What’s this whole programming thing, anyway?

In NFTY, programming is everything. Whether it be a TYG, regional, or North American event, everything the participants experience is programming. This programming can take a variety of forms, including services, song sessions, socials, and more.

Programming is key in NFTY because this is where connections and relationships are formed. These interpersonal relationships amongst NFTYites are the building blocks for our kehilah kedoshah, our holy community. When planning programming, we want to make sure participants are being engaged in an inclusive way. We want to create environments where relationships can easily foster themselves. Since programming is such a broad term, there are a plethora of ways to meaningfully engage participants.

One type of programming that is prevalent in NFTY is the educational program. NFTY programs give participants the opportunity to look at a topic in a new way, think about something that they haven’t considered before, and discuss what is important and meaningful to them. Programs challenge participants to learn about a new topic or learn something new about a familiar topic.

NFTY programs generally use informal education methods. This means that the experience of the learning is just as important as the knowledge that is being learned. As a basic example, while “formal” education might teach you what Shabbat candles are, “informal” education gives you the opportunity to see, touch, hold, and actually light the candles for yourself. In NFTY, programs also strive to be highly interactive and fun, to encourage participation by high school students.

NFTY programs are experienced-based learning, which means they draw upon experiences that the participants have had in life and experiences created within a program. Often you will find participants either recalling a personal story that relates to the program or role-playing within a program to view a different reality. Either way, the participants feel, think, and learn about a subject in a personal manner. Experience-based learning means that everyone has a unique perspective to bring to a program and a discussion.

One of the keys to a NFTY program is that it is usually peer-written and peer-led. Teens teach one another about things that are interesting and relevant to who they are and what they experience as Jewish teens. Peer-leadership brings a great level of comfort and relevance to discussions and gives the facilitator valuable leadership experience.

It is important to understand the difference between programming and a program. A program is one piece of the overall programming. A program is usually informally educational in nature, whereas programming can take a wide variety of forms. It is always a good idea to find an appropriate balance between educational programs and the rest of the programming in a NFTY experience.

Above all, programming in general and programs specifically should be planned with intention. If there is a reason and meaning behind what the participants are engaging in at NFTY, then they will maximize the benefits of the NFTY experience. Intention means making thoughtful decisions, and programming is most effective when it is thoughtful.

  • Acquire the full program format in advance.
  • Spend some quality time reading over the program format taking special note of the goals and objectives.
  • Look over all of the background information provided.
  • Take some extra time to get to know the subject.
  • Have a clear understanding of key questions to be addressed and any points that may be tricky.
  • Ask the program leader any questions about the program before it starts.
  • Do not plan to fake anything.

  • Involve everyone in the group.
  • Seat people in a way that makes each person visible (circles work well) unless directed otherwise (some programs may emphasize anonymity by obstructing people’s views of each other).
  • Seat everyone on the same level (i.e. all on chairs, or all on the floor. If you have someone in a
  • wheelchair, then everyone should be on chairs), unless directed otherwise.
  • Invite everyone to join.
  • Ask questions either from or based on the program format and/or topic as directed by the program leaders.
  • Address questions to the group at large before questioning individuals.
  • Do not put people on the spot.
  • Ask open-ended questions rather than those requiring one-word answers.
  • Ask questions which circle around the main point, allowing participants to discover the answers on their own.

  • Play off other people’s comments:

“What do you think about what he/she said?” “Do you agree?”

  • Maintain order:
    • Allow only one person to talk at a time.
    • Make it clear that each person’s comments are worth hearing.
    • Encourage those who are less inclined to talk with validating phrases, like “great point!” or “thank you for that!” and make sure they are not interrupted.
    • Keep the discussion focused on the topic at hand.
    • Keep things moving in the intended direction by using the provided discussion questions and linking back to the goals and objectives.
    • Allow the group to dwell on a point if they find it interesting, but avoid tangents.
  • Maintain objectivity. The group should not know your opinion because you are there to facilitate rather than be the discussion.
  • When necessary, play devil’s advocate.
  • Ask follow up questions to make sure people’s viewpoints are understood.
  • Summarize main points at intervals to ensure people are following the progression of the concept.
  • Give brief feedback on good comments: “That’s interesting.” “That’s helpful.”

  • A lull in the conversation
    • Ask another question (be prepared with several).
    • Summarize and/or repeat points that were already made.
  • Someone tries to take over the discussion
    • Let him/her go if the point is on track.
    • Jump in after the comment is made to reestablish control. “That’s a great point, thank you!” “Does someone else have something to say?”
  • People do not participate in the discussion at all
    • Don’t take it personally.
    • Remember that some people gain a great deal from listening.
    • Ask more directed questions.
    • Find a relevant sub-topic which may interest participants, as long as it does not conflict with the purpose of the discussion and program.
    • Try to make points relevant to their lives.

If a person is disruptive:

  • Ignore him/her if possible; try not to give the disruptive person your attention.
  • Ask a question to involve him/her in the conversation.
  • Use positive reinforcement for good answers.

If they continue, follow these steps:

  1. LOOK – Give a stern look so the person knows you have your eye on him/her.
  2. TOUCH – Find a way to touch the person’s shoulder while continuing to lead in order to show you are unwilling to let him/her interrupt the group.
  3. SPEAK – Address his/her behavior directly, but do not make threats.

If these solutions do not work, you may ask the person to leave but do not send the person away unsupervised.

  • Summarize main points, emphasizing those which the group made.
  • Connect points to the discussion questions and objectives listed in the program format.
  • Add points which are part of the goal but may not come out during the discussion.
  • Don’t forget to thank the group for their participation!

Download a blank NFTY program format
“And thou shall teach them diligently unto thy children.” – Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:7

This should be a piece of Jewish text or a Jewish concept that supports and strengthens the theme or message of the program. It is strongly encouraged that these be incorporated into the program itself, so that the participants can fully benefit from its inclusion.

  1. Your goals are your big ideas of what you want to achieve during your program.
  2. Your goals are untestable, i.e. you won’t know if you’ve achieved them, at least until after some time has passed.

The goals should be the first thing you write in a program, and all aspects of the program should be written with these in mind. Goals are the notes that program and group leaders will use to keep the program focused; however, because they are untestable, there will be no clear way of determining if they have been achieved.

It may be helpful to begin goals with “Participants will…” and continue with a verb like understand, explore, be exposed to, or grapple with.

  1. Your objectives are things you can prove.
  2. Your objectives are testable and concrete.
  3. Your objectives must be achieved in order to reach the goals.

The objectives should be written second, after the goals. They should define your far-reaching ideas and document the specific skills, knowledge, and attitudes participants will need to have as they leave in order to properly achieve the goals. Remember: objectives are testable; thus, everybody should be able to pass an exam about the objectives at the end of the program.

It may be helpful to begin the objectives with “At the end of the program, participants will be able to…” and continue with a strong active verb.

Every supply that you are going to need to make the program happen! This includes absolutely everything you need (pens, posters, etc.). You should write and rewrite this section every time you make a draft of your detailed procedure. Doing this will prove your program is practical and remind you in the program writing process to make your program realistic.

  • The total number of participants involved
  • The total number of groups
  • The total number of group leaders needed per group
  • The number of Program Leaders and Time Keepers you will need to roam and check time
  • Anybody else you will need for the program

This list must include all the people involved, from the guy who holds up a light bulb in the abstract art room to the program leader who will walk around checking time. Write this section at the same time as the Materials to keep your program practical.

  • Rooms
  • Room set-up
  • Any spaces you will need

This section should be written with Materials and People, to prevent yourself from rewriting your program due to lack of space.

00:00-00:10 Introduction 00:10-00:15 Break into groups 00:15-00:40 Activity A 00:40-00:50 Group discussions 00:50-01:00 Wrap-up/Clean up

This is an exact timeline of what is happening. Remember to include travel time! Programs exist in the context of a larger event; therefore it is important that you do not run over.

This is the detailed section of the program. Write out your program completely, so anyone who leads or facilitates can pick up this paper, and understand exactly what to do. The Time Table will be repeated in this section with specific instructions listed for each time sequence. Remember: people can’t read your mind, so even if this program will be executed by highly experienced programmers, write the detailed procedure as if the leaders have no idea how a program works. Find a balance between scripting and leaving things open to allow discussions to occur organically. Your detailed procedure should directly relate to your goals and objectives. By making sure that all of your objectives are met and addressed in your detailed procedure, you can guarantee that your goals will be met as well as they can be.

00:00-00:10 Introduction Facilitator welcomes the groups….

00:10-00:15 Break into groups Groups move to five locations…

00:15-00:40 Activity A Participants will…

00:40-00:50 Group Discussions Group leaders ask questions from Appendix A – Understanding Program Format….

00:50-01:00 Wrap Up/Clean Up Today we’ve had the opportunity to learn many new things…

Yeah! You’re done with an amazing, fantastic program. Or maybe it was only great. Or maybe it would have been perfect if only you had remembered that one thing. How would you do it differently? Here’s your chance to find out. You can benefit from your mistakes and tell other people what you learned from executing your program at the same time. This is your chance to really reflect on the successes and failures of your program. Use this evaluation to address any surprising problems that came up and brainstorm ways to improve. By filling this out you are ensuring that no matter how you felt it went, your program will benefit others and teach lessons through experience. Don’t pass up the opportunity to be a living legend! Answer the questions listed below. Do it for yourself and others. Staple your answers to the finished program and send a copy to your NFTY Regional Programming VP for their files.

  1. What worked especially well?
  2. What was the general reaction of the program leaders?
  3. What was the general reaction of the program participants?
  4. How well did you estimate locations? Times? People? Materials?
  5. What could you have changed about your program as a whole that would have made it better?
  6. Do you feel like you successfully addressed all of your objectives? Why or why not?
  7. Do you feel like you accomplished all of your goals? Why or why not?
  8. Was it a successful program? Explain…
  9. Any other comments or suggestions?

  • Be sure the topic is one you already know something about and can be researched further.
  • Determine the extent of the required research.
  • Talk to your Rabbi, Cantor, TYG Advisor, Temple Educator and/or NFTY – they are great resources for topics!
  • Ask yourself the following questions:
    • Has the group already done too much programming regarding this topic?
    • Are people interested in spending time on this topic?
    • Is this topic suitable for the participants?
    • Is there enough substance to this topic for a full program?

Once you have brainstormed and defined your direction, create a first draft of the program including the long term goals. Using the NFTY Program Format Sheet as a guide, you will be able to keep your research focused and can ensure that the program is clear, understandable, and to the point in its final form.
Investigating the Different Aspects of Your Topic in Order to Create a Holistic Program

  • Prepare a bibliography while keeping your drafted goals in mind. Look on the web, and ask your advisor, rabbi, cantor, or educator for help. Using these resources, learn as much about the topic as possible.
  • Strive to represent as many approaches as possible within your program. Ask yourself the following questions:
    • How many approaches can be taken?
    • Which aspects will most interest the group?
    • Which aspects can be programmed effectively?
    • What does Reform Judaism have to say about the topic?
    • How can it relate or adapt to NFTY’s Study and/or Action Themes?
    • Can the topic be broken into smaller sub-topics for a series of programs (i.e. over the course of a Conclave or Kallah as an event theme)?

Using your research and ideas, fill in the NFTY Program Format sheet:

  • Touchstone Text: A text that you want to bring into the program. This may come from your research and should work with your program.
  • Goals: These should be big, untestable ideas. Go back over your previous goals and see if they relate to the specific ideas you want to cover from your research.
  • Objectives: These are the concrete and testable skills and information you want people to take from the program. These are necessary to achieve your goals, and every part of your program should directly relate to at least one of your objectives.


Before choosing your method, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you aware of the group’s dynamics?
  • Does the group know each other well?
  • Will participants respond better to a program that is more discussion based or activity based?
  • Have you used this method too many times in previous programs?


  • Carousel (participants rotate to different stations so that everyone experiences the same things regardless of the order)
  • Hike Through History (participants visit different stations in a specific order)
  • Carnival (participants choose which stations they wish to visit)


  • Skits
  • Speakers
  • Puppet shows
  • Films

Trial/Town Meeting/Debate Values Clarification

  • Four Cornersexercise (participants choose one of four answers to a series of questions)
  • Role playing


  • Examples: Entering Ellis Island, Jewish Wedding

Important– If you plan to do a simulation program, work out all of the details with your advisor. You must be careful not to play with people’s emotions.


  • Game Show
  • Giant board games

Using the Five Senses (seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling)

  • Art, music, cooking, drama, meditation

  • Define the speed of each aspect of your program.
  • Make sure that you allow enough time for introduction and wrap-up.
  • Don’t rush! You don’t want to lose the participants’ attention.
  • Don’t feel the need to draw out the end of the program to fill left over time; rather, plan something else in case the program runs short.

  • Organize your program using the NFTY Program Format Sheet. Write out every instruction so anyone who looks at the program in the future can run it without asking questions.
  • Make sure your discussion guides and background materials are complete and detailed.
  • Make sure that everyone involved understands the program.
  • Run through the program with your group leaders so all questions are answered and everyone is on the same page.
  • Be open to comments from anyone looking over the program. Their ideas can improve the program and ensure the program reflects your original goals.
  • Go over the Guide to Group Leading with your group leaders to help improve their skills.
  • Obtain and organize all materials before the program begins, including program packets for group leaders.
  • If necessary, decide on a method for breaking into small groups.
  • Make sure the location is suitable for all of your needs.
  • Make sure all locations are clearly marked.
  • Create a system to communicate to the group leaders how much time is left without disrupting the activity or discussion (I.e. hand signals, note passing, etc.).

  • If necessary, alert rovers of any time changes so they can inform group leaders.
  • Keep a cool head; be flexible enough to handle whatever happens.
  • Don’t forget – only the leaders are aware of what is supposed to happen, so it’s OK if things don’t go exactly as planned. The participants won’t know if you don’t tell them!

Once the Program is Done: Evaluation This step is crucial for a group that will be working together all year long. (See Evaluation Tab)

  1. What worked especially well?
  2. What was the general reaction of the program leaders?
  3. What was the general reaction of the program participants?
  4. How well did you estimate locations? Times? People? Materials?
  5. What could you have changed about your program as a whole that would have made it better?
  6. Do you feel like you successfully addressed all of your objectives? Why or why not?
  7. Do you feel like you accomplished all of your goals? Why or why not?
  8. Was it a successful program? Explain…
  9. Any other comments or suggestions?