Bibliodrama Jonah and the Big Fish
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Bibliodrama Jonah and the Big Fish

Lesson Summary:

This lesson plan will guide educators to support students as they explore and dramatize the story of the Jonah and the big fish, with narration, props, costumes and scenery. 

Be Inspired:The ideas included are offered as starting points as you and your students explore, discover and live the lessons. Be sure to elicit and encourage student and parent participation, consistently reinforcing the value being addressed. Allow lessons to authentically develop and change based on engagement and interests.

Lesson Plan Components

For the educatorJewish Thought, Text, and Traditionsmore

We read the Book of Jonah on Yom Kippur because the issues that confront Jonah remind us of the process of prayer, repentance and forgiveness that are central to the themes of the day. Jonah is asked by God to warn the people of the huge city of Nineveh that they will be destroyed if they don’t change their wicked ways. Jonah doesn’t want to do this task and tries to run away from God. He boards a boat, and while at sea, there is a great storm. The sailors are scared and Jonah tells them to throw him overboard. The sea calms down and God sends a big fish to swallow Jonah. In the belly of the fish, Jonah prays for God’s forgiveness. The fish spits Jonah out on the shore of Nineveh. Jonah warns the people of God’s decree, the people heed the warning, and the city is saved.

*Many people refer to this Bible lesson as “Jonah and the Whale,” assuming that a “whale” is the only sea creature large enough to swallow a man. In the Hebrew Bible, the phrase is “dag gadol” which is translated to “big fish.” A “whale” is a mammal, not a “fish.”

Jewish every dayIncorporate Jewish Valuesmore

Materials and resourcesmore



  • Jonah Sailors 
  • People to create “Storm” 
  • People of Nineveh  
  • God (Since we don’t “see” God, the narrator could cover his/her face with a cloud or rainbow when God’s voice is speaking.)

Scenery and Props
  • Desert backdrop 
  • Boat (May be fashioned from a big box or use a wooden children’s boat) 
  • Tree for Jonah’s home 
  • Streamers or cheering pom-poms for “storm” 
  • Straws or sticks. One stick should be shorter than the others. 
  • Big fish fashioned from big box or A-frame climbing ladder on its side. Cover with fabric. 
  • Boxes to use as “cargo” on the ship

Suggested Costumes:
You may collect adult sized new or used T-shirts, old nightgowns, and pajamas. They are perfect for the long robes worn by men and women of biblical times. Long robes and vests can be easily fashioned from large pieces of all different kinds of fabric or old pillowcases.

You may also fashion a “no sew” pinnie:

Seder Costumes-Directions Video (Good for any story from the Torah!)


Suggested Scene and Narration

For purposes of dramatizing the lesson, the teacher will be the Narrator or facilitator of the story for young children. As the story is told by the teacher, the children will follow the action in mime and movement. The teacher may elicit dialogue through prompting, questioning, and directing. Generally, however, the teacher will need to recite all speaking parts, touching or looking at the person who would be doing the speaking.

Older children may read from a script, with minimal prompting from the teacher. After reviewing the appropriate materials and gathering the necessary costumes, scenery, props, etc, the teacher will help the children dress as specific personalities and bring the individuals into the scene as the story unfolds. You may use the suggested dialogue/narration or create your own, trying to remain true to the text.

Narrator: One day, Jonah was at his home sitting under a tree.

God: (God said to Jonah) “Go to the great city of Nineveh, and proclaim and tell the people I know that they have been very wicked and mean. If they don’t stop being mean and start being nicer, I will destroy them and their city.”

Narrator: Jonah, however, started out to flee to Tarshish and run away from God. He didn’t want to do the job that God had asked of him. He went down to the sea at Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. He paid for the ticket and went aboard to sail with the others to Tarshish, away from God. (Jonah and the sailors get in the boat and load the cargo.)

Narrator: But God caused a huge wind and such a great storm came upon the sea that the ship was in danger of breaking up. (Storm people surround the boat with streamers or pom-poms and shake them vigorously.)

Narrator:  The sailors were so frightened and prayed to their own god. They threw the ship’s cargo overboard to make it lighter for them. Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down into the bottom of the boat and fell asleep.

Narrator:  The captain (sailor) went over to him and cried out,

Sailor: “How can you be sleeping so soundly? Get up and pray to your god so we won’t die!”

Sailors:  (Take out straws or sticks. Save the short one for Jonah.) “Let’s take these sticks (cast lots) and see who picks the one that’s different so we can find out who has caused this terrible storm.”

Narrator: They picked the sticks they looked toward Jonah.

Sailors “Tell us, why have you brought this terrible problem to us?”

Jonah: “I am a Jew,” he replied. I am running away from God so I won’t have to do what God has asked of me.”

Sailors “We are so scared!. What must we do to you to make the sea calm around us? Look how the sea is growing more and more stormy!”

Jonah: “Throw me overboard, and the sea will calm down. I know that this terrible storm came upon you because of me.”

Narrator:  They threw Jonah overboard and the sea stopped raging. (Storm people sit down.)

Narrator:  God sent a huge fish to swallow Jonah; and Jonah stayed in the fish’s belly three days and three nights. Jonah prayed to God from the belly of the fish.

Jonah: “Oh God, I was wrong to run away from you. I will change my ways and do what you have asked of me.”

Narrator:   God commanded the fish to spit Jonah out upon dry land. Once again, God spoke to Jonah.

God: “Go right away to Nineveh, that great city, and tell them to change their evil ways.”

Narrator: (People of Nineveh are fighting with each other.) Jonah walked for a whole day and told the people the city would be destroyed if they didn’t stop being wicked. God saw how the people of Nineveh were changing from their evil ways. God did not punish them and saved their city.

• What did God ask Jonah to do?
• Why do you think God chose Jonah?
• Why did Jonah run away from God?
• Have you ever disobeyed a parent, teacher or other adult? How did you feel?
• God sent a big fish for a quiet place for Jonah to think. Where do you go to think about important things?
• We read this lesson on Yom Kippur. What do we do on Yom Kippur that is similar to Jonah’s actions?
• Why do you think God gave Jonah another chance?
• Why did God forgive the people of Nineveh?


Explore, Discover, and More Extension and Reinforcement Activitiesmore

Thinking Inside the Big Fish
• On a piece of colored construction paper, draw a large fish. To each child, distribute a circle, about 3” in diameter, cut from white paper.
• Challenge the children to imagine what they would think about if they had run away (from God?) and ended up the belly of a big fish (quiet place?)
• Ask them to write their thoughts or assist them in putting their thoughts on the picture.
• Encourage them to share their pictures

Thinking Inside the Big Fish II
Using the Big Fish from the Bibliodrama, give children opportunities to actually sit inside the Big Fish for a short time. What was it like? What things went through your mind?

Special Snack
Using your favorite rolled cookie dough recipe and a fish shaped cookie cutter, make cookies. Alternatively, serve small fish shaped crackers for a special treat.

Music Connectionsmore


Lesson Contributors

Lorraine Arcus

For more lessons of this genre, see “Torah Alive! An Early Childhood Torah Curriculum” published by URJ Press / Behrman House.

Read more about Lorraine Arcus’ work at



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