Sunday School doesn’t need to be complicated. That is not to say that the instructor’s task is always easy. Guiding a group of inquisitive, energetic students can be intimidating. This guide is intended to simplify the instructor’s role and to enrich the student’s experience.
The purpose of this guide is to help the instructor provide the class with a basic biblical understanding. The tools that will be utilized are not elaborate but are effective. All that is necessary is a teacher who loves his or her students and a Bible or Bible story book.
The objective of our efforts will be to lay down a basic biblical outline for our students. If it helps, you can think of it like the pegs on a coat rack. We are going to try to share with our students some of the most foundational events across biblical history in chronological order, helping them create in their minds the foundational “pegs” of the historical, biblical timeline. In the future, the students can hang more biblical stories on these “pegs” to fill in the gaps.
Don’t feel bad about what must be skipped or skimmed over in order to accomplish this task. We can’t cover everything in one year. But, when we lay down a solid foundation, we can add to that foundation layer upon layer each year, always coming back and reviewing the foundational stories as we add in more stories on top of it. We want to create an outline in their minds that can be built upon over the course of subsequent years and a lifetime.
For example, this year we will learn that the exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt happened before King David came to the throne, which happened before the Jews were exiled to Babylon. We will create an actual, physical timeline on which to put these events. When we create a physical timeline that the students (children and adults) can see with their eyes, this will help them to develop a mental timeline that they can “see” with their minds. In future years, we can learn about the judges Samson, Gideon, and Deborah, and put them on the timeline between the exodus and King David. We can also learn about Jonah, and put him between King David and the exile. We will put those events on the timeline, giving them a visual representation to help them embed the chronology in their minds.
Teaching stories (and that is what this guide proposes to facilitate) can be broken down into three fundamental components.
1. Spend time with the students in conversation
Opening every session with a time of visiting indicates to the student that he or she is valued and listened to. It is not necessary to ‘get right at it’.
2. Teach the story
There are a variety of ways in which this can be done. Included below will be narratives that can be directly read. The teacher should always feel free to embellish the telling of the story after having acquainted him or herself with the original biblical account. The instructor is always welcome to consult with Pastor for further clarity. Visual images can enhance the narrative. Bible story books are often illustrated. An industrious teacher might find an image of a master work that can be shown to the students. Pastor will also happily provide these upon request. Such visual images can be used in preparation of the story. The teacher might ask, “What do you see going on in this picture?” That can become an excellent starting point for launching into the narrative. As the art of storytelling is practiced, the teacher will grow in creativity in the manner of relating the tale. Stopping mid-story to ask questions is an excellent way to keep the children tuned in to the tale. “What do you think will happen next?” “How would you feel if that happened to you?”
3. Guide the children in narrating the story
This third component of the lesson is the least-appreciated and least-practiced step, but it is the most important in the educational process. This is where the children do the active work of learning, and it is where the most learning takes place. What happens in this part of the lesson is what will glue the story into the children’s memories. In this segment, the students’ role is to actively narrate the story back to the instructor.
This is very different from asking the children the comprehension-type questions that are included in most Sunday School curricula. When asking students comprehension questions, the teacher and/or curriculum developer does the heavy mental lifting. The teacher thinks about what are the most important parts of this story and asks questions about those parts. The student only needs to think enough to supply the “correct” answer that the teacher is seeking. In contrast, when the students are asked to narrate the story back to the teacher, they are the ones that have to think about what are the most important parts of this story. They are the ones that have to review the story in their own minds and relate back to the teacher what stood out to them and captured their imagination. This process of reviewing the story in their own minds, deciding which parts to tell back to the teacher, and then forming their thoughts into words, sentences, and stories is the process that cements the stories in the children’s minds.
Although this part of the lesson is where the students do the heavy mental lifting, this is the part that will require the most practice on the teacher’s part. You will likely have to tease the narration out of the students, especially at first. The students aren’t used to doing this type of exercise. In the process of teasing the narration out of the students, it can be hard not to supply them with information about the story. It can be hard not to fall back into asking them questions that only require them to think up correct, one-word answers. If you find yourself doing this, don’t despair! You will get better at leading the students in their narration skills, and the students will get better at narrating!
It will be very helpful to have some basic statements and questions prepared that can be used every week with every story. For example:
- Now you are going to tell the story back to me.
- What happened first in the story?
- What happened next?
- This question can be repeated over and over, calling on a different student each time
- Who is in the story?
- Quickly follow the one-word answer with “What happened to him/her?” or “What did he/she do?”
- Who would like to add something to what [student’s name] just told us?
- Who else is in the story and what did they do?
THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: Don’t supply the students with information from the story! It is their job to come up with the information from the story. And don’t be afraid of silence while the students are thinking!
When you ask a question, just let the question hang in the air. If no one says anything, don’t start supplying them with information from the story. Let them think. Give them time. If they are really struggling, start with the one-word question “Who is in the story?” Quickly follow this one-word question with “Good! What happened to him/her?” or “That’s right! What did he/she do?” If they can’t answer the follow-up questions, ask “Who else is in the story?” Then ask, “What do those two people have to do with each other?”
In the process of having the students narrate the story, incorporate such additional devices as having the children draw a picture of the story or act it out as a class. Pictures that the children draw of the story can be hung up with the timeline we will be creating. As for acting out the story, children generally love the opportunity to get up, move around, and practice their theater skills. Feel free to bring in props to use. However, keep in mind that the children are the ones that are retelling the story. Resist the urge to tell them what to do. Let them do the work of remembering what happened next in the story and deciding how to act it out. Your job is to step aside and prompt them with simple questions such as “What happened next?” “How can you act that out?”
Again, this third part of the process should not be undervalued. Being able to tell the story back to the teacher will more effectively solidify the narrative in the child’s memory than any comprehension-type questions the teacher can ask. The students become active and not merely passive learners.
If this part of the lesson doesn’t go well at first, don’t despair! You and your students will get better with practice! Just keep at it. Keep reminding yourself NOT to tell the students about what is in the story. Keep trying to draw it out of the students. As the weeks go by, the students will get better at remembering the stories, thinking about what happened in them, and being able to tell it back to you. These are all skills that have to be practiced to be perfected! You and your students can do it! All you need is a willingness to keep trying!