Eight Tips for Eight Nights – Fun Activities For Teaching Hanukkah
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
My students’ families come from all over the world, so their Christmas traditions often don’t fit the Norman Rockwell mold. Some of my students celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, not Christmas. Still other students don’t celebrate any holidays in December. To help build an atmosphere of sharing rather than exclusion, I make sure to provide opportunities for my students to learn about the varied winter holidays and the diverse ways these holidays are celebrated around the world.
The Jewish holiday Hanukkah began last night, and I always plan several activities to help my students learn about this holiday. Here are eight suggestions for fun and educational Hanukkah activities to share with your students.
1. Read Aloud One Candle by Eve Bunting
The illustrations are what first drew me to this middle-grade picture book. Once I read the story, I just had to share this book with my class. One Candle tells two stories, the story of the narrator’s present-day Hanukkah, and her grandmother’s story of struggle and hope during the Holocaust. Bunting treads on serious ground with her book, and the sepia-toned flashback illustrations that accompany the grandmother’s narrative are just shy of haunting. That said, I think this book does a great job depicting how holiday traditions are passed from generation to generation within a family, and how these traditions are tied to a family’s personal history.
After I share the book with my students, I ask my students to write about an unusual holiday custom that is unique to their family. My students love sharing their personal traditions, from a special family recipe to the story behind an heirloom ornament.
2. Play Dreidel!
The dreidel (pronounced DRAY-DL), a four-sided spinning top, is one of the prominent symbols of Hanukkah. The Hebrew letters on each side of the top stand for the Hebrew phrase Nes gadol hayah sham, meaning, “A great miracle happened there.” This refers to the miracle in the Hanukkah story whereby a single day’s worth of lamp oil in the consecration lamp burned for eight days in the ransacked temple in Jerusalem.
I hand my students a copy of the directions for the dreidel game, a dreidel for each team, and 15 counters — raisins or M&M’S — for each student. The students work in teams to read the directions and then play the game. In addition to having them read a procedural text, the game offers practice with division, fractions, and other number concepts.
If you don’t have dreidels available for your students, check out this Scholastic printable that provides a template for making your own dreidels.
3. Explore an Interactive Hanukkah Scrapbook
My students loved this activity. Scholastic has pulled together a fabulous resource to use with your students, either as an independent computer center or on your interactive whiteboard with your entire class. This interactive scrapbook will teach your students the facts about Hanukkah with fun audio clips, nonfiction passages, and a lot more. Your students can send holiday e-cards, sing along to Hanukkah songs, or respond on a kid-safe holiday message board. You may want to print out these focus questions for your students to answer as they explore the scrapbook.
4. Sing Not-Quite Carols
While Hanukkah songs don’t get much radio play, there are many fun, festive songs you can teach your students in honor of Hanukkah. Venture beyond the familiar dreidel song to some other Hanukkah classics. Music plays an important part in the traditions of a wide range of holidays: you can emphasize how it's a universal aspect of diverse holiday celebrations.
5. Do Candle Math
“There are eight nights of Hanukkah. If Mr. and Mrs. Goldstein give their three children a present each night . . . ”
The math word problems practically write themselves when it comes to Hanukkah. Begin by giving these latke math problems and my Candle Company Challenge to your students, and then challenge them to write their own word problems for their friends.
6. Have a Potato Pancake Party
One of the most traditional Hanukkah foods, latkes are savory potato pancakes lightly fried in oil. Traditionally, latkes are made with grated potatoes, chopped onions, and a thin, plain batter. In recent years, chefs and home cooks have tinkered with the recipe, creating some fun, bizarre, and delicious variations. You may want to have your students do an Internet search for latke recipes and compare the many variations they find.
I read The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story to my students before we have a class latke tasting. This picture book features the dour humor and word play characteristic of Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler). After I share the book with my students, we share a snack of latkes and applesauce, the traditional accompaniment.
You can make your own latkes using an easy recipe from Scholastic. But the easiest way to provide latkes is to buy them in boxes in the freezer section of the supermarket. Trader Joe’s sells eight delicious pancakes for $2. You can heat the latkes in a toaster oven, or the microwave will do in a pinch.
7. Make a Festive Dreidel Treat
For our holiday party, my students help to prepare many of the treats that we serve. I have my students make chocolate and marshmallow dreidels for our Hanukkah dessert. For each dreidel treat, I use a thin pretzel stick, a marshmallow, and a Hershey’s kiss, plus some frosting as “glue.” (Melted chocolate also works as glue, but can be a bit more complicated with students.)
Have your students push the pretzel stick most of the way through the marshmallow. Then use the frosting to attach an unwrapped chocolate kiss to the bottom of the marshmallow. Your students can use food-safe cookie decorating markers or colored decorating gel to write the Hebrew letters on the dreidel.
8. Discover Other Festivals of Light
Comparative religion classes don’t have to wait until college. I use the picture book Celebrations of Light: A Year of Holidays Around the World by Nancy Luenn to teach my students about twelve holidays from different cultures and religions that emphasize the theme of light.