A Guide to Teaching About Hanukkah

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Need resources to help teach your students about Hanukkah? Access an expert-created lesson and lesson plan below that can help students learn about the history and traditions of Hanukkah.

Teaching Students About Hanukkah

It's the time of year when students are hearing about several different holidays. Our experts have created resources that can support your lessons on Hanukkah.

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Hanukkah Lesson for Kids: Facts & History

Festival of Lights

Imagine a holiday that lasts eight nights and is full of historic traditions, games, and delicious food. Hanukkah is the holiday that fits this description.

Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah) is a religious holiday celebrated by Jewish (or Hebrew) people, or those who practice a religion called Judaism. Hanukkah lasts eight nights and is often called the Festival of Lights.

This holiday occurs on different dates each year, with Hanukkah starting anytime from the end of November to the end of December.

The History of Hanukkah

According to Jewish beliefs, a king named Antiochus the Fourth ruled a land called Syria thousands of years ago. As king, Antiochus declared that it was illegal for people to practice the Jewish religion. A Jewish priest named Mattityahu and his family rebelled against men in the king's army.

During the rebellion, Mattityahu was killed and a man named Judah the Strong became the leader of those fighting the king, known as the Maccabees. Even though the king's army was much larger, the Maccabees won the rebellion!

After winning the city of Jerusalem (an important city in the Jewish faith), the Maccabees wanted to restore their temple. To cleanse the temple of all the bad things that happened there, they wanted to light the menorah, a special holder for candles. But the king's army had stolen the temple's menorah so they had to make a new one.

When the new menorah was ready, the Maccabees found there was only enough oil to light the menorah for one night. According to Jewish tradition, a miracle happened and the menorah stayed lit for eight nights, just long enough for new oil to be made! Hanukkah celebrates this miracle.

Hanukkah Symbols

There are many symbols that represent the holiday of Hanukkah. Colors for the holiday are blue and white. Many of the presents exchanged during Hanukkah are wrapped in blue and white paper.

Hanukkah also has games, like the dreidel game. A dreidel is a top with four sides, on each of which is a different letter from the Hebrew alphabet. Depending on which side the dreidel lands on, you may collect or give away your game pieces - which are often chocolate coins!

The menorah is the most well-known symbol of Hanukkah and very important to the holiday. During Hanukkah, the menorah is lit every night after sundown. Each new candles is lit using the shamash, the attendant candle in the middle of the menorah. At each candle lighting, Jewish people offer blessings and prayers. Gifts are usually exchanged after the menorah is lit.

Students light a menorah

Hanukkah Lesson Plan

Instructions

  • Prepare students for learning and engage with the topic by asking them to share their winter holiday tradition with a seat partner. After a few minutes, have students share as a class while you list on the board.
  • Tell students they will be learning about a holiday tradition called Hanukkah. Allow students to briefly share prior knowledge, then distribute or display the lesson Hanukkah Lesson for Kids: Facts & History.
  • Have students preview the text and prepare for comprehension by skimming the text for text features such as key words, photographs, captions, etc. Read and make predictions about what the text will be about, having students defend their thinking with reasons.
  • Place trays of 'Hanukkah Items' in the center of each table group. Instruct students to wait until you say to uncover.
  • Now read the section 'Festival of Lights' together with students. Discuss:
    • Who celebrates Hanukkah?
    • How long does Hanukkah last?
    • What is another name for Hanukkah?
  • Next read the section 'The History of Hanukkah' together. Have students turn and retell the history to a partner, then retell as a group. List in bullet-point fashion on the board or chart paper.
  • Read the next two sections, 'Traditional Food' and 'Hanukkah Symbols' with students. As you do, allow students to uncover the materials and take turns observing, playing with the dreidel, or tasting the food.
  • Next read the 'Lesson Summary' together and ask:
    • What does Hanukkah celebrate?
    • What does the menorah symbolize?
    • Why do people eat latkes and jelly doughnuts on Hanukkah?
  • Take the lesson quiz as a whole group to determine understanding.

Activity

  • Students will now create a brochure to demonstrate understanding of Hanukkah.
  • Instruct students to brainstorm facts to list on their brochures, using guiding 'w' questions.
  • When students have enough information, have them check in with you to make sure they're ready. If so, distribute paper and supplies and allow them to create.
  • As students work, walk around to offer suggestions and guide work. Consider creating a 'Hanukkah Word Bank' on the board to list frequently-used words.
  • When students are finished, display in the classroom.

Accessing More Holiday Teacher Resources

You can use these guides to help your students learn even more about winter holidays:

By Jessica Lyons
December 2020
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