by Rabbi Chaim Kosofsky

They say that only seven percent of a message is conveyed with words – ninety-three percent is conveyed in other factors such as tone of voice and facial expressions.

I am not exactly sure how they measure this, and what other factors there are.  But we can safely say that this points to the importance of making sure our tone of voice, facial expressions, and motions are congruent with the message we are trying to convey.

Of course, as someone in the world of education, there are a few ways that I have understood this to be applied in the classroom:

For starters, motions should accompany instruction, when possible, appropriate to the age.  For preschool and younger elementary, motions with hands or body movements should be used with songs.

For example: Make a motion for the shofar when singing about the shofar.  Use motions when singing the steps of the seder (simanei haseder): a motion for making kiddush, a motion for washing hands, a motion for dipping karpas, and so on.  This should not be done once in awhile; rather, for every song or recitation, if possible.  And of course, students should learn to use the motions themselves.

Another benefit to using motions is it connects with students who are strong in body-kinesthetic intelligence.

By the same token, it is vital that the motion support the message.  This is not the time to be silly and make a motion of “yummy” for maror, or switch the motion for menorah with the motion for dreidel.  Even if a child laughs at the time, it can cause him or her to be confused when they try to recall the correct meaning.

How does this apply to teaching Chumash?  In natural speech, we use a tone of voice that complements the message.  In reciting the narrative of Chumash – that is, reading and translating a pasuk – I use a narrative tone.  The best way I can describe it is to imagine if a rabbi was quoting the pasuk, dramatically, in a speech from the bima.  His tone would support the drama of the narrative.

Can you capture the feeling of Yaakov’s pain in your voice as he complains to Lavan, “הלא ברחל עבדתי עמך, ולמה רמיתני?!  Didn’t I work for Rachel?  Why did you trick me?”  Or Moshe’s frustration when he states, “האנכי הריתי את כל העם הזה, אם אנכי ילדתיהו?  Did I conceive this entire people?  Did I give birth to them?”

What do you think Yosef sounded like when he explained the dream to the poor Minister of Baking?  “I got bad news for you, bud.  You’re gonna die in two days.”  I don’t think so.  Not an easy message to relay.  Try to read that pasuk with the compassion Yosef must have shown.

In this way, the tone of voice supports the message.  The children hear the message that is conveyed in the tone.  Hopefully, it helps them feel the varying emotions underlying different narratives in Chumash, and supports them in comprehending the meaning of the text.

I have students in their twenties who, every year in the week of Parshas Veyeitzei, send messages to each other of “עלים וירדים, the angels went up the ladder, and down the ladder,” in a tone that goes up for עלים and down for ירדים, as we did in class.

When it comes to davening, many classes use a sing-song chant. I feel that this takes away from davening for several reasons: it divests the prayer of emotion, it is not authentic, and it does not reflect the meaning of the prayer.  Can you imagine a shliach tzibbur in shul using the same chant?

When explaining to my class why I felt the sing-song chant was not appropriate for davening, I would recite from “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” in chant:

“One, if by land, and two if by sea,

And I, on the opposite shore shall be,

Ready to ride and raise the alarm,

In every Middlesex village and farm.”

It is void of emotion and robs the poem of its tension and danger.

I encourage teachers to use an authentic tune that conveys the meaning.  I define authentic and suitable as tunes that are used in shul.  Personally, I have used the tune that the Rebbe used in his davening for general prayers.  (I did not hesitate to use tunes of songs for specific prayers, such as the tune of הוא א-לקינו for הללוקה, הללו א-ל בקדשו.)  I also used the tune of קריאת התורה when singing אז ישיר, which is authentic, and fits the flow of the Psukim.

In doing so, it is also important to follow the flow of the sentence: pause at commas, and keep phrases together.  One phrase says, “שהחזרת בי נשמתי בחמלה”.  Another sentence says, “רבה אמונתיך”.  The tune you use should not put together בחמלה רבה.

The tone and motions are not incidental. Everything is exactly how it should be for a certain reason. They are essential to convey the meaning of the text.  Using tones and motions that support the meaning help students remember the message in the text, and brings life and emotion to the classroom.

Disclaimer: This post represents the views only of the author, Rabbi Chaim Kosofsky, and is not necessarily the policy of the Lubavitch Yeshiva Academy, where he is employed.

Rabbi Chaim Kosofsky is the Zekelman Standard Coordinator at Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy in Longmeadow, MA. In addition to that role, he teaches Limudei Kodesh subjects in the school and is an active Shliach.  Rabbi Kosofsky is the author of Much, Much Better, which was awarded the 2007 Sydney Taylor Notable Book Award for Young Readers.