriculation examination. Two outside examiners (English teachers from a different school) came to the high school and orally tested students on one of the five pieces of literature that they were required to learn during their high school studies (Kopinsky 2014). By 1990, due to budgetary issues, the literature exam was administered internally by the EFL teachers in each high school and by 1991 the learning of literature texts became part of the EFL yearly school grade and there was no separate matriculation examination either internally or externally.

It would be another 13 years before a new English Curriculum would be published by the Ministry of Education. In 1994, an English Advisory Committee met and drafted a list of Proficiency Guidelines to explore alternative approaches to teaching English as a foreign language in Israel. It wasn’t until 2001 that this Committee’s work was published as, Principles and Standards for Learning English as a Foreign Language for All Grades, English Curriculum (Culture Ministry of Education English Curriculum 2001). The new guidelines were organised according to the traditional division of language proficiency into the four skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing. These guidelines provided a map for the revision of the matriculation examinations, referred to as The Bagrut Examinations, which were published in June 1996 (Culture Ministry of Education EFL Curriculum 2001:10). The domains include appreciation of literature, access to information in both written and spoken English and presentation in both spoken and written English.

In 2007 a new national educational policy was adopted by the Israeli Ministry of Education. This policy, called “Pedagogical Horizon for Learning” encouraged an infusion approach to teaching HOTS in which thinking was integrated into the school curricula rather than taught as an independent subject.

In 2008, the English Inspectorate decided that it wanted to bring literature back into the EFL Curriculum as a subject that would once again be a part of the written Matriculation (Bagrut) examinations (Lifschitz 2008:108). However, now the goal was to teach literature using higher order thinking and incorporating critical thinking as part of the benchmarks that students are required to reach. This initiative began with a pilot program that started with the strongest level of EFL students, namely those who take the five point matriculation examinations (Bagrut) in English.

At the end of 2012 the Culture Ministry of Education revised the 2001 English as a foreign language curriculum to “expand the document, resulting in a curriculum that will better address the needs of teachers, material writers and test designers” (Culture Ministry of Education English Curriculum 2012:5). The expansion of the 2001 curriculum includes a number of updated components. Three of those are in the area of higher order thinking skills, information communications technology (ICT) and literature at all levels.



Culture, Ministry of Education State of Israel. 1988. English curriculum. Jerusalem.

Culture, Ministry of Education State of Israel. 2001. English curriculum. Jerusalem.

Culture, Ministry of Education State of Israel. 2012. English curriculum. Jerusalem.

Fishman J., Cooper, R. & Conrad, A. 1977. The Spread of English. Rowley: Newbury House.

Gefen, R. 2012. On literature in the school curriculum and, so it seems, in a test-oriented system of education. ETAI Forum, English Teachers’ Association of Israel. 23(1):31-32.

Graddol, D. 2006. English Next. London: P. Latimer Trend.

Howatt, A.P.R. & Widdowson, H.G. 2004. A history of English language teaching.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kopinsky, B. English Inspector Kiryat Arbe. Interviewed by: Guth, K. (30th April 2014).

Lifschitz, D. 2008. The literature bagrut module: integrating thinking skills with teaching literature. English Teacher’s Journal, 55:108–110.

Nunan, D. 2003. Methodology, in Nunan D. (ed.). Practical English Language Teaching, Boston: McGraw Hill. 3-22.

Richards, J.C. 2006. Communicative language teaching today, SEAMEO Regional Language Centre. Available at: file:///D:/Downloads/Richards-Communicative-Language.pdf. (accessed on 11/9/2011).

Swarbrick, A. 1993. Teaching modern languages. London: Routledge

Tarone, E. & Yule, G. 1989. Focus on the language learner, Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Motivating Our Students to Want to Learn (English) Part Two

I received a WhatsApp from a former student this week telling me that I would be so proud of him because he continues to read in English. He attached a picture of the book he is reading to become a paramedic in the army. The book, “Mosby’s Paramedic Textbook” is the primer for paramedics and one of the tasks he needs to complete before receiving his certificate is to master the information in this book. I told him that I have always been proud of him and that I knew he would make a great paramedic. It is notes such as these, from both current and former students, that make me believe that I have the most cherished and privileged profession in the world; I am a teacher!

What motivates students to want to learn and to continue to learn beyond the years that they are in our classes? In my doctoral research I discovered (good teachers already know this) that if we present interesting materials to students,  articles and stories to which they can relate, they are encouraged to want to read them, discuss them and write their own pieces about them.

There are two main theories of motivation, one is intrinsic, meaning that someone finds something that is meaningful and enjoyable and they therefore want to do it. The motivation comes from within the person.  There is also extrinsic motivation which is behavior that is driven by external rewards that originate from outside the person, such as grades or money.  The best way to motivate students to learn and continuing learning is to encourage them to have intrinsic desires to; master a skill, to value the subject matter and to value the learning activity. In addition, there are researchers such as Chowning, Griswold, Kovarik and Collins *who have found that incorporating ethical dilemmas in the curriculum is one strategy for increasing student motivation.

As English teachers, what do we do with this information? Literature lends itself so beautifully to instilling intrinsic motivation in our students. In addition to interesting novels, plays, stories and poems, we can generate meaningful discussions that revolve around ethical dilemmas of the characters in the texts we read with our students. Short articles can also engender opportunities for discussing and writing about dilemmas.

With the help of many of the talented EFL teachers in Israel I have been able to publish some quality literature logs/portfolios that you may choose to learn with your students. Below are links to more of these units. Enjoy!

Unit Planner 2017 Tali Winer  Edgar Allan Poe Annabel Lee 

Unit Planner  2017 Hagar Bromer Ralph Waldo Emerson Fable

Unit Planner 2017 Shani Hirschhorn  Billy Collins On Turning Ten

Unit Planner 2017 Mor Naor  William Shakespeare Sonnet 130

*Chowning, J.T., Griswold, J.C., Kovarik, D.N. & Collins, L.J. 2012. Fostering critical thinking, reasoning, and argumentation skills through bioethics education. PLoS ONE, 7(5):1–8.


Many articles and studies have been conducted on how to motivate students to learn or become self-regulated, which means to continue to want to learn on their own with or without a teacher or a classroom or a school. The content we choose as teachers is an essential part of what motivates students to continue to learn. If we return to Ben- David’s article, which I quoted in the December 16th blog post, there are four categories of learning activities that potentially motivate people to learn:

Knowledge arts, the identification and utilization of multi-disciplinary knowledge;

Thinking arts which include problem solving, critical thinking, flexibility, creativity, innovation and risk taking;

Know-how arts, which include design, craftsmanship, technical skills and practical experience;

Interaction arts, which involves curiosity, imagination, motivation, teamwork, activism and sustainability

Moreover, the content we provide in our classrooms is only part of the formula for motivating our students to learn, especially at the end of the year. As Professor Richard L. Curwin writes in his Jerusalem Post article (January 19, 2017), “Discipline and student motivation are interconnected. Any discipline technique that reduces student motivation has no place in school.” Dr. Curwin, most well-known for his worldwide best seller, Discipline with Dignity, argues that threats, rewards and punishments never increase learning outcomes and we should therefore abandon them for more productive methods for motivating our students. He has developed four categories that increase student motivation and I would agree that they, along with interesting and relevant content, are the keys to creating self-regulated students. Curwin states that “if any of the four categories below are increased, student learning will increase”. The categories are:

  1. How much the teacher cares about a student
  2. The student’s belief that he/she can succeed
  3. The passion of the teacher for what she teaches


If you have ideas which utilize Ben- David’s four “arts” or Curwin’s four categories that increase motivation feel free to share them with our readers. I would like to highlight one which was sent to me by a new teacher in one of the schools where I teach. Jennifer Mayer created a wonderful power point presentation with YouTubes that accompany it on the History of the English language, in English of course. Take a look at her presentation which I have uploaded on this blog site. Her Hebrew speakers found it fascinating as did I when I watched it. It definitely provides a powerful example of “knowledge arts” in that it helps all of us identify the foundations of the English language, which the majority of the world utilizes today.

Wishing you all a successful end of the school year with meaningful learning and opportunities to motivate your students to read and to write over their summer vacation!

A History of English Jennifer Mayer PPP



The Meaning of Education

Jonathan Safran Foer once wrote an article in The New York Times (2013) in which he stated, “We live in a world made up more of story than stuff. We are creatures of memory more than reminders, of love more than likes. ”  After over 30 years of teaching, one of the “tips” for teaching I can pass on is that everyone loves a story, especially when that story opens up the world to meaning and understanding. Below is a true story of an unforgettable experience I had this week with three students, physics majors, from one of the high schools I teach in. small-claims-court-picture-2017

The Meaning of Education

Dr. Karen D. Guth

As a teacher with over 30 years’ experience in both America and Israel I search for those moments and opportunities in which my students comprehend that what they learn in their classrooms are not fully realized until they understand how they can apply that knowledge to the world outside of the classroom. I am privileged to teach at an out of the ordinary place, Yeshivat Mekor Chaim, which affords those opportunities to allow the students to experience the true meaning of their education.

On January, 29th, 2017 I found myself in small claims court in Israel after filing a claim against a young man who rammed into my car with his truck, pushing me into a van in front of me and causing tens of thousands shekels worth of damage to my compact Toyota Yaris. Thank God no one was hurt; however, much to my surprise his insurance company refused to pay for the damage to the front of my car arguing that I could not prove that I didn’t first hit the van in front of me when he stopped short and then afterwards was hit from behind by the truck. In Israel, this type of accident is called “sharsheret” where three or more cars are connected as if in a “beaded necklace” one after the other in a smash-up.  In this case, unless I have an eye witness to prove that I did not hit the car in front of me before being hit from behind, I will not receive payment for damages to the front of my car.

We are admonished, “Justice, justice, thou shalt pursue” and I felt that it was not “just” that the insurance company of the man who slammed into me should not pay for all of the damage done to my car. Thus, I took both him and his insurance company to court.  The challenge was how was I to prove without a witness, that I was not responsible for the damage to the front of my car? My husband suggested that this was a physics problem and that I needed to find someone who could show, with the weight and the speed of the truck that hit me, the weight of my car and the fact that I had stopped and wasn’t moving, that the truck could have pushed me into the van thereby causing damage to the front of my car.

I approached one of my former Mekor Chaim students who is majoring in physics and he took all the information, brought it to two other physics majors and together the three of them worked studiously on the calculations, with the information they had, to estimate how far the truck pushed me. They sent me pictures of the white boards filled with four levels of calculations, which I of course could not understand, the formula they used and the results. They estimated that I had been pushed approximately 3.8 meters as a result of the impact of the truck hitting me from behind.

Wonderful! Now how was I to explain this to a judge when I did not understand the physics myself?  I received permission from the Rosh Yeshiva (headmaster) to take the three students with me to court and I sent a special request to the court to allow them to speak on my behalf when it came time to explain the physics of the accident.

These three young men stood by me against the driver of the truck and his insurance representative (no lawyers are allowed in small claims court in Israel, like America) and when I was finished telling my story, complete with toy cars and trucks that I brought as props to explain what happened, one of the boys stood up and proceeded to explain with intelligence, confidence and maturity how it was likely that the damage to my car, both front and back, was the cause of the impact of the 1700 kg truck hitting my 1000 kg car at 40 km per hour.

The judge asked him questions, the insurance representative tried to make him look like a fool and throughout it all our young student held his cool, answered every question with honesty and respect.  The other students, who had helped with the physics calculations and provided  translation for me as well as advice as to what questions I should ask,  all showed the power of  knowledge applied to a “real life” situation.

In the end, the insurance representative who opened the case with the comment that there was no way to prove that I didn’t hit the van in front of me before being hit from behind, became nervous because the judge was so impressed with our Yeshivat Mekor Chaim student, that he offered to pay 60% of what I was asking before a judgment was made.  I, feeling that this had become so much more than about the money I wanted to recover, decided that it was a good compromise and I was willing to take it.

I will tell you that no one in that room on that day will ever forget what happened there. It was a day that three young students took four years of learning in math and physics and recognized that their learning had helped their teacher to prove that her accident was not her fault. Furthermore, they witnessed the justice system in action in the State of Israel. The adults in the room experienced the full power of a meaningful education when the students displayed their knowledge, understanding and ability to apply what they had learned in a way that lay people could understand. The student who spoke realized that not only is he brilliant in physics but he is articulate, he spoke with confidence and firmness. He held his own against the sometimes antagonistic questions thrown at him by the insurance representative and he answered honestly to the judge when he expressed that he was not at the scene of the accident during the accident but he was confident in their calculations which showed that HaMorah (The teacher) was telling the truth.

Afterwards, my husband and I took the boys out to dinner and we celebrated. We discussed the case, a little Torah, ate and the boys went to a room in the restaurant to daven Mincha before we took them back to school.  My husband took a picture at the courthouse of the four of us, each of the students holding one of the toy car props and smiling. We sent the picture out on the school WhatsApp with a caption written by one of the boys, “Physics majors help Morah Karen win big in court. What great students we have at Mekor Chaim!”  That was the truth; Morah (teacher) Karen “won big” because she has the privilege of being surrounded by young people with brains, values and heart in an institution that truly understands, the meaning of education.

Interaction Arts – The “Fishbowl” Activity


In the last post I wrote about  Liat Ben-David’s concept of “The Four Arts” in education, one of which is “Interaction Arts” that include; curiosity, imagination, motivation, teamwork, activism and sustainability.  Today I want to give one tip for initiating an interactive art in the classroom. Students naturally like to work together on assignments. There are some students who prefer working alone, which is fine; however, one of the skills that we should promote in our classrooms, which will be essential for their future, is working together, discussing issues and coming to conclusions or decisions.

The idea of “fishbowl” came from students I once taught from a school in New York. Oftentimes we have questions about material that we teach and we ask students to answer in writing or we ask the questions orally in class and have students raise their hands and wait until we acknowledge them before answering. “Fishbowl” is a cooperative interactive activity that encourages students to work together and to arrive at an answer through discussion. Here is how it works:

Fishbowl Activity

The teacher chooses a group (no larger than 6 students) to sit in a circle (in chairs) in the center of the classroom. They are in the “fishbowl”.  The teacher then gives them a question. It could be connected to a review on the material before a test or a problem that they have to solve that introduces a new unit. I use this for reviews before literature exams but the possibilities are endless.

The students in the “fishbowl” discuss the question or problem amongst themselves while the other students listen and/or take notes. If a student, not in the “fishbowl”, would like to enter into the discussion he/she must raise his/her hand and be invited to join the group by someone in the center.

One of the best aspects of the “fishbowl” activity is that the teacher is not the center of learning! It is a motivational activity that encourages students to pool their knowledge and experience and to arrive at answers or conclusions as part of a process.

I have had students relate to me that they learned more about the subject through “fishbowl” discussions than they did listening in class or working on the questions alone. Knowledge is something that is acquired through hard work, experience and a collaborative effort. The “fishbowl” activity allows for all of those forces to come together. In other words it engenders learning!

I hope that you will feel free to share some of your interactive arts activities in the classroom with our readers.

Until next time,