VirtualVisitor Project 
Habad School Nazareth Elite  

Report written by Jack Pillemer October 2008.

In an attempt to increase pupil motivation when learning English in classes in the Central Galilee, Israel, a program called Virtual Visitors has been established.
For detailed description of the project , Click here  or go to 
The program was particularly successful in a Grade 6 class in the Habad School in Nazareth Elite taught by Tobi Hendel.

Tobi's class of girls was paired up with Virtuial Visitor Tova Britvan of Michigan, USA who volunteered to write regular letters to the class via email which were then used by Tobi as texts for the the English  lessons.

Over the year, Tova wrote about her family, her home and her work. She wrote about a previous visit she had had to Israel and mentioned places where she had been. She talked about the snow in Michigan and going snow sledding.  She wrote about things she used to do when she was in school such as putting on a school production and tells about her sister's school play. She discusses "shmitta"  in the USA  and wonders what it feels like in Israel.

Although the class need not respond personally to each letter (according to the demands of the program), Tobi required her girls to respond each time. This was done individually or in groups in various ways with the girls expressing themselves and asking questions which made the entire process very meaningful.   The pupils sent pictures of themselves and a video of their Bat Mitzva performance and Tova sent a surprise Purim package for them.

It is clear that all of the English skills for that grade level (reading, writing, spelling, vocabulary-building, grammar and later even speaking) were taught and practiced throughout the year alongside the regular English program.  The requirements of the Israeli English curriculum were being met and authentic relevant and very meaningful performance tasks carried out .The principal of the school Dani Levy explained the the Virtual Visitor project became a central motivating factor in the class around which much of the learning took place.

The climax to the Virtual Visitor program in this class arrived in October 2008 when the girls were already in Grade 7. Tova Britvan came to visit Israel and a meeting between her and the class was arranged.

I was invited to attend and left feeling elated and inspired.

When Tova came into the classroom, the girls all stood up and held welcome signs. No sign was the same as Tobi had insisted on this to increase the vocabulary used. Then each girl, in turn, got up and read out aloud, fluently and well-practiced, a personal comment to Tova, a little about themselves  and they sometimes  related to  an object that was meaningful to them which they had brought with.
The next part of the face to face meeting was an all-girls event so I left the room together with the principal. The girls sang songs they had prepared for the occasion. I had to be satisfied with a booklet of the lyrics and a CD.  Yet again, the learning process was made relevant and exciting. The use of songs and chants and repetition of this kind makes the learning of chunks of new vocabulary so natural.

We returned for the game "Jeopardy" which Tova had agreed to prepare and run. Tobi had sent her a list of 100 words the pupils should be expected to know and the game was prepared using this vocabulary.  The girls played with interest and enthusiasm and indicted that they knew what was expected of them.

The success of a very simple program which aims at bringing English from outside the classroom  into the classroom and opening a window to the real world, was achieved here as a consequence of the exceptional dedication of  Nazareth Elite Habad School English teacher Tobi Hendel and a wonderful willing Virtual Visitor volunteer Tova Britvan

I, with the help of Stephanie Fuchs, hovered in the background to try to make sure that the project succeeded.

Five other classrooms in the Central Galilee benefitted from the Virtual Visitor program and it is hoped that many other teachers will appreciate the simplicity and effectiveness of having a Virtual Visitor "come in" from time to time.

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