A few decades ago, elementary aged children were handed a King James Bible and encouraged to read it every day. The result was a lot of overwhelmed children who grew up hating to read the Bible. Why? Because they had been given a college aged reading level book to read when they were reading on an elementary aged reading level. The Bible was what educators call a ”frustration text” …and they were right. Those children and teens became frustrated and most gave up reading the Bible independently after a few attempts.
The NIrV version has solved that particular issue with encouraging young people to read the Bible independently. Written on a third grade reading level, it is easy enough for the vast majority of elementary aged children to read independently. But reading level isn’t the only stumbling block to helping kids and teens develop a life long habit of reading scripture.
There are four other reading skills we need to teach young people at home or church. Although technically covered in many quality schools, they do not address the unique nature of the language in the Bible.
- Vocabulary. There are numerous words in the Bible young people will rarely encounter in other books. Words like redemption, holy, parable and even words like faith that have a deeper meaning in the context of reading the Bible. Kids raised in Christian homes can often rattle off the definition of some of these words and still have no idea what they mean. Teachers consider a child to have mastered a vocabulary word when he or she can give the definition in his or her own words – not an official definition that has been memorized. We need to take time to carefully explain any words that might be unfamiliar to young Bible students.
- Comprehension. There is a huge difference between being able to read the words on a page and being able to actually comprehend what they mean. I know enough about Spanish phonics to read a text written in Spanish aloud somewhat fluently. Ask me to tell you what I just read means, however, and my fluency drops considerably. We need to help children learn how to understand what they read in the Bible. In some ways, Bible classes are designed to help with comprehension, but we need to give young people more opportunities to explain what is meant by a verse someone reads out loud to the class.
- Tone. Many young people aren’t taught about tone in writing until high school, if even then. Tone matters. It is the underlying attitude of the author about what is being written. In the Bible there is also a deeper tone. It is God’s attitude about what is written. Since the writing in the Bible was inspired by God through the Holy Spirit, God’s attitudes about what is written in the Bible are also evident. We need to regularly ask young people if they notice the attitudes of the writer of the passage in scripture and God’s attitude about a particular passage. Sometimes one is more clear than the other, but reflection on God’s commands and principles can give clues to how God may feel about a passage of scripture when it may not be as obvious.
- Pronunciation. Admittedly, most adults mispronounce a lot of words – especially proper nouns – in the Bible. The problem is that when a young person is reading the Bible independently a word they can’t easily decode (because they know they can’t pronounce it) causes many of them to come to a full stop in their reading. This can cause them to lose track of what is happening in the passage or their train of thought. It can also cause frustration for some children and teens. Why not take a few minutes periodically and teach Hebrew and Greek phonetics when the words are written in English? Then young people can decode them more quickly when they encounter them in the text.
Bible class shouldn’t become English class, but teaching young people a few special reading comprehension skills can make it more likely they will read the Bible independently – for life.