Respect for Elders: Kibud Zekenim and Teaching Kindness
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Respect for Elders: Kibud Zekenim and Teaching Kindness

Jewish Value:

     Honor Senior Citizens

Lesson Summary:

Through stories, poems and discussion, students will learn about the importance of Kibud Zekenim.Each student will be paired with a senior (living in a local Jewish Senior Center* or digitally) and get to know him/her through the exchange of letters (either email or postal as appropriate) throughout the school year.

Through their correspondence and ultimately through meeting them in person (or through videochat), students will learn about the lives of their “pen pals” -- their hopes and dreams, challenges, accomplishments.  They will have the opportunity to see them through a different lens-one that celebrates who they are.

*Note:  Before beginning this lesson, it is important that you establish a “partnership” with a local senior center if you wish to exchange postal mail and meet in person.  You may wish to contact your local Jewish Federation or Jewish Family Services for help with this.


Enduring Understandings:

The student will understand the importance of Kibud Zekenim, respecting his/her elders, and treating them with kindness. This understanding should transfer generally to G’milut Chasadim- loving kindness--as students’ actions and words in their daily interactions reflect respect and kindness.



  • Students will develop a respect for their elders- for the lives they lived, for the people they are.
  • Students will be able to discuss and write about the importance of treating their elders with respect and kindness.
  • Student writing will establish a strong voice, utilize clear ideas, proper organization, varied word choice, and proper conventions. 
  • Students will learn and use the proper conventions and formats for letter writing (whether through email or postal mail).

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

Jewish every dayIncorporate Jewish Valuesmore

Materials and resourcesmore


Have You Filled a Bucket Today? Author: Carol McCloud, Illustrator: David Messing

Effie’s Image Author: N.L. Sharp, Illustrator: Dorothia Rohner

“Don’t Break the Elastic” Author: Maya Angelou  

Pen Pal Survey

Poetry Summary-Directions and Examples



Note: There is no set timeline for this portion; however, it must be completed before the letter exchange process.

Read aloud the poem and picture books. Students will then be asked to summarize each.

For the books, take students through the processing of condensing the stories to create “summary poems.” [Use Directions and an example of a “Summary Poem” based on Effie’s Image]

The summary poems will be read to students and displayed on the board. Each will be analyzed line-by-line and annotated on the board with student input. 

Students will once again be asked to write why they believe Kibud Zekenim is an important value and we will compare their new responses to their originals. 

Students and Seniors will both complete a survey.   In this way,  each will know a little about one another to help facilitate their letter writing. 


Teacher will provide examples of proper letter writing etiquette

--example:  Write date at top of letter, include “Dear____, “body of letter, closing, and signed name

--provide examples of how to address an envelope

Utilizing their understanding of Kibud Zekenim students will write their first letter-and send via email or post.   Discuss with students what they might include in this letter, for example:

           -- name, age, school

           -- special interests

           --questions you would like them to answer (brainstorm some of these with the class)

Before mailing, teachers should make photocopies to begin a collection of letters written and received. (For those using emails, consider printing copies of their letters.)

When letters are received from seniors, the teacher will again make photocopies (or print if emailed) for  each student’s collection.

This process may continue for much of the school year, keeping in mind that students and seniors will eventually meet in person

Students will be asked to write reflections on a consistent basis throughout the letter writing process.

           --Reflections may be formal or informal. They may be a free-write or prompt based. 

For example:  What have you learned about your pen pal? What do you have in common/don’t have in common? Have you learned something new during this process? 



Arrange a special meeting of students and seniors, either a field trip to the senior center or through videochat. If students are meeting with their pen pals digitally, be sure to arrange individual meetings rather than a group encounter to make sure that the pair can have time to talk.

Students will write one final time about Kibud Zekenim in a formal piece. They should include lessons they have learned and any preconceived ideas they had and how those ideas changed, for example they might answer questions such as:           

·       Was your pen pal who you expected?

·       Did the pen pal seem different in person than through their letters? What was the same and what was different? 

·       What about your pen pal impressed you the most?  Surprised you? Inspired you?


Facilitate a Grand Conversation (student sit together in a circle) to discuss the importance of the  Jewish value, Kibud Zekenim and how this connects with the value, G’milut Chasadim.

Teacher will hand out the copies of letter correspondence and student can create a journal/binder/folder etc. to hold their own letters.


Explore, Discover, and More Extension and Reinforcement Activitiesmore

Music Connectionsmore

Evidence of Learningmore

  • Students will be assessed on the “Before” section of the lesson as they write about and analyze the books/poem they read. 
  • Students’ reflections will also be assessed periodically during the letter writing exchange process in terms of the lesson’s objectives and “Essential Understandings.”
  • The teacher will meet periodically on a one-on-one basis with students to discuss the writing in their letters as a formative assessment. 
  • A compilation of student reflections will also be made to illustrate their growth as writers and their moral/character growth.


literature connectionsmore

TitleAuthorIllustratorBook Summary
How Full Is Your Bucket? For Kids Tom Rath and Mary ReckmeyerMaurie J.ManningThrough the story of a little boy named Felix, this charming book explains to children how being kind not only helps others, it helps them, too. As he goes about his day, Felix interacts with different people — his sister Anna, his grandfather, other family and friends. Some people are happy, but others are grumpy or sad. Using the metaphor of a bucket and dipper, Felix’ grandfather explains why the happy people make Felix feel good, while the others leave him feeling bad — and how Felix himself is affecting others, whether he means to or not.
Wilfrid Gordon Mcdonald Partridge Mem Fox Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge is a small boy who has a big name - and that's why he likes Miss Nancy Alison Delacourt Cooper, because she has too. So when he finds Miss Nancy has lost her memory, Wilfrid determines to discover what memories are so he can find it for her. This is a perennial classic, perfect for reading aloud.
* PJ library Books
Lesson Contributors

Sara Soffer -  Beth Emet Elementary School