My American peers may find this hard to believe, but most of my seventh grade students (at a private international school in Germany) don’t know what a menorah is. They have never heard of a yarmulke, kosher, or the 10 Commandments. Make all the jokes you want about the “exodus” of surviving Jews from this part of Europe in the 1940s, but I found it appalling that these kids knew so little about Judaism, a religion that has had so much influence on the world.
A few months ago, I created a long unit of study (32 lessons ≈ 10 weeks) on the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The driving questions may seem a bit ambitious, but I think you can guess what I’m trying to do here:
Factual: What ideas, stories, laws, and beliefs do all of the Abrahamic religions share?
Debatable: What is more significant: the similarities or the differences between the Abrahamic religions?
Conceptual: Why did Christianity, and then Islam, evolve from Judaism?
After doing guided readings of primary texts (that’s right, I’m reading passages of scripture from the Written Torah, New Testament, and Qu’ran to these kids) and having students do mini-research projects on traditions and customs of each religion from around the world, they’ll pick one current religious conflict happening in the world and use it to explore the debatable question. They’ll also have an understanding–albeit rudimentary at the seventh grade level–of the historical evolution and influence of these three religions.
Of course, the whole point is for students to see that, while the armed conflicts and religious imperialism of ancient times still exist today, we must appreciate and try to understand others’ beliefs rather than giving way to prejudice and hatred.
Note: I allocated fewer lessons for the study of Christianity and Islam because students at my school are more familiar with those two religions. Think about the demographics of your own class and do a quick formative assessment, if you wish, and adapt the lesson schedule to suit your needs.
Are you tackling any big concepts with middle school students? I’d love to hear how you do it! Comment below to share your tips.