Wouldn’t it be cool to Skype with Job or SnapChat with Abraham? While this is not possible, it is possible to use media to enhance your students’ understanding of a character or an event. You will need a video camera, a TV or screen in your classroom and a bit of imagination. Continue reading “Interviewing Bible Characters in Class”
Great teachers learn from great teachers.
Paul Gilbert is a great guitar player, but he’s just as good at teaching. Watch this impromptu show promoting an amplifier. Gilbert is just supposed to be promoting the amplifier behind him, but can’t help using the opportunity to teach his audience a thing or two. As you watch ask yourself what makes him a great teacher. Continue reading “How to Teach Like a Rock Star”
Classrooms are idea driven yet sometimes ideas run dry. The greatest resource available to teachers is other teachers. Recently, in order to foster inspiration and energy in the classroom I invited all of our church’s student ministry teachers to a “Teacher’s Symposium.” Continue reading “Teacher Symposium”
Sunday School is about the gospel. Teaching the gospel is often about finding new ways to say the same thing. Illustrating the gospel with an analogy or a visual representation often helps students understand the gospel better. Here are three ideas for illustrating the truth of the gospel: Continue reading “Illustrating the Gospel”
No one likes tests, but everyone likes competitions. You probably wonder how much students learned from your lesson. Test their knowledge by leaving ten minutes at the end or at the beginning of class for a competition (bring prizes). Test their knowledge of the passage by having two teams compete for a prize by answering questions on what you have been teaching.
These kinds of tests might help your students remember what you have taught them and motivate them to listen, but tests also tell you, the teacher, whether or not your students are learning what you are attempting to teach.
Know Your Stuff
In order to teach well one needs to do more than facilitate learning; one needs to know one’s subject intimately. Horace Mann writes: “knowledge should not only be thorough and critical but it should be always ready at command for every exigency, familiar like the alphabet, so that, as occasion requires, it will rise up in the mind instantaneously and not need to be studied out with labor and delay.”
If the subject is the scriptures, then the scriptures should be known well. For most Sunday school teachers this might not mean knowing the original languages, but it means a familiarity with the Bible to the extent that one is consistently able to answer student’s questions, point to larger contexts for specific texts and run through the main points an author is trying to make.
Know Your Students
Many who know what they are going to teach may struggle to know those to whom they will be teaching. But this task is no less an act of study than the first. What do you know about your class? How much, for example, do the class already know about the Bible?
There are other things, besides the educational level of the class, that you might want to know. For example, what is the temperament of the class? Are they rowdy, passive, quiet, cynical? What do you know about their spiritual maturity?
It is difficult to predict what one’s class will be like until they are in the room. However, it might help to speak to the teachers who taught your class last year. They probably have plenty of advice for you, insight into the individuals’ lives and tips for engaging them in the learning process.
What trends in youth culture have you been looking at? Knowledge of the cultural context your students inhabit allows you to connect content to context. This both helps students engage in the material, but also allows you to make specific applications to their lives.
You are also not the only teacher in their lives. What schools do your students attend? If your class is made up of primarily Christian private school students, it will be quite different from a class filled with public school students.
You may also want to know something about the home situations of the students. Are the parents going to church? Do some come from broken homes? What kind of emphasis do parents have on education in the home?
Know your Shepherd
Of course, none of this counts much without knowing the source of all you teach, the Teacher of the class. And as you teach, students will gather from your commitment to what He has to say on matters that it is to him you turn to know anything. And that is probably the best learning outcome a student can have.
For the visual learner, concepts, characters, events and their relations to one another, are best seen as well as heard. Most of our classrooms are equipped with whiteboards that can be used to help the visual learner by diagramming the content of the class.
Diagrams show connections. For example, a diagram might show the connection between characters or between ideas. Try diagramming the connection between those God foreknew and those who are glorified in Romans 8:29-30.
Diagrams show comparisons. For example, when I teach apologetics I show the similarities and differences between four different apologetic methods by using a chart.
Diagrams show chronology. A sequence of life events, for example, can be shown on a “timeline,” a biography can be seen as a whole through a diagram. The life of Peter might be a good story to diagram. There is also a well used diagram to show the repeating cycle of events in the book of Judges:
Diagrams are memorable because shapes are memorable. When I teach worldview I use the idea of a wedding cake – three layers stacked on one another asking three worldview questions: What is real? How do we know? And how should we live? The shape helps students remember the three components to any given worldview.
Diagrams provide structure to a class. Sometimes having copious notes of what you would like to say is simplified through diagramming. Consequently, diagramming helps lesson planning.
First, the Bible is replete with metaphors, picture words and illustrations. If a text mentions something you have in your house bring it to class and use it to explain the text. For example, James uses the metaphor of a mirror:
22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does (James 1:22-25).
Bring a mirror to class and use it to talk about the meaning of the text. Show the mirror to your class, telling them to look at themselves. Then explain that the Bible is like a mirror – it tells you what your new nature looks like. To read and obey the word is not merely to carry out an order, but to get a vision, a clear mental picture, of who you really are. James says that you should live in accordance with who you see in the mirror and not forget who you are. The fool, as James tells us, is one who sees himself as he is described in scripture, but then forgets.
Second, students might understand a narrative better if they can see it. This works well with a scene like Adam and Eve in the garden. Try giving your students modeling clay and ask them to create the scene of the serpent’s temptation. They need to create a tree, apples, a serpent, Adam and Eve (appropriately attired with leaves) and the river. Rather than merely listening to the story, students have to reconstruct the story and will have a better grasp of what is happening.
Finally, some ideas can be illustrated using a physical symbol. This is especially useful in helping students understand something that cannot be seen, a concept or idea. Although the effects of sin are seen in particular actions sin is also a concept or idea. I once brought a cup filled with a mixture of black paint, dirt and water into class and dumped it on a table. I asked them to imagine what they would do if such a substance came out of their taps in their homes. This formed the basis for a discussion about sin – its origin, its cause, its effects and its solution.