PBS Teachers™

PBS Teachers

Thematic Teaching


world religions: grades 3-7 activity ideas

About the Authors | Grades 3-7 Activity Ideas | Grades 8-12 Activity Ideas | Related Resources

Religious Buildings

Many religions include some form of community worship. The religious community often gathers together to celebrate and worship in buildings: churches, temples, and mosques, for example. This unit focuses on the design of those buildings.

Have students research religious buildings and address the following issues:

  • When was this building constructed?
  • What is this building called? (Temple, Synagogue, Mosque, Cathedral, etc.)
  • With what religion is this building associated?
  • Why do you think the building looks the way it does? Is there significance to it having a certain number of rooms, a certain type of roof, height, etc?
  • Describe some of the decorative features of the building.
  • What materials were used in its construction?
  • What is the name of the God(s) that the people using the building worship(ed)?

Have children construct their building out of cardboard, clay, or other materials, or render it in painting or drawing. Then, have children share their creation and information about their building with the class.

Web Resources:







Spring Celebrations

Spring is a time of celebration in many parts of the world. Two of the world's major religions also have special days each spring. Christians celebrate Easter; Easter is the recognition of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the most significant holiday in the Christian calendar, as Christ's resurrection forms the basis for the Christian belief in everlasting life after death. It is a time of sorrow, of joy, and of awe. The forty day period preceding Easter is the season of Lent in the Christian calendar, a time for Christians to reflect on their faith. This year, Easter falls on March 31.

The Jewish faith celebrates two holidays in the Spring, Purim and Passover. Purim is the celebration of Queen Esther's saving of the Jewish people from persecution by the evil Haman, advisor to her husband, the King. This year Purim falls on February 26. Passover celebrates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt after four hundred years of slavery. The term Passover refers to the passing over of the houses of the Jews by the Pharoah's men, who were going house to house killing the firstborn. This year, Passover falls on March 28.

Learn more about the history of these celebrations by visiting the following Web sites:

As a class, create a three-act puppet show or other dramatization that "tells the story" of each holiday; put them in chronological order. After the show is completed, discuss each story. Why are these events so special? Why do they give their followers hope?

Follow this by learning about the special stories and histories of other religions. These might be dramatized as well; alternatively, students could create greeting cards that are appropriate for different holidays and festivals. Creating a class calendar of these events will help you reinforce learning throughout the school year.

Native American Stories

Ask your students to name their favorite fairy tale or story. Why is it special to them? Was it the meaning the story conveyed? Was it the person who told it to them? Did a family member ever tell them a story that was not written down in a book? Was that story one that has been passed down from generation to generation?

We all have those memories. Fairytales, myths, and oral stories, in some way or another, have become a family tradition. At some time in their lives students may hear these stories, but how many of them know where they came from, or remember the lesson the story is to teach?

The tradition of storytelling in Native American communities serves many purposes. In most instances, these stories are meaningless without understanding the story's significance and purpose. Stories have been used as entertainment, to teach moral lessons, to pass on personal family stories, and for teaching tribal beliefs. Many stories were -- and still are -- the personal property of families.

The activity will involve the following:

  1. Students will learn about Native American stories and answer the questions below.
    • What tribe places significance to the story?
    • What is the purpose of the story?
    • When it is told, what are the listeners supposed to learn?
    • Can it be told by anyone?
    • Are there times of the year that the story can be told and not at other times?
  2. Are there students who have family stories that have been handed down from generation to generation? What is the story? Who told it to them? Has it ever been written down? Does the story teach something or is it for fun?
  3. Have students pick a Native story or personal family story. Students should present the story in some manner: through an audio recording, a dramatic retelling, a PowerPoint presentation, a children's book they write and illustrate, etc. Have students start their presentation with a summary that includes the answers to the questions above.

To begin this activity, students will need some examples of native stories. There are many sites that list native stories; however, few relate any background information about the significance of the story. The following Web sites are those that make that connection and are great story resources. Once you get to the site you may want to make copies of some of the stories, their background, and distribute them to students.

The following sites will help:

If you will be using books as a source for these stories, try to evaluate the background of the author. Has the book been written by an individual who is Native American? Or has a non-native written the book? How might this affect the telling or interpretation of the story? Oyate, a Native American organization, offers an online directory of recommended books and books to avoid, at http://www.oyate.org/.

Introducing the Holocaust

Students learn about the Holocaust as an example of the devastating effects of prejudice and discrimination. A mantra of Holocaust education is "never again," and this determination is a primary reason for teaching children about this dark page in world history.

Prior to introducing the Holocaust, it is wise to familiarize students with the concepts of prejudice and discrimination. Below are some book titles that you may find useful (The first three titles are picture books and work well with all grades.):

  • The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss
  • The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss
  • Terrible Things by Eve Bunting
  • The Hundred Dresses by Eleanore Estes
  • Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco

The following titles specifically deal with the Holocaust:

  • The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco
  • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
  • Forging Freedom by Hudson Talbott
  • Hidden Children by Howard Greenfield
  • I Never Saw Another Butterfly by Hana Volavkova
  • The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen
  • Anne Frank: the Diary of a Young Girl, the Definitive Edition by Anne Frank et al
  • Memories of Anne Frank: Reflections of a Childhood Friend by Alison Gold and Hannah Goslar Pick

Use the program described below to increase student understanding that the Holocaust is not just an abstract, general example of prejudice -- it happened to real people, people living ordinary lives, going about their daily business, in many different countries and places. This project was designed to memorialize those individuals who were targets of prejudice and discrimination in its most virulent form.

The butterfly has become the universal symbol of the Holocaust, in part because of the book, I Never Saw Another Butterfly, a chronicle of artwork and poetry created by children in the concentration camp at Terezin. In this whole school project, students and staff read their way around the building, using paper butterfly cutouts, in memory of individual victims, survivors, and rescuers of the Holocaust.

Send out a newsletter to staff proposing the project. Suggest that for a period of one month, the school focus on the Holocaust. Language Arts teachers can have students read Holocaust literature; Social Studies teachers can study the period; Art teachers can have students help to decorate the school with butterflies, the universal symbol of the Holocaust; Math teachers can study the concept of "million" or do price comparisons from the forties to present day; Science teachers can have students study butterflies, etc.

Explain to staff that you would like to have everyone's participation and that this will be a whole school project with the goal of reading around the building in a month's period of time, and focusing attention on the dangers of prejudice and discrimination.

Use a graphics program to create business cards with a graphic of a butterfly and the words: You are reading in honor of: (line) from the country of: (line).

Distribute cards to students and staff members. Younger children should receive cards with names of survivors or rescuers. Older children and staff should receive cards with names of victims.

Compile a list of names of victims, survivors, and rescuers. You can do this by utilizing books on the Holocaust, by contacting your local Holocaust Resource Center or museum, or by visiting the Yad Vashem web site at: www.yadvashem.org and clicking on Remembrance, then Downoads, then Names for Name Reading Ceremonies, then Children's Names or Adult Names.

Using a graphics program, print out paper butterflies, two to a sheet of paper, on brightly colored paper. On each butterfly, make three spaces: one for Name of Reader, one for Title of Book Read, and one for Read in Honor of. Distribute stacks of butterflies and business cards to classes.

Choose a kick off date for your program and advertise it on your morning announcements or other means of getting the word out that the project is starting. Designate a starting place to begin hanging butterflies, and ask teachers to have students hang them up as books are read. Give periodic updates as to how many books have been read, or how many feet of butterflies are hanging.

As you near the end of your project, invite a local survivor to come into the school to share their story. You can contact a Holocaust resource center in your area to help you locate local survivors.

Some Web sites that you may find helpful in studying the Holocaust are listed below:

Published: March 2002