The Sunday Teacher

Lessons from The Great Book


P12-0006In order to understand an idea it is sometimes useful to see it. Here are three ways to use props to teach texts.

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 mirror24 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.

Mind Mapping

Mind maps were popularized by psychologist,  Tony Buzan in the 1960s. He argued that the mind works less like a list and more like a cloud of thought centered around a core idea. Mind mapping is an attempt to reflect on paper how the mind generates ideas.  Continue reading “Mind Mapping”

Recontructing the Text

If you are teaching from a specific text it is normal to read it first and then make points from it. Instead try not reading the text at the beginning of the class.  Teach what it has to say, but don’t actually read it out. Tell your students at the beginning of the class that they have to “reconstruct” the text from what you are teaching. At the end of the class compare the various versions and declare the winner the person (or team) who gets the closest to the original. Here is an example starting with the lesson plan:

Group discussion: What is the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you? (coughing fit in a public place, gone into a bathroom with someone in it, said hi to a stranger you thought you knew, fallen over in public, singing loudly in a secluded location only to find someone was there listening etc.)

Point: many things make us embarrassed  but Jesus should not be one of them. Jesus is not an embarrassing friend so you should not hide him. One way you might hide Jesus is by not talking about him,  so you should not be embarrassed about talking about the good news of Jesus. Furthermore, you should not be embarrassed about other people who talk about Jesus either, especially those whom God chose to write the books of the Bible, like Paul.

Discuss: What do you think happens to those who are not embarrassed about something that everyone else thinks they should be embarrassed about? For example, if someone is not embarrassed to be a dedicated fan of some singer who has long been deemed uncool. What happens to that person when they put up posters of that singer on their walls, wear their merchandise, and generally makes themselves a nuisance trying to get everyone to listen them? Well, if a person is not embarrassed about something and, according to everyone else, should be embarrassed, then work has to be done to make that person embarrassed.  In other words tease that person, embarrass that person. And keep embarrassing them until they stop liking that out of date uncool singer.

Point: The same is true when you talk about Jesus. Some people will attempt to force you to be embarrassed. They might subject you to ridicule. When Paul spoke too much of Jesus he was put in prison, they even killed him for it. That will probably not happen to you (even though it still happens to many people in other countries), but some people might not want to be friends with someone who talks about Jesus.

Reflection: Does that make you afraid? Does it put you off talking about Jesus with your friends? Think about how hard it might be when someone teases you for being a Christian. But now think about how amazing it would be to serve Jesus in speaking up for him and the possibility that your friends might become Christians.

End point: What you need is a promise from God that he will give you the power to keep sticking up for him even when the going gets tough. And, according to this verse, that is exactly what God promises to you. God will give you strength and power to keep going in all circumstances.

Do you have a rough idea of the verse I am attempting to teach? The verse is: “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God” (1 Tim 1:8)

The benefit of such a method is twofold. First, competition drives up attentiveness and motivates listening. Second, you will know whether or not you communicated the message of the text well. If all the various reconstructions are very close to what you were trying to say, then you know you did a good job. If your class is a feedback free zone, this might let you know something of what you are accomplishing among your students.

Teaching Backwards

backwards planIf you have a really smart class that always seems to know what you are going to say next try doing the lesson plan backwards.

A normal lesson plan might look like this: Recap what was learnt last week, look at this week’s text, discuss what is going on in the text, make main point, pull out three supporting points, tell personal story, repeat main point, make application made to every day life.

Now switch it: start with their everyday life, discuss the problems they have in a particular area, ask three pertinent questions, tell personal story,  read text and show how those questions are answered and support main point, make main point, link what you have said to previous week’s class or even next week’s class.

This idea is drawn from two preaching methods – “deductive” and “inductive.” The deductive method begins with the main point and then supports it. Inductive methods require starting with the life of the student and leading them to the text through a series of questions. An inductive sermon makes the main point at the end. 

Scoring a “Hat Trick”

Have you ever tried to articulate a set of aims for the class you teach? It is good to have a certain measure to know if you have done what you set out to do. 

I teach a college age class every week. The explicit aim of the class is to “make sense of life from the truth of the word.” In order to test the outcome of my class I measure it against three goals. If I succeed I have scored a “hat trick” (a “hat trick” in soccer is one player scoring three goals). Here is my hat trick for teaching my college class:

Scoring a “hat trick” in teaching college class is when I am able to communicate (1) how human experience only makes sense, in principle, if the Biblical Christian Worldview is true, (2) how human experience only makes sense, in practice, when the truth of the Biblical Christian Worldview is applied to life and (3) if any alternative worldview that one might come up with fails to achieve (1) and (2).

Try to design your own “hat trick” (there doesn’t have to be three goals). First, take into account at what point in the students’ learning process your class is placed. Is it an eighth grade class? Perhaps an element of your aim is to prepare your students for high school, all the new challenges they will face. How does your curriculum reflect this need? Do points of application need to reflect this need?

Second, what ministry passion do you bring to the classroom? There is nothing wrong with this passion being reflected in your aims for the class. In fact, it might be why God put you there! And, if you are passionate about what you teach, you will probably teach it better.

Finally, ask yourself what your particular age group needs. A basic distinction is between middle school, high school and college. While I risk being reductive one can discern some of the pedagogical needs of each group.

Middle school is a great age for learning the facts. If they gain a good overview of scripture they will have an excellent foundation for life. But middle schoolers also need to know how the scripture applies to life. They need to have their “so whats” answered.

High school is the era of questions. It is their first encounter with doubt, with the nagging suspicion that they are only Christians because their parents are Christians. Sometimes high schoolers become bored of their faith, they sleep during class. How does this affect the class aims? Perhaps it requires that the aim of the class is to creatively teach scripture. As we all know, creativity in teaching has to go up as the interest of students goes down.

Then college kicks in and so does life. And life cries out to be made sense of. It is also when most Christians become interested in apologetics, how their faith can stand up to well articulated objections made by cool, well dressed, intellectuals who haunt the halls of the academy.

When you have come up with something ask yourself this: can I measure my class by the aim? A vague aim like “help students to understand scripture” is hard to measure. What are you wanting students to understand about scripture? All scripture? All parts of scripture? How will you know that they understand? Sometimes this problem is solved by locating the standard more in the mind of the teacher than the student. For example, my aims for college class are testable even if all my students sleep through my class (some have and I don’t mind, college makes a person tired!). If you want to know whether or not your class “got it” you need some way to find out. Test them! Middle schoolers love a good pop quiz. The point is that if student understanding is a key aim (it is obviously an implicit aim of all classes) then that affects the lesson plan itself.

Any good ideas for class “hat tricks”? Share them in the comment box.

Teaching the Gaps

A simple, but effective, way to study a text is to leave out the key words or phrase you wish to study.

Copy the text from into a word document and either print out one large copy or multiple copies, one for each student. Alternatively write the text on a white board leaving appropriate gaps.

As you discuss the text ask students to try to fill in the gaps and make your points. For example:

Therefore do not be ………… of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in ……….. for the ……… according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our ……., but according to …… ………… ……………….. which was granted us in ……   ……….. from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of …. ……….. ……….. …………  who abolished …… and brought…… ….. ………….. to light through the …….., for which I was appointed a ………. and an ………. and a …………..  (2 Tim 1:8-11)

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher.

Remembering Repeated Runes Really Reaps Rewards

In order to make your points memorable try finding words beginning with the same letter that summarize your points.

An example from a class I taught the high school seniors:

The Bible… makes sense of life… is God’s story of the world… your script for speaking and acting in the world… the only support you can trust… and the supreme authority over your life (If you are interested in what all that means check out this blog post).

(try combing this with “finger notes”)

Learning by Signs

If you are attempting to get students to learn a narrative in the Bible (a gospel, for example), try getting students to remember the main events by making a physical sign of the event. The sign can be accompanied by a short phrase to describe the event. Here are some phrases I came up with for the gospel of John:

Putting on flesh… baptized by John…cynical Nate…turning water into wine… freak-out in the temple…thinking about new birth…woman at the well…healing people…feeding the five thousand…talking about the bread of life…giving sight to the blind…claiming to be God…raising Lazarus from the dead…promising the Holy Spirit… reconciling God and man…really rising from the dead.

Each phrase had an accompanying action that illustrates the event. Having a physical component really helps the memory. This technique was used in Walk Through the Bible to help people learn the whole story of the Bible. Have a look:

Puzzle Text

The most common way to read a text in a group is for everyone to read a couple of verses each. To liven this up put the text on a word doc and print. On the other side of the paper print out the key word or phrase you want students to get from the text (in large font). Then cut the paper into the reading sections and put them in the correct order. 


When you meet your students hand out the reading sections and have them read their parts. When they are done have the students try to solve the puzzle on the back of the reading sections.


They will usually do this on the floor in the middle of the circle. Once they have solved it you can introduce the main point from the word(s) of the puzzle.


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