Alternatives to FrontalTeaching


What follows are reminders of a variety of options to frontal teaching to use in the classroom.  This focuses on alternatives to teaching during individual lessons and formative assessment, as opposed to unit assessments that could include all sorts of projects.  If you would like more detail please be in touch and we can help you incorporate some of these ideas into your lessons.

Hevruta – If you use Hevruta in class, be sure to start with only a few minutes a day, giving very clear directions as to what they are responsible for, and how they should be working with their partner. Think about the amount of time as compared to their age.  Elementary school students generally have a 15 minute attention span.  Middle School students 20.  You can also model what hevruta should look like by asking a colleague/administrator to come into your class.

Instructions can be orally or in writing.  (Don’t just tell them to read and try to make sense of a verse.)You may need to say, for example, read the verse, underline any works you do not understand, and look them up. Or…Do a close reading of the text. Is there missing information? Are there strange word usages or verb forms? Does the wording remind you of anything you’ve come across before? Is there anything unclear in the message? In Hevruta you might ask them to outline what is happening in the text..

 Students will need graphic organizers or questions to answer while they are reading.  They will not be able to take apart a text for 15 minutes without any other task.  Go over expectations for what they should be doing while their partner is reading (follow along, making corrections, etc.).  Be clear about what you expect in terms of who is writing (are they both answering questions on their own sheet?), what they are writing (the same answer as their partner?  Their own idea?), and what they should do when they disagree with their partner.


Be prepared with the specific question(s) you want to ask, and think through exactly the goal of the discussion. Make your goal clear to the students, and that will also help you keep on track. You might want to use a talking stick or a ball to make sure that they understand that only the person with the stick/ball speaks. Minimally, you will need a reminder of expectations during a discussion.  You can ask them to remind you!  If you as teacher tend to dominate the discussions, you might want to put yourself outside the circle. If you feel students do not listen to one another you can have them briefly summarize the person who spoke before, or, if you feel this either holds up the discussion or seems juvenile, you can think of ways to connect the threads of the conversation – such as periodically saying “so you’re basically agreeing with John?” or “How is that different than what Sarah said?”  You can also ask questions like “who agrees with what John said?”  “Who disagrees?”.


This is a great activity to use when you want to expose/introduce students to various texts or ideas, but you do not expect them to master all. Use no more than 4 separate texts (3 could be preferable). The text can be no longer than a page (in English) or a few psukim.

Step 1: Assuming you have three distinct texts/commentaries – each presenting something different, divide the class into three. Each student receives one of the three texts. He/she reads the text silently and tries to write down the key points. (Another option is to have all students with the same article read together in a group, although, this way, your students who are often less engaged, are not held individually responsible.)  Take about 10 minutes. If necessary because of time, this could be assigned as homework the previous night))

Step 2: All the students who read the same text/psukim, come together and jointly write up 5 statements that summarize the article/text/psukim. They need to agree on the same 4-5 statements and each must then copy out the same statement. It is important to state your expectations here, that all students are responsible for understanding and teaching their 5 statements.  (15 minutes)

Step 3: The groups are reconstituted so that now there are groups of 3 (or 4) composed of one person representing each article/text that was read. (2 minutes)

Step 4: Each person in the group teaches their article/text to the others by reading the 5 statements (as opposed to just talking on and on). The others can ask clarifying questions. They can then discuss and compare the pieces they read. [15-20 minutes].  They should write their own summary of what each person is presenting into a graphic organizer or some summary sheet you have prepared, so they are walking away with the information from each group, but in their own words.

Step 5: If time remains, the teacher can do some kind of comparison using a chart on the board, of the different articles/texts, or commentaries.


Useful when there are 4 options! For example, in Avot, “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is mine, etc.” Or 4 different stands on an issue or four different commentaries on a text.

Step 1: Ask students to go to the corner which most closely reflects their own opinion or understanding. [2 minutes] Given there are 4 options, push people who feel they fall between two options to make a choice. They could always raise their concern in the corner they have chosen.

Step 2: Once in the corner, the people discuss why they decided to go to that corner. [5-10 minutes]

Step 3: One representative from each corner reports on the main points raised. [5 minutes]

Step 4: If anyone wants to move corners, they can. [2 minutes]

Pole Position

This is similar to 4 corners, but is designed for when you have two legitimate positions – pro or con. You can ask a question and have students go to the agree side or disagree, and discuss.  Some students may end up in the middle. Each group discusses and then shares out.

 Carousel Brainstorming with Commentaries

This is a way to encourage students to ask questions of the text – which can be used as an introduction to what they will be learning - and to begin to put themselves in the mind of the commentaries. (Of course, you will need to first teach students how to ask questions of the text. The activity has the added benefit of getting them moving and actively engaged.)

 Step 1: Hang up some psukim on large paper around the room.

Step 2: Ask the students to circulate and write questions they have of any particular pasuk. Give them ample time to circulate. [10 minutes]

Step 3: Allow students to go around again and offer a possible answer to any questions.  [10-15 minutes]

Once you begin to look at commentaries, refer back to what the students wrote.

 Individual worksheets

You can give instructions (such as read pages 1-4 and answer the following). Why is this preferable over hevruta? You might simply want to see periodically how each individually does. Also, if for whatever reason you need quiet in the classroom, hevruta won’t provide that.  Finally, there are some people who really prefer to work alone.


Bibliodrama deserves more than a short paragraph as it is an art form. We hope to provide some guidelines for this shortly on our website. In the meantime, you need to think about whether bibliodrama will meet your goals. It is a great way to help students understand midrash, to look at commentary, to think about personal relevance, etc.

You can also use it as a way to see if students understood the basic narrative, but simply having them act out the story they just read.

Here is one simple technique for getting started with bibliodrama. Please note, however, that you need to prepare your questions in advance, so that the activity will take you where you are going:

Have students stand in a semi-circle. Tell them they are a particular character and ask them a question. (You should use a “microphone” (a magic marker, etc.) and go over to them as they have a response.

For example: You are Abraham’s servants. You’ve lived in the house with Sarah and Abraham for a long time. I understand there is quite an uproar taking place regarding Hagar and Ishmael. What you can tell us as to how you see what is happening?

Once the student responds, you parrot back or ask a clarifying question – “ah, so you feel…” or “but wasn’t Abraham just doing what God wanted?” and then move on to another student. (Students love to do bibliodrama. Don’t overuse it – and make sure it is for a worthwhile goal.)

 Multiple use of the board

If they’ve outlined the text (or done any other list type assignment) ask 4-5 people to put the same outlines (or lists) on the board (perhaps you want to choose ones that you feel are pretty good). The people at their seats can compare what they have to what is on the board. Then they can all do revisions. (It gets more people actively involved.)


Ask a good (meaty) question. You may want to give students a minute to think or write and then turn to the person next to them to share. You don’t have to then ask them all to share with you afterwards. This is for a 2 minute conversation. No need to go into hevruta. The teacher should walk around and listen. We’ve seen good teachers use this format several times in a class period. It works effectively when there is a good question and when you really keep it to 2 minutes. (It has the benefit of allowing all students to talk more during a class period than would usually happen.)

This is also especially useful during a class discussion that gets out of control.  When everyone is talking.  Put a question on the board, and ask them to turn to the person next to them.  It will get everyone back on task.

Choice kits

You might provide a series of choices of activities related to a text. All the instructions would be written up in advance. It is possible that people would work alone, or with a partner. They choose what they want to do. It takes a good deal of time to design these, but once you have them, that’s probably all the preparation you need to do for several class periods and you’re free to circulate.

Anchor Activities

Anchor Activities are designed for students to work on once their class work is completed.  The intention is to maximize instructional time and deal with the challenge of different students completing their work at different times.  They are intended to review or extend learning of the subject matter, not to be busy-work.  Activities may be designed for students to complete independently or in small groups.  The goal is to have students move independently to the next task.

Ideally, you can set up a section for anchor activities in your classroom that student know how to use.  It is intended as low prep DI strategy.  Try to stock your anchor activity center with a series of ongoing projects, so that you don’t have to work on it regularly.

For more information, go to the full article on anchor activities in the education corner in the Nov. 2010 newsletter. Click here.

 Computer lab/Research

Have them research individually or with a partner information you want – background on commentators, a specific time period, maps, etc.  Before you send them off to the computers, give them a specific time frame, and a specific task with directions on how to record their information.

 Guest “speakers”

It’s nice to hear from someone else on occasion. However, just having a speaker come in is another frontal presentation. See if there are guests who could add to what you are studying, by having the students DO something.


If there are legitimately two positions one could take on a subject (based on the text) allow for a debate. (If there is only one good conclusion, then the subject is not right for a debate.) However, you need to be very clear as to the guidelines and consider what could go wrong. Debates are tricky. You might want to go more simply with the poles activity above.

If you are going to have a debate, you should articulate clear instructions for the planning process and for how the actual debate will take place.


During prep:

Come up with 5 points for your group, and 3 challenges for the other group. 

Two people should write and present the intro, two- the conclusion, two- your main points, and two people the challenges for the other team. 

Indicate how much time each pair will have to present their part.

The Debate

How many rounds will there be?  When will they have the opportunity to respond to the other team?  Will there be pauses for preparing responses? 

 Using Art

This too could be an entire course. Briefly, keep the following in mind:

a. Use photos, illustrations, paintings, that will help to bring the topic alive in a very visual way.  Go to our website and click on education links and scroll down to art links for teaching text. (Bookmark this website while you are at it.).

b. Allow students to draw/create collages/ as a way of showing their understanding of the material you’ve just covered or anticipating what might come next in a story.. Students can be encouraged to use stick figures – or tearing up paper and using the scraps to create their figures so that those with less drawing ability will still feel comfortable. Or, you can allow them to download images. Comic strips are also a good way to let them summarize a scene.

Rubrics are often a good tool when doing art projects.  Being clear about what you expect to see, what information you expect to be included, style, and effort, are important.  

Board figures

Create figures that are magnetized for the board or use on a felt board or simply maneuver on a smartboard to show how the action takes place in a story. We’ve seen this used very effectively in having students re-create battle scenes/approaches in Judges, how they would visualize characters situated in a story, etc.

Using Objects

Using objects is a great way to focus students and get them motivated. For example:

a. In teaching about lost objects from the Mishnah, one could bring in objects and set the scene and students would need to think what rule applies to what you’ve set up.

b. You could bring in objects that could have been owned by someone and ask the students to choose an object and speak on its behalf or connect it to Jewish text. For example, at the end of studying Beraishit you could have a box full of objects – a stuffed donkey, a cooking pot, a map, a sword, etc. and ask the students who could have owned it, what it was used for, etc. (This is also connected to bibliodrama).

c. For older students, you could bring in random objects (“junk” from your house – a shoe, a key, a pair of old glasses, a pen, a ball, a candle, a plastic bottle, a belt, string, a balloon, a paper clip, etc.) and ask them to choose one and tell you how it relates to a concept – such as midrash, halacha, commentary, oral law, etc. Students will come up with very creative ideas that you hadn’t even thought about and this can deepen their understanding of the concept.

d. You could also do activity c above, but ask students to make a personal connection.  Which one of these objects represents your relationship to tefilah.


Music can be used in many ways

a. Play quiet music as the students are coming into class. When you stop the music (after they have done the “to-do” on the board) this is the signal that it is time for class to start.

b. Sing! You can, for example, sing the bracha at the beginning “la-asoke b’divrei Torah” or the song that goes with the bonayich curriculum. You can take the end of the last period of the week to do one or more Shabbat zemirot with the class.

c. Play music. There are great possibilities for playing music that emanates from your text or is about the theme you are teaching.  Check out for songs about the parsha. 

d. Have the students write music as a way of summarizing stories you’ve just covered. (They could use a melody they already know and just write the lyrics or write both if they are musically talented.

e. Create chants for materials you want them to memorize (plagues, tribes of Israel, parshiyot, sedarim, etc.)


Check out Bible Raps

For a short introduction you can also see an article in our archive of newsletters by going to our website 

Movement / Emotional Tableau

a.You can have students freeze into a pose to reflect what they think is happening is happening in a piece of text. It could be everyone at the same moment (count 1, 2, 3 and take the pose). We used it once to have people assume a pose of themselves as learners.

b.You could ask students to position themselves as they imagine the story took place and to think of what facial expressions the characters might have had. For example, where are the members of Abraham’s family standing when Hagar leaves. Where are they looking? What expressions do they have on their faces? Where is Hagar looking?

Chalk Talk

This is a great activity for having a “quiet discussion” that can be used for either opening or summarizing a topic. It works everytime – if you use it properly and don’t overuse it.

What follows is a protocol of Chalk Talk, adapted from an article by Judi Fenton, which will provide you with more ideas.
The facilitator explains VERY BRIEFLY that Chalk Talk is a silent activity. No one may talk at all and anyone may add to the Chalk Talk as they please. The facilitator writes a relevant question in a circle on the board or on chart paper (if you prefer to keep a record of the conversation and you don't have a "Smart Board").  The facilitator places several pieces of chalk (or markers) at the board.  Students can comment on the initial question-or on subsequent comments. Decide if you want initials next to the comments, if it will help you in the follow-up. People write as they feel moved. They can read and respond to the comments of others. The facilitator may choose to totally sit back, circle or connect ideas on the board, or participate in the discussion. (I suggest you remain a facilitator and keep your comments, if any, to a bare minimum.) There are likely to be moments where not much seems to be happening-that is natural, so allow plenty of wait time before deciding it is over.
What you now do with the comments on the board is important. You may use the comments to shape your lesson plans or refer back to them in subsequent discussions.
a more detailed description and other applications in the November 2008 newsletter.  Click here to read it.