Prepare, Summarize, Reflect; Encouraging Discussion in Bible Class and Beyond

How many of your students talked during your last class discussion? Too often, only a few students engage with the discussion, says Shawn. How can we make class discussions more meaningful? Shawn shares his practices for preparing students for discussion, valuing their comments, and ensuring that they take away the big idea from the passage.

Consider how you can adapt Shawn’s methods for your own Bible class–or any other class that benefits from discussion.

Today, I’d like to give some tips about meaningful class discussions. Some times even when we have a good discussion, as we reflect back over the discussion, we realize only 40% or 50% of my class was involved, maybe even less, and it’s typically the same students that are involved. While some might be really engaged and we have some good thoughts and questions and interaction, there are still students who are looking out the window or just not engaged. So, is there something we can do to help with that?

One thing we could do—for example, we were studying in the Book of Acts, Acts Chapter 2 and 1 and the importance of the ascension. I asked the students to write down for homework a short paragraph, “What is the importance of the ascension?” That, of course, gives them time ahead of time to think about the topic the importance of the ascension. Then, they come to class prepared and they are quicker to get involved, hopefully, in discussion. Also, some students that need longer to think about a topic or if they are not engaged, you can call on them, knowing that they have something to answer because it’s already there on their paper.

Okay. Take out the paragraph that you wrote, please, about the importance of the ascension.

In this particular example, they came to class with some thoughts, “What’s the importance of the ascension?”

Then, as they share, write their thoughts down on the board. They get to see the answers. They get to see them, they can write them down in their notes. Hopefully, it’s solidified a bit more in their minds.

Yes, I hadn’t thought of that. So, it made everyone know, it solidified that he was not going to set up an earthly kingdom. Okay. So how shall I put that: “Confirmed His kingdom is not of this world.” This is great, because you think of things that I had not thought of.

Also, the students will come with thoughts, but usually they don’t have any verses included in their thoughts. So, as they are sharing their thoughts, bring some verses in from the Word and have everyone turn to, since it’s Bible class, and (because of) the importance of the Word of God, makes sure everyone turns to it and get the students to read where their thoughts are coming from, hopefully, right from the text.

Yes. A good question. We are going to turn to Psalms 24, I think. Look at verses 7–10. I’ve heard it explained already that Psalms 24 possibly—and I will need to do some more research to know where this thought process comes from. All Psalms were meant to be sung, and it’s thought that some were antiphonal. One side says this, the other side says this. Here, this is possibly, verses 7–10, a reference to Jesus’ ascension. The angels, could the angels have been saying this as Jesus came back to heaven, as he ascended in the clouds and he comes back to heaven? And he’s getting to enter into the realm of heaven here.

Let’s have Cheyenne on that side of class read verse 7, and Vince in this side of class read verse 8—this is off the cuff here, I’m not sure how this will be—and then Cheyenne you will have verse 9 and Vince, you will have verse 10. See this antiphonal—you picture the angels on both sides of the gates singing this or saying this as Jesus comes back, having completed his mission on earth. What a scene that would have been if this would have taken place. Cheyenne and your half of the class, start at verse 7. Go ahead. “Lift up…

“…your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.

“Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.

“Lift up your heads, O ye gates, even lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in.

“Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah.”

Okay. Very good.

Also, at the end, make sure to summarize the students’ thoughts and wrap it all up. Tell them what they should remember. Sometimes a lot of things get talked about in a discussion and it comes time for the test, maybe they don’t know exactly—They remember we talked about this in class, but the thing you really want them to remember was kind of lost in all the other students’ thoughts. So, make sure you summarize it and highlight what you want, to be sure that they remember.

These verses center around a specific thing. Actually, it’s totally fine, you had some really great thoughts, but this thing here that I’m thinking about is you didn’t actually mention. The four verses here, you can each talk about these things. Let’s read these and see if you can get an idea. So, a volunteer to read chapter 2 verse 1, 1st John.

Another thing you can do, possibly, is to see if you were successful in conveying what you wanted to convey before they leave. You could hand out some 3 X 5 cards and have them write down, “What did you learn today?” See what they learned. See, did they learn something that you really didn’t mean to convey it all, or did they catch what you were looking for?

Hopefully, that will help with some more meaningful discussions and some more students involved in the discussions: Make sure you bring the Word of God in so that it’s not a bunch of great ideas or things they heard people say, and then summarize it and maybe even capture what they thought they heard to see if you were successful.

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