What Students Will Uncover
The significance of embracing curiosity and celebrating questions
- What does it mean to be curious?
- Why is it important to ask questions?
- How are your questions and answers shaped by your own worldview?
In this lesson, students will explore the power of questions. By examining a quote from Rabbi Dr. Ariel Burger’s essay, “Learning and Teaching from the Heart in Troubled Times,” students will investigate the difference between questions and answers and participate in learning activities to consider the meaning of the word quest. This lesson will invite students to develop their curiosity and empathy.
Embracing questions about the world and ourselves can foster curiosity and empathy.
- Explain what it means to be curious.
- Explore the word quest, as connected to the word questions.
- Recognize that questions are important for learning, growth, and fostering curiosity.
Putting the Essay in Context
This section is intended for the educator and provides information about authors and educators Ariel Burger and Elie Wiesel.
“Teaching and Learning From the Heart in Troubled Times” is an essay by Rabbi Dr. Ariel Burger, author, teacher, artist, and former apprentice to Elie Wiesel. Ideas for this essay originate from Ariel’s book, Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom, which explores what it means to authentically participate in moral teaching and learning. The book serves “as a moral education in itself—a primer on educating against indifference, on the urgency of memory and individual responsibility, and on the role of literature, music, and art in making the world a more compassionate place.” Ariel weaves reflections and insights from Professor Wiesel’s classroom into the essay. Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, author, activist, and Nobel Prize winner, taught a course titled “Literature of Memory” at Boston University for close to four decades.
Wiesel was born in 1928 in Sighet, a town that is now part of Romania. During World War II, he was deported with his family to German concentration and extermination camps—including Auschwitz and Buchenwald—where his parents and his younger sister perished. Wiesel’s memory and experience of the war had a profound impact on his life. He said that “without the war, I would never have questioned any of my beliefs. I wouldn't have been involved in action. The event made me realize the urgency of personal commitment.”
Wiesel was a human rights advocate who helped to establish the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. He wrote dozens of books and won the Nobel Peace Prize for speaking out against racism and injustice. His autobiography Night explores his experiences as a Jewish prisoner in the concentration camps. Night is read in classrooms around the world and engages “students’ minds, hearts, consciences,” deepens their historical understandings of the Holocaust, and fosters empathy and literacy skills.
Ariel’s essay encourages students to consider that amid the suffering and injustices in the world, there are ways to embrace moral ferocity with self-awareness. An Orthodox-trained rabbi, he received a Ph.D. in Jewish Studies and Conflict Resolution under Elie Wiesel. The Witness Institute—founded in 2019 by Ariel and Elisha Wiesel, Wiesel’s son—is a project dedicated to continuing the work of Wiesel. The Institute, inspired by Wiesel’s life and legacy, empowers emerging leaders to create positive change in their communities to build a moral world.
1. Ariel Burger, Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom (Boston; New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018). [^]
2. “Elie Wiesel: Biographical.” From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1981-1990, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Irwin Abrams, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1997. This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and first published in the book series Les Prix Nobel. It was later edited and republished in Nobel Lectures. [^]
3. Gabe Bullard, “Elie Wiesel Taught the World How to Confront Atrocities.” National Geographic, July 2, 2016. [^]
Setting the Stage: Lesson Introduction
Explore this exercise with students.
Tell students they will explore Grant Snider’s cartoon titled “Asking Questions.”
Display the cartoon and read it aloud to students.
Ask students: What is your favorite part of the cartoon? Why?
Ask students to complete these sentences:
- I wonder…
- I’m confused by…
Ask a few students to share their responses.
What do you enjoy about asking questions? What do you find challenging about asking questions?
Engaging with the Story
Introduce students to author Elie Wiesel and explore the meaning of the word quest.
Tell students they will read a quote from Elie Wiesel, who was an author and professor at Boston University for forty years. The quote includes the word quest.
Ask students to define the word quest in their own words.
Share one definition of the word quest with students: “a long or difficult search for something.” The “long or difficult search” can be when a person is looking for something, or it can mean a search for meaning within oneself. Share with students that characters in many stories and books are on a quest. Some characters are searching for a treasure or solving a mystery.
Ask students to think about their favorite stories whose characters are on a quest. What are the characters searching for?
Delving Deeper: Learning Activities
Encourage students to examine the themes raised in the quote from Elie Wiesel.
Share the following quote with students:
Ask students: What might it mean for questions to “open us” and for answers to “close us”?
Ask students to revisit their definitions of the word quest. What might it mean for the word quest to be inside the word question?
How was the character in the cartoon “Asking Questions” on a quest?
Do you think questions are important? Why? How do you feel when you are asking a question?
Reflecting & Projecting
Challenge students to consider the quote’s broader implications and to integrate their knowledge and ideas from various points of view.
Give students sticky notes. Students will write two questions on individual notes. The questions can come from the classroom conversation or they can be new questions. Add the notes to the board to create a list of the questions. In a virtual setting, use Padlet, Google Docs, or Google Slides.
Students will select a question that interests them from the list. The question they select can be one of their own or one from their classmates.
As an exit ticket, have students write why they chose the questions they did. Students will then begin a short research project to find potential answers to the questions they chose. To guide students in this process, share the “I Wonder” worksheet.
What’s Happening Now
Provide students with follow-up activities.
Display Ariel Burger’s original illustration (from the Yiddish folktale “Sara Chana at the Tip of the Church Tower) so all students can see it. This illustration accompanies Ariel’s essay.
Allow students to respond to the following questions, which are part of Project’s Zero’s Visible Thinking Routine, designed to encourage exploration of a work of art. Tell students to take their time and list all of the ideas that come to mind. Then have students share their responses with the class.
- What do you see?
- What do you think about that?
- What does it make you wonder?
- The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth
- The Blue Pool of Questions by Maya Abu Al-Hayyat
Connections to National Curriculum Standards and Frameworks
- Self awareness. The ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior.
- Social awareness. The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior.
- Relationship skills. The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups.
- Theme 4: Individual Development and Identity. Questions related to identity and development, which are important in psychology, sociology, and anthropology, are central to the understanding of who we are.
- CCSS.ELA-W.3.4. With guidance and support from adults, produce writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task and purpose.
- CCSS.ELA-W.4.4-5.4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
- CCSS.ELA-SL.3.1-5.1. Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on [grades 3–5] topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.