Here’s a simple question: Looking back at your last lesson, what did your kids learn? Don’t answer that too quickly. It can be easy to respond by simply reciting the Bible point or explaining the topic. Perhaps your children memorized a wonderful Bible passage or created a beautiful craft. Your class could’ve seemed to follow the lesson plan pretty well, even answering questions the right way. But what did they really learn? How do you know? Not that simple of a question, is it?
Just as kids have different personalities, physical features, and personal backgrounds, they also learn differently. And the way each child learns is often different from the way we like to teach. But making our lessons learner-based is more than just getting kids out of their seats and moving around. It’s about reaching every child every time. In the next few pages, we’re going to give you secrets to making a lesson learner-based-by maximizing each child’s potential.
We recently took our cameras into the children’s ministries of local churches to see how churches were effectively helping children grow spiritually. What we captured on camera was compelling. While churches varied in their programming and structure, they all had one thing in common: a need for real learning. This is what we saw.
Broken Lesson #1
Talk, Talk, Talk
Kids sit quietly; some lay their heads on their desks. Others watch the teacher sitting at the front of the room. The teacher reads a story from a book. As the story comes to a close, children wiggle in their seats, but they’re still quiet. When the Bible story is finished, the teacher then explains what it means. He tells kids the background of the Bible story and how it should apply to their lives. Finally, he closes by saying, “The point we should get out of this is that Jesus helps us.”
Passive children, quiet room, no one misbehaving: Sounds like a teacher’s dream, right? But what did the kids learn? Studies show that very few people can learn by merely listening, but teachers love to talk.
Why? Perhaps because we think we have all the answers. But when we teachers do all the talking, we shortchange kids from genuinely exploring and learning for themselves. The children in this classroom weren’t given the opportunity to learn from exploration. They were only told what they were supposed to take away. Unfortunately, so many of us teach this way, and our talking gets in the way of kids’ learning.
- Let kids talk. Ask a question every now and then that encourages kids to explore their thoughts and feelings and connect the story or lesson to their lives.
- Give kids a chance to tell the story in their way. Give kids Bibles to look up the passage. Then have them create a piece of art, a story, or a skit that applies the Scripture to their lives.
- Dialogue with kids to gauge their learning. Ask kids to summarize what they just heard, or have them tell a partner two things they took from the Scripture.
Broken Lesson #2
“Let’s learn this week’s Bible verse now,” the teacher says as she opens her Bible. “It’s found in Romans 12:10: ‘Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.’ Romans 12:10.” The kids then reply in unison, “‘Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.’ Romans 12:10.” After repeating it several more times, the teacher asks for volunteers who feel like they know the verse well enough to perform it for the entire class, which a couple do very nicely, not missing a word.
Another teacher closes in prayer: “Repeat after me. Dear Jesus,” pause, “thank you for your love and friendship.” Pause. “We know you came to Earth to love us and die for us,” pause, “so that we can be with you forever.” Pause. “Help us show your love to others so they can know you, too.” Pause. “We want to live the way you want us to.” Pause. “Amen.”
In both cases, the children follow along very well. But do they understand what they just said? Memorizing Scripture is very important. Is repeating after a leader the best way to learn? Were children able to apply the Scripture’s wonderful truth to their lives? Probably not, because there was no effort to teach for understanding. Children also need to learn how to pray and to have faith in God through prayer, but repeating after a teacher only helps a child learn how to repeat, not how to pray.
- Focus on meaning. Help kids discover the meaning of the passage they’re memorizing. Lead them in an active learning experience that helps them discover the Scripture’s truth. For great examples of activities, go to Web Extras at www.cmmag.com.
- Make the activity learner-directed. Let kids find the passage and create their own way of memorizing. Some kids may be able to memorize by repeating. Others may need to write it a couple times or put the words to music.
- Make prayer personal. Give children opportunities to pray from their heart, having their own conversations with God. Try starting the prayer, then allow kids to add their sentences throughout.
Broken Lesson #3
Only One Way
Children learn about Paul and Silas. The leader helps children find the story in their Bibles. Then she has kids take turns reading the verses. Following the story, she asks a list of questions:
- Who were the two men in the story?
- Where were they?
- Did they get thrown in jail for telling about Jesus?
- How did they get out of jail?
- Is it hard for you to tell people about Jesus sometimes?
- Who can tell us about a time you told someone about Jesus?
- The answers: Paul and Silas; in jail; yes; they prayed; yes; I can.
As teachers, we like to know the answer, so we tend to ask questions with only one possible answer. Or we may discount any other possible answers to make sure kids take the path we want them to take. In the example above, all except the last question are closed-ended questions, following a set path with set answers. These kinds of questions don’t really help kids learn or gain understanding-they simply help kids remember the story. It’s natural, though, for us to follow a path like that, because other paths may take us into uncharted territory.
- Start by getting kids involved in the telling of the story. Then you don’t even need to see if they remember it. The children’s ability to “teach” the story helps you know they have the facts of the story down.
- Use open-ended questions. Use questions that’ll help kids apply the biblical truths to their lives, such as, “Why is it hard to talk about Jesus sometimes? How can Jesus help you tell about him?” Kids may give a vast array of answers, but the questions will give them a deeper understanding. If an answer is way off-track, you can easily redirect by having kids tell you more about their thought processes.
- Allow children to ask questions. This will lead to a different valuable lesson for each child. When you ask children to ask questions, they may say, “I don’t know what to ask.” If so, encourage their thinking process by asking questions such as, “What would you ask if you were me? If you just guessed at a question, what would it be?”