Dec 19, 2023
Inspired by a recent article in the Forverts about Marnie Manning’s Dungeons and Dragons (Derfer un drakonen) character sheets in Yiddish, this output-oriented, task-based lesson plan for advanced beginners guides students through a fantasy-based role-playing adventure, in the spirit of a hyper-simplified Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Along the way, they practice working with separable verb prefixes of direction in the present tense, improvise short scenes with the construction “moyre hobn [tsu]”, and hopefully let sleeping dragons lie.
CHARACTER NAME: An avanture: derfer & drakonen
CLASS & LEVEL: This lesson plan was designed for a second-semester university course, but could be adapted for other courses and contexts.
CHARACTER BACKSTORY: Students have had prior exposure to and practice with: lib hobn, moyre hobn, hanoe hobn, faynt hobn; places in a town; basic separable prefix verbs (aroysnemen, avekgeyen, etc). The lesson plan is designed to interface with the In eynem curriculum, best used as a task-based alternative to Genitung 9, Kapitl 17, with students who have just completed Genitung 7. It is designed for classes conducted entirely in Yiddish, but can also be conducted partially in English.
- Learn to distinguish prepositions from konverbs of direction.
- Practice conjugating with konverbs in the present tense.
- Learn how to produce infinitives with konverbs and “tsu.”
- Practice the form “ikh hob moyre [tsu].”
OTHER PROFICIENCIES AND LANGUAGES
- Develop oral (extemporaneous and scripted) and reading skills.
- Engage with early-20th-century Yiddish literature.
- Engage with contemporary Yiddish culture and publications.
This lesson plan includes a slideshow, an outline and teacher’s script, two printable maps (each 8.5 x 11”), and an optional worksheet. I recommend making an editable copy of the slide deck (File > Make a Copy > Entire Presentation) to tweak it for your group.
DUNGEON MASTER’S NOTES
The lesson begins with Bertha Kling’s poem “Ikh shtey baym fenster,” which introduces the distinction between konverbs of direction and their preposition look-alikes. By this point in the year, students have already had an introduction to directional konverbs with Chapter 5 from In eynem, where they encountered the plucky trio of Berl, Shmerl, and Hershl going in and out of classrooms, taking things out of knapsacks, and putting things away. They have also done some further konverb practice by creating their own recipe presentations inspired by the Forverts’ cooking show series “Es gezunterheyt!”. A guided reading and brief discussion of Kling’s poem reviews these forms through an authentic text of another genre.
The second stage of the lesson is an explicit focus on forms, reviewing verbs of motion and learning konverbs of direction with the help of an illustration from In eynem (Kapitl 17). This stage of the lesson includes patterns of choral repetition, passive recall, and productive recall that students are familiar with from other In-eynem-based lessons. It also toggles between teacher-student and student-student interactions (in which students produce both the questions and answers themselves). Once students are confident with the forms, they’re ready to apply them in a non-grammar-focused context and dive into the D&D-esque activity in earnest.
To introduce the new topic, students look at Pedro Brauner and Marnie Manning’s main illustration from the Forverts article, discussing the details of the die depicted (twenty sides!) and guessing from context what game the image might be referring to. After talking through the non-literal translation from English into Yiddish that preserves the alliteration of the title, students participate in interactively telling the story that introduces their own imminent adventure. In short: an adventurer in a tavern is abducted by a demon before he can tell fellow adventurers how to find the magical “shtot fun lange yorn.” After the demon’s dastardly deed, all that’s left in the unlucky adventurer’s wake are two fragments of a map…
In my own classroom, students will have worked with other kinds of maps earlier in the term, including maps from yizker-bikher, New York’s East Side, and pre-and-mid-World-War-II Warsaw. But the pair of adventure maps presents a new challenge: each of the two versions of the map only includes half of the path to the city. Students have to work in pairs (Student א has Map 1, and Student ב has Map 2), sharing the information on their own map with their partner in order to collaboratively figure out the route to take. This portion of the lesson is a two-way information gap activity: students take turns asking the other person what the next stage of the quest is, filling in the gaps in the route on their own map based on what they hear, and comparing their completed paths at the end of the activity.
סטודענט א: װאָס טוט מען בײַ דער הײל?
סטודענט ב: מע שפּרינגט אַרויס פֿון דער הײל. װאָס טוט מען בײַם טײַך? …
After the work in khavruse, we come together as a class to discuss the journey: Is it dangerous? How dangerous? What part of the journey is riskiest? We pause to introduce the infinitive form of konverbs with "tsu.” (There is an optional worksheet activity/homework assignment here to scaffold students’ preparation for the subsequent sections, and so that the lesson can be organically paced over multiple class meetings as needed.) Following this practice, students are ready to improvise mini-conversations in front of the class, trading off explaining why they are afraid to take the next step of the journey, while their partner gives advice, tactics, or reassurance about why it’s not so scary or dangerous after all. Providing students with sentence frames for this stage allows them to focus more directly on the target forms.
The end of the lesson offers more opportunities to personalize and diverge from the rigid script: students can make decisions about how to move through the terrain (should they fly? crawl? swim? run? ride?), where exactly danger lies and why, and how they might calm a worried friend/fellow adventurer.
Even hewing close to the suggested structure, my students found opportunities for comedy. One improvised dialogue concluded with this cheeky flourish:
[STUDENT A]: I’m afraid to crawl around the dragon, because he’s big and evil.
[STUDENT B]: That’s fine, don’t worry! We’re strong, and he’s sleeping.
…I’m afraid to go into the city, because… there are humans there.
[STUDENT A]: That’s fine, don’t worry! We’re strong, and they’re sleeping!
Other opportunities for extending this exercise, through homework or in future sessions, include:
developing a D&D character using Marnie Manning’s Yiddish character sheets (this requires dice!);
prompting students to describe their character in writing (What’s their name? What do they look like? Where do they come from? What are they most afraid of? What are their skills? What is their personal history that has led them to embark on this adventure?);
having students (as their character) evaluate and purchase equipment to prepare them for this adventure;
writing or improvising an extended scene between two adventurers at a particular juncture;
writing diary entries from the point of view of their character at different points in the adventure (e.g. explaining in detail how they overcame a particular challenge, musing about what they expect to find in the shtot fun lange yorn);
composing a bard’s ballad (as a poem or song) that retells the epic adventure;
creating instructions for another adventure that their characters can embark on in the future;
reading and discussing another Forverts article about D&D;
reflecting on their own past experiences roleplaying (as children or in the present), including what characters and scenarios they encountered, with whom they played, and how much they enjoyed the experience;
or drafting an email inviting friends to partake in a Yiddish D&D campaign, giving information about what they’ll need to prepare, when and where the meetings will be held, how to get there, and anything they should know about the adventure ahead of time.
ALLIES & ORGANIZATIONS
Thank you to Miriam Schwartz and the rest of the Yiddish Book Center Pedagogy Fellowship 2022-23 cohort for providing feedback on this lesson plan. Thank you also to my Yiddish 20B students at Brandeis University for gamely and bravely giving this lesson its first test-drive.