In this activity, students have the opportunity to explore different definitions of the word “hero.” They will discuss why (and if) heroes are important and will do research about individuals they consider to be heroes. Lastly, students will be asked to think about which of their own actions could be considered heroic and how they serve as role models for friends, peers, and family members.
- Broaden students’ understanding of what it means to be a hero to include every day acts of kindness and responsibility.
- Research and share information about individuals whom students consider to be “heroes” or “role models.”
- Explore the challenges, responsibilities, and benefits that come with being a role model or hero and how that role relates to becoming b’nai mitzvah.
In this first section, you will facilitate a discussion with your students about the definition of the word “hero.” As b’nai mitzvah, students are now able to take on more adult responsibilities and privileges within Jewish tradition. As teenagers, they are in a place where they are also taking on more responsibility at home, at school, and with friends. This first section will help you to make a connection between the concepts of “hero” and “role model” and encourage your students to explore the importance of role models to their own process of maturation as b’nai mitzvah.
To prepare for this activity:
- Be sure to set up a board or some papers for brainstorming.
- Decide if you will have students brainstorm in groups or as a whole class.
- Gather students in a group for discussion. Begin by asking students to name some heroes. Encourage them to think of superheroes, as well as celebrity heroes, and everyday heroes. When a student suggests a name or kind of person ask: “What makes him or her heroic?”
- On the board or on large pieces of paper, make two columns labeled “Something you do” and “Something you are.” These two statements draw out the differences between one’s actions and one’s values/character traits.
- Using markers, chalk, or sticky notes and pens, have students answer the question “What does it mean to be a hero?” by brainstorming lists in each category. If you do the brainstorm as a group, the class can discuss the proper categories for each idea.
- For example, under the “Something you do” category, one might write “Stick up for a class mate who is being bullied” or “rescue a cat from a tree.”
- Under “Something you are,” one might write “brave,” “kind,” or “quick thinking.”
- As students are brainstorming, encourage them to think broadly of what it means to be a hero. You may want to rephrase the question a few different ways:
- What does it mean to be a hero?
- What makes someone a hero?
- When the brainstorm is over, ask students to look at the list and reread what they’ve written. Ask some more questions for discussion:
- Are heroes important? Why or why not?
- Are heroes the same as role models? How are they similar or different?
- Who and/or what encourages us to be role models and/or heroes?
- Homework for the next session:
- Pick a person to profile who you find to be personally inspiring or a role model. [See more about how to help students do this in Part 2.]
- Hand out the My Hero profile worksheet so students know what kind of information they will be expected to collect.
This part of the activity will allow students to think about an individual who inspires them or serves as a role model. Using the My Heroes profile worksheet from MyBatMitzvahStory.org, students will collect a picture and information about their own heroes to share with their classmates.
To prepare for this activity:
- Think ahead of time about how you want to frame the project. Do you want your students to pick specifically Jewish role models? Do you want to focus more on specific values or actions? Instead of asking students to choose anyone throughout all of history for this project, you may want to choose:
- Biblical figures (or could be characters from their parsha or haftorah)
- Historical figures
- Family and Community members
- Decide on a timeline for your students’ projects. Make sure that you discuss deadlines with them, especially if they will be writing the profile at home or over a long period of time.
- Decide where and how students will research their heroes. Do you have a school library or public library accessible to students during class time? Will students be expected to do research at home on the internet?
- Students should come to class with an idea about who they will profile for their project.
- Have the students complete any necessary research on their heroes. You may want to plan a trip to the school or local library, check out some research resources to use in your classroom, do internet research in a computer lab, or have the students complete the research at home.
- Using the profile as a guideline, students should write about their hero. Students can print out a picture for the profile, or you could have them draw pictures.
- When all of the profiles are complete, hang them up around the room and have each student present their person to the class.
Extend the activity
- As homework, ask kids to find a hero in the news or in their day-to-day lives. They can either bring in an article or write a paragraph about what they saw and bring it into the class. You could also make a “mitzvah tracker” board in your class where kids can post short 3-sentence anecdotes on note cards when they see people in the classroom, school, community, etc. doing good deeds for others.
- Hang the heroes’ profiles up around the room and give students time to browse each one.
- Each profile should have an empty piece of paper or empty wall space next to it.
- Give each student 3 stickers or sticky notes and ask them to choose one profile for each statement:
- I’d vote for this person for president.
- I’d want this person to be my teacher.
- I want this person to be my friend.
- Are there some heroes many students chose for president, teacher, or friend? Why do you think these people stood out?
- What did you look for in a presidential candidate? How is that different from what you look for in a friend or in a teacher.
- After everyone has chosen, see if there are patterns.
This last part of the activity will help students to look closely at opportunities in their own lives to serve as heroes and role models for others. Students will explore more deeply what responsibilities are associated with being a role model and how the process of becoming a bar/bat mitzvah elevates one to a “role model” status within the community.
To prepare for this activity:
- Clear some space in your room for students to make a line, as they will be placing themselves on a spectrum for part of the activity. Label one side of the room YES and one side NO, with space in between for students to stand.
- Set up a space on the board or on a piece of paper for brainstorming.
- Think about what goals you have for your students. What do you want them to get out of this conversation? How are older teens and adults involved in your community? How can you empower your students to be active members of your Jewish community?
- Give each student a half-sheet of paper and a writing implement. Give them two minutes of silence to answer the question: Who decides who is a hero? And write it on their paper.
- Have the students share what they have written and group responses on the board (either re-write or use tape) to visualize any patterns that emerge/similarities and differences between student responses.
- Ask questions to highlight places where students disagree and see if the class can settle on an answer together.
Students do not HAVE to agree. The point of this exercise is to help students realize that there are many different factors in deciding how some people influence others.
- Ask the following series of questions and have students place themselves on the YES/NO spectrum depending on their answer. After each question, call on 3-4 students from different places on the spectrum to share about their answers. Explain that as individuals share about why they chose to stand where they are, other students can move and change their minds.
- Does a person have to try to become a hero?
- Can a person be a hero without knowing it themselves?
- Is it fun to be a hero?
- Are there downsides to being a hero?
- Can someone your/our age be a hero?
- Is a hero the same thing as a role model?
- Are you a hero/role model?
- After you have gone through all of the questions and students have had the chance to share, ask the students to return to their seats. Students should have some quiet writing time to respond to the following prompt:
- Describe a time when you were a hero or a role model.
- What were/are the benefits of being a role model or a hero?
- What were/are the challenges of being a role model or a hero?
- When students are finished, have them pair up and share what they have written.
- To conclude the activity, come together as a class and discuss a few more questions with the group:
- How can you (the students) be heroes or role models in your every day lives? At your school? In your family? In the Jewish community?
- Who are you a role model for? (family, peers, etc.)
- Do you want to be a hero/role model? Why or why not?
- How does becoming a bar or bat mitzvah, and becoming a Jewish adult, change the way you think about yourself as a role model for others?
Consider using this activity as an introduction to doing a service learning project with your class or to help your students take on a community service project of their own.
- Dry erase/Chalk Board or Butcher Block Paper
- Writing implements (markers, chalk)
- Sticky notes
- Pens, pencils
- Printouts of the Cool Jewish Women profiles
- My Hero Worksheet and Instructions