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,


Teaching Tips for the 4 Arts

It has been almost a year since I added information and articles to englishteachingwith creativity.ETC as I was completing my doctoral dissertation in Education and Curriculum Studies. It has been a challenging five years, working as a full-time high school teacher and mentor for English teachers and writing a dissertation. Now that I have completed the doctorate I seem to have a little more time to return to writing on this site and hope that you will also participate in the discussions that the articles elicit.  This year I want to concentrate on Tips for Teaching in the classroom, which will help us develop strategies to better enhance our skills as facilitators of knowledge acquisition and mentors, which is what good educators do on a daily basis.

An interesting article by Liat Ben-David, CEO of the Wolf Foundation, in The Jerusalem Post (Monday December 5, 2016) entitled, “Vive la revolution!” speaks about redesigning our educational systems by asking a few fundamental questions which include; what is worthy of learning, who are our students and who are the teachers we need and when and how does learning/teaching take place? She argues that all of these answers should consider the development of what she terms the four arts which include knowledge arts, the identification and utilization of multi-disciplinary knowledge, thinking arts which includes problem solving, critical thinking, flexibility, creativity, innovation and risk taking, know-how arts, which includes design, craftsmanship, technical skills and practical experience and interaction arts, which involves curiosity, imagination, motivation, teamwork, activism and sustainability.

The answers to Ben-David’s questions are not necessarily difficult for us. As teachers of the English language we know that the ability to express oneself in English is a skill worthy of learning for the future success of our students. Our students are not just the pupils we meet in the classroom but all people with whom we come in contact in our work environments as well as those we communicate with in our on-line communities.

As for who are the teachers we need, it is us! We have chosen this profession because we believe in making a difference. We are passionate about learning, thinking and having a positive impact on the future. This means that we too must continue to learn if we want to impart our enthusiasm for learning to our students.

The final question, when and how does learning/teaching take place, is not the classic answer, learning takes place in school. Of course most of us are physically in the classroom; however, more and more we find ourselves communicating out of the school building as we work with students on-line and answer many questions in our WhatsApp groups which many of us have created with our classes. In addition, we recognize that much of what our students learn comes from the adventures we take them on out of the building, the volunteer work they do and the extra-curricular programs which take place during the year, including the holidays, when they are not in a formal school setting.

The Tips for Teaching articles will center on these four “arts” that Ben-David discusses in her article. I invite your input so that our community can benefit from many ideas and experiences. I am particularly involved with the “thinking arts” as I teach in a literature program that infuses higher order thinking skills (HOTS) into the lessons.

This week’s tip is about choosing a list of HOTS to introduce to your students and how to develop lessons that enable them to practice those HOTS. The list of HOTS which we teach in our high schools includes:

  1. Comparing and contrasting
  2. Distinguishing Different Perspectives
  3. Evaluating
  4. Explaining Cause and Effect
  5. Generating Possibilities
  6. Identifying Parts and Whole
  7. Inferring
  8. Making Connections
  9. Predicting
  10. Problem Solving
  11. Uncovering Motives

There are many sources for definitions for these HOTS and it is important to give students written definitions; however, they are best learned when practiced. I found that one way to practice HOTS is to give students an activity to do collaboratively. One idea is called “The Marshmallow Challenge”.   Each group is given:

  1. 20 pieces of uncooked spaghetti
  2. 1 meter of string
  3. 1 role of scotch tape and scissors
  4. 1 marshmallow

They have 15 minutes to build a free-standing structure with a marshmallow on top. They should try to make it as high as possible.

After completing the task, pictures are taken and then each group is asked to explain what HOTS they had to use to build this tower and explain how they used that HOTS. This activity works well with adults too although the younger you are the more risks you are willing to take in building this structure. Failure is an important part of learning and when you are willing to take risks and fail your chances of gaining knowledge are greater. Try this creative and fun activity when introducing HOTS to your students.

More Creative Literature Units to Share with Your Students!

The summer vacation is coming to a close and it is time to think about how we will organize our classes for the year. The literature unit has undergone many changes over the course of the last few years and the books that we have been using do not reflect those changes. Fortunately, we are blessed with many creative English teachers who have produced some quality units. In the last post I shared the first ten which I received permission to publish and here I am presenting another ten. Remember that there may be additional changes that need to be made on these units which reflect the needs of your particular classes or further modifications which have been made to the program. The units are in “Word” format so that it will be easy for you to adjust them as you see fit.

This group of units includes: All in A Summer Day by Ray Bradbury (3 different units); Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe; Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost; Mending Wall by Robert Frost; Bluebird by Charles Bukowski; Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson; The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson; Refugee Blues by W.H. Auden and The Split Cherry Tree by Jesse Stuart.

Click on the links listed below:

Sarah Greenberg Final Unit. Mending Wall Robert Frost

REFUGEE BLUES Final unit Tikva

Final task Annabel Lee Edgar Allan

Unit Plan on Richard Cory.docx mindy

JudiBeckerFinalAssignment All Summer in a Day Ray

Tzivi Portnoy Final Assignment Bluebird.Blog

Michal Zacks Unit Planner blog

All Summer in a Day- Unit 2 Nechemia Litke docx

All Summer in a Day- Unit 1 Amalya Litke docx

The Split Cherry Tree Leah Ruth Singer

I wish you all a happy, healthy, productive and creative year!

Creative Literature Units to Share with Your Students

It has been some time since I have had an opportunity to write on the English Teaching with Creativity site.  Over the past two years I have taught the literature course for teachers who want to inspire their students with literary pieces that speak to the hearts and minds of our young people. In Israeli schools today, English educators are part of a program that teaches literary pieces infused with higher order thinking skills. The final project of the course is to create a unit that you could use in the classroom.

The first set of units  which are posted here are in word format so that you may change and adapt them to your particular classes. Although these represent final units, it may be possible that there are some errors so please read each unit carefully before using it with your students. In addition, because there are on-going changes and adjustments to the program, the units may reflect differences from year to year. Again, please be mindful to read and make necessary adjustments to the units based on your knowledge and experience.

All of the teachers who have agreed to post their units on this site would like to encourage other English educators to share their work so that we may all have a quality bank of literary units from which to choose and share with our students. The following units will be uploaded at this time to  We hope that you enjoy reading them and teaching them to your students!

1. “If ”  By: Rudyard Kipling  2.”Stopping in the Woods on a Snowy Evening” By: Robert Frost (3 different units) 3.”Digging” Seamus Heaney ”  4.The All American Slurp” By: Lensey Namioka  5.”Richard Cory” By: Edwin Arlington Robinson  5.”The Hitchhiker” By: Roald Dahl  6.”We and They”  By: Rudyard Kipling  7. “The Perfect Heart” By: Shara McCallum. Next week I hope to upload another group of units for you to use.

Click each of the links below to download the unit:

Ruth Steiner FINAL.Richard Cory

Miriam_Steinhart_Unit_2015.Stopping by the Woods

Final Task – Inna Bilik – Full Final and Complete Unit Log

Anat Sabo Final unit log final finally

Copy of Final Assignment We and They Rudyard Kipling

Yael Noiman final assignment Digging Seamus Heaney


The Hitchhiker Mazal Freundlich

The All-American Slurp literature unit Amy Styer

Template for Key Component Final Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening