Advent is right around the corner, and it is one of my favorite times of year to be Catholic. However, I think the temptation to gloss over advent and skip straight to Christmas is huge, especially with middle school students who seem to be more and more connected to social media. A few days ago my husband and I were running some errands, and already, pre-Thanksgiving, there were Christmas songs on the radio. Students have asked me to play Christmas music in class, which I can’t quite bring myself to do. (Although I will admit that is more because it seems that Christmas radio stations seem to only play The Little Drummer Boy and Do You Hear What I Hear? as their token religious contributions.)
So what are some ways to really celebrate Advent? The common practices of a Nativity Scene and an Advent wreath are beautiful symbols of the season, and I think they should definitely be displayed prominently in the classroom. But I also use a Jesse Tree in my classroom, and I think it really gives students the big picture of salvation history, and also provides a chance for some rigorous bible study, which I love.
For starters, what is a Jesse Tree?
The name comes from Isaiah 11:1, which says ” “A shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Jesse was the father of King David, and the prophets foretold that the Messiah would come from this family line. So the Jesse tree is almost like the family tree of Jesus. Each day of Advent there is a bible story of one of Jesus’s ancestors and then a symbol or ornament to put on the tree. You can find a list of all the symbols and the corresponding bible stories here at Loyola Press.
Here’s how I use the Jesse Tree in class: about a week before Advent starts I do a brief lesson explaining what the Jesse tree is and comparing the Israelites waiting for the Messiah to Christians waiting for the second coming a Jesus, which is a major theme of Advent. Because our school only has two weeks of school during Advent, we have to do two symbols a day and I also skip the New Testament stories. These stories are covered in the curriculum we are doing already.
Then each student is assigned a story to read in the bible and retell to the
class on their assigned day. I also give each student a 3 inch circle to create their symbol on. On the day assigned, each student has 2 minutes to tell us the story, then they add their symbol to the class Jesse tree, which I just have up on a bulletin board. Here are the Jesse tree schedule and plan and the Jesse Tree Gradesheet.
Here are three reasons I love using the Jesse tree with my 7th graders:
- Students have to spend a fair amount of time reading the Bible to do a good job on this project. They also meet less well known characters like Nehemiah and Hezekiah.
- It takes the focus off me as the teacher and gives the students a chance to teach their peers- this greatly increases buy-in.
- Some of these Jesse tree stories are hugely fun for middle school students. For example, Elijah and his God-off with the prophets of Baal is violent, exciting and really fun to retell. Or Isaiah’s exchange with God where he says “I can’t be a prophet, my mouth is too full of sin!” and God’s angel says “No problem, we’ll burn those sins out of your mouth with this coal!”- students love this one.
However you decide to keep the season of Advent, I hope you have a happy and holy one. Please consider following the blog for more advent/ religion ideas.