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

An Inspiring Verse

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Rejoice always, pray continually,  give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
My favorite bible verse matches beautifully to the vocation of a religion teacher.   What a privilege it is to share the Good News with little saints in the making!  It is thrilling to listen to children share their faith and love for Jesus.  This is the best part of being a religion teacher.   Rejoice always!
How can I teach about Jesus without spending time with Him first?   Praying continually provides a source of wisdom and strength for daily teaching.   I pray on my way to work, at the start of each lesson with my students, before lesson planning, when the copy machine won’t work, if a student needs my prayers…the list goes on!   Most of the time, I just pray that I will teach well and that the Holy Spirit will guide my lessons.   Pray continually!
A thankful heart is a happy heart.   Giving thanks in all circumstances is a way of trusting that God has a plan for everything and that He is with us each step of the way.   Whenever I feel that I am in a challenging situation I try to remember to thank God for some aspect of it.  I certainly don’t always remember to do this, but when I do, I find renewed optimism.   Focusing on the blessings of being a teacher provides a burst of joy and happiness.   Give thanks in all circumstances!
Finally, I would like to share a quote from Pope Francis:
“Even if at times it may be difficult and require a great deal of work, and although the results are not always what we hope for, teaching the faith is something beautiful! It is perhaps the best legacy we can pass on: the faith!”
I love this encouraging quote by Pope Francis from The International Congress on Catechesis.   When seeking God’s will as a teacher it is good to remember that we are teaching a subject that is truly all about life-long learning and beyond!  The work that we do is for Jesus, our loving Savior.   That’s definitely something to rejoice about!  Let us proudly take St. Paul’s words to heart as we teach with the joy of the Gospel.

Salt and Pepper for Religion Class

Ingredients for an Engaging Lesson
Variety is the spice of life!    I’ve come to realize that variety is also paramount to planning an effective religion lesson.    Adding a little “seasoning” is very helpful for engaging a classroom full of personalities and learning styles.  I want my students to love learning about God and to feel that they are valued and successful during my lessons.   Adding a little “salt and pepper” to each lesson-art, music, technology, drama, or a game can make learning objectives memorable and enjoyable.   In addition, I try to include a variety of spiritual experiences.  Some students respond best to quiet and peaceful prayers, and some students respond best to exciting prayer cheers.   Why not include both?   I’m always searching for new ways to achieve this and it’s interesting to see how my students respond.   One of the parents of a kindergarten student I had last year told me a delightful story.   The sweet girl told her mom that she had a new talent.   When she asked her daughter what it was she happily told her, “Religion!”

You’ve Got to Move Them

Let’s face it.   A little bit of exercise or stretching has a way of lifting your spirits.   Why not start your religion lesson by waking up your class with healthful and prayerful movement? Spending three to five minutes with a little singing and dancing can easily brighten up a classroom of students.   As always, be sure to start by explaining your expectations for behavior and making sure that all students have enough room to move about.
Vacation Bible School Music Videos
I’ve used these for grades K-5 and they are fabulous!   I usually stand in the front of the room and do some of the movements to encourage my students to join in.   The following are my favorite ones:
This Little Light of Mine

St. Simon Says
There’s always time for a little game of “St. Simon Says” to give your students an opportunity to move.  You can tell your students that St. Simon was a follower of Jesus.   Other than that, it is just like Simon Says except the students are never “out” if they make the wrong move.   My students continue to play while encouraging one another and trying their best to be good listeners.   I usually try to include marching or silently jogging in place if my younger students really need to move.
Prayer Cheer
My last tip is to have your students participate in a “Prayer Cheer.”   I like to have students stand and cheer about what they’re thankful for.  I remind my students that we are praying and that I expect them to cheer with respect.   It is fun to sing it or say it while stepping side to side with a little clap.  I made up a simple tune and added a few easy dance moves to make it fun.   I like to choose a few students (as a reward for good behavior) to come to the front of the room to help lead.   Here is an example:
I just want to thank the Lord for everything that’s good in my life. 2 x
Thank you, Lord for my blessings! 3 x
If you have time you can cheer for different specific blessings such as families, friends, pets, homes, school, etc.   Sometimes I pause after one round of the cheer and I call on students to share something they’re thankful for.   Then I lead the whole class in putting up their hands and cheering for whatever the student shared.  Other times I pass around a ball and have students share their blessings.   When my students tell me that they’re thankful for Jesus I feel overjoyed to stand and cheer right along with them!