When you look into your students’ eyes, perhaps you sometimes imagine who they’ll be in 10 or 20 years.
Will that sparkling face be a teacher or preacher someday, with their own audience? Will those thoughtful, sensitive eyes look into their own children’s eyes and tell them who Jesus is? When he’s a dad, what will he say when his child asks why Jesus had to die or where grandpa is when they buried him? What will the future homemaker say when a stranger stops her in the grocery store and asks her why bad things happen to good people?
As an educator, you have the creative position of a sculptor who shapes people who learn, ask questions, and grow skills in studying and talking about the most important text of their lives: the Bible. This is not a skill only for men to use when they’re speaking or preaching in church. In God’s Kingdom, both men and women who love God commit themselves to studying His word because they long to hear what He says and want to understand His character.
Faithful Bible reading and teaching is not only for adults with the spiritual gift of teaching. It is for everyone! As a teacher, you can give all your students basic study tools to equip them to serve their homes and churches. You can help to normalize the process of reading, studying, and teaching the Bible so that it becomes part of the fabric of their life.
First, you can model these skills in your classroom. Then you can give opportunities for your students to follow your lead, practice, and improve in the skills themselves. Listed below are categories of skills and ways students can practice them. Following that are ideas for how you as their teacher can model the skills.
Study and Discussion Skills to Cultivate: Grades 1-6
Consider preparing your Bible or reading lesson with supplements such as picture posters like these, flannelgraph, or illustrated book. Mount the pictures/figures on the board as you read the story. You can read the Scripture and explain/broaden/expand interchangeably.
- Read several verses or a paragraph while showing the corresponding picture.
- Read the next section of verses while holding up its illustration.
- Mount picture on board.
- When you finish the story, you’ll have a series (5-6) of pictures on the board. Or you can draw simple figures on the board to show characters, action, and story progression.
- Use this line up of pictures to review key vocabulary and plot points. Ask them the questions listed above in the “Interact with text” section. Themes and important points will come out of this exchange of questions and observations.
- Students can refer to the pictures and your review when they summarize the story to their conversation partners.
Study and Discussion Skills to Cultivate: Grades 7-12
You can model these skills in your own Bible, literature, and history classes. You can assign students to share devotions or lead discussions, focusing first on one skill, then gradually assigning more. If you have too many students for each to take a turn to speak to the whole group, divide them into smaller groups and appoint several presenters to share simultaneously.
While studying the text for one’s self is very important, we believe, as Anabaptists, that we hear from God and follow Jesus in community. This is why presentation and discussion skills are so important. Your classroom can be the place where students can see this modelled and begin to take formative steps toward studying, listening, and interacting with Scripture and their neighbors.
When a student is ready to share with his/her group, complete an evaluation sheet and discuss it with the student. It can be useful for several in the group to fill out evaluations, but it may be too much to ask of them to listen and evaluate simultaneously. At a minimum, you can ask students to reflect on their own presentation. The goal here is not perfection but learning to be comfortable with basic study and presentation skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives. Reflecting, evaluating together the elements of the presentation, and giving/receiving feedback is crucial because it offers perspective and interaction that the individual would have missed if reflecting only by him/herself.
If students have learned to approach the Bible only as a textbook that has the answers, they’ll miss the richness of entering a dynamic, living relationship with the God of the universe. As adults, all of them will walk into situations and conversations where they’ll talk with people and grapple with questions about God, His love, sovereignty, presence, and goodness. Knowing simple ways of approaching the text can open them to increasing their knowledge and comfort level in studying and telling others about the person of Jesus whom they’ve met in Scripture.
I dream of communities and churches that have waiting lists of people who want to teach Sunday schools and Bible studies. Where no one says, “I could never teach Sunday school—that’s too scary. I’ve never done anything like that.” Instead, they say “I remember when my teacher taught us to look at the context of John 4, and I’d like to explore another passage. Sure, I’ll lead the Bible study!” They will be humble in their sharing, because they see how much they don’t know. But they will also be excited and enthused about the truth, beauty, and goodness they find in the text.
The world needs people like this!
Anna Zehr wrote “Cultivating Conversations.” She offers ways to equip students to engage in conversations that build and enhance relationships. She also gives sentence frames and pointers for teaching students listening and speaking skills.
Piper Burdge uses the “Swedish Bible Study Method” for her 7th and 8th graders. The document also includes links that further explain the method and rationale of this kind of simple, straight-forward approach to studying the Bible.
Bloom’s Taxonomy provides a framework for your own study and how you can shape your students’ education by the questions you ask and the approach you use. Observe the progressive building blocks of understanding and use the appropriate question frames when you plan your own lessons.
CONTRIBUTOR: Anita Yoder