Keep the Conversion Going…

How can you keep an entire classroom full of interesting personalities actively engaged while reading and discussing a religion textbook?
A skilled hostess at a dinner party tries to make each of her guests feel that they are welcomed and appreciated.    It’s invigorating when every guest feels that they are taking part in a lively conversation at the dinner table.   I encourage you to employ the same concept to your classroom discussions.
Set the Table for Success
Explain the expectations for behavior during a discussion before it takes place.   I prepare my students by telling them that there will be plenty of talking and sharing about our faith and that I expect everyone to be respectful listeners.   In addition, it is imperative that I state the objective for the reading and discussion.   I implicitly state something like, “Today we will be reading about Moses and the Ten Commandments.   Your goal is to discover what a covenant is and to be able to describe the relationship between God and the Israelites.”  If your textbook allows it, encourage your students to highlight, underline or sketch concepts as they are reading.   I tell my students that no one is “on vacation” during religion and that we are all here to think and discover something special about God.
Four Ways to Engage Students during Religion Discussions
Talking Ball
I purchased a bumpy rubber ball at Michaels and I call it the “talking ball.”   The rules for using the talking ball are simple but effective.   Only the person holding the ball has permission to talk.   The ball must be passed gently, not thrown.   My students like the novelty of holding onto the ball while they answer questions and they like the privilege of passing it to their classmates.
Name Sticks or Cards
I love using sticks or even a deck of cards with my students’ names written on them.   It’s an old strategy for keeping students on their toes because they’ll want to be ready with an answer if their stick is chosen.  I state the question about the text and then tell my students that I am going to pull a student stick for an answer.  Sometimes I pause and tell them to look back in the paragraph for text evidence.
Pair and Comment
Recently I asked my fourth graders to share about a time they were in nature and experienced amazement over God’s creation.   They were recognizing types of prayer and were focusing on prayers of praise.  Several students anxiously wanted to share, but there wasn’t enough time to listen to everyone.  I told my students that they could share their experience with the person next to them until they heard my chime signal to stop. It gave my students a moment to express themselves and it kept our lesson timing on target.
Think, Pair, Share
This technique has been around for a while and it’s very effective for collaborative learning.   I give my students a moment to ponder a concept or question and then I tell them to discuss their ideas with the person next to them.  It is important that they know the purpose of the short discussion and that I will be pulling student sticks afterwards to share what they’ve discussed.  I walk around and participate in the discussions and monitor engagement.
Five Ways to Respond During Religion Discussions
“Who have I not heard from today?   Let’s see, I haven’t heard from Matthew, Bella, or David today.”   When I take the time to acknowledge the students who haven’t contributed to the discussion yet they typically join in just because of the attention I’ve shown them.
“I have two religion stars today, Ava and Anthony.   I love how they are participating!   Do I have any other religion stars out there?”  This usually inspires a few students to join in and become more engaged in the conversation.
“Raise your hand if you were thinking the same thing.”   This gives every student the satisfaction of expressing themselves even though they weren’t called on.
“Would anyone like to add on to his/her answer?   This response acknowledges what one student has said and it opens the door for another student to extend the concept.
“Thank you.”      This response tells students that you respect them for their contribution to the discussion.   It gives my students the impression that they need not fear embarrassment over having the wrong answer and it reinforces the idea that their ideas are valuable.   I learned this response from a New Management seminar given by Rick Morris.   Click here for more of his fabulous ideas:
I do enjoy discussing the big ideas of our faith with my students.   These conversations are precious gifts to my heart.   I pray that every discussion will reveal more grace and wisdom for all.   “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”  Colossians 4:6

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