One of the characteristics of an excellent teacher is that she (or he) can adapt the activities she does to teach or reinforce concepts in a way that captures the interest of her students. Bible class teachers can use that same skill to better engage their students in the concepts they are trying to teach as well.
There are a lot of different ways to do this, but the important key to being successful is getting to really know your students and what interests them. If they are all introverts who absolutely hate getting up in front of other people, encouraging them to write and perform a Bible play will possibly cause more angst than excitement.
On the other hand, you don’t want to get so caught up in student interests that the Bible stories and concepts get lost in the activity. A “Frozen” theme and activity would be a huge stretch to relate back to an actual Bible story (although I guess a case could be made for a principle or two). If your activities are too secular, the Bible part will feel forced or you may lose the actual point you wanted them to learn in the excitement of the secular piece.
Here are some of my favorite ways to shake up your activities and excite students by capitalizing on their interests:
- Incorporate the Arts: I’m not talking coloring sheets or foam cut-outs. If you have students who are interested in crafts, have them make pots or clay lamps as you study about God being the potter to our clay or to better understand the parable of the bridesmaids without enough oil for their lamps. Have students who love music? Have them write a song for a Bible story like Miriam and Deborah did for their stories. Or have them write a musical on the life of Abraham or some other person. Have students who love drama? Have them plan and perform a skit of a Bible story or godly principle for a group of younger children.
- Incorporate Life Skills. Many kids need help learning Christian life skills. Tie a story like the widow and Elijah and teach them how to cook a simple dish for someone who needs food. Or the story of the Tabernacle and have them learn how to build something your church needs. You can even take advantage of more obscure people in the Bible like Joanna and Susannah to teach your students godly money management skills. (They helped finance the ministry of Jesus.)
- Incorporate School Subjects. I often tell teachers I am training to think of at least part of their job as a social studies teacher. Your students will understand some of the stories and parables in the Bible much better if they understand the culture of the Bible. Do activities a great social studies teacher might do, but with the cultures involved in your story. Having someone who owns sheep bring a few and tell them about how they care for sheep and how they herd them, will help your students understand those shepherd analogies in the Bible much better. Tasting foods mentioned in the Bible they have never tasted, seeing and handling objects they have never seen before, finding Bible places on maps and more will help the Bible come alive for your students. You can also throw in some science as you study Jacob and Joseph and why they were mummified or how the Ark could have floated with that much weight on it. (Check our activity ideas under the various faith-based tutoring subjects for more ideas.)
- Incorporate God’s Creation. Many urban and suburban children have little if any experience with nature. Yet the Bible tells us one of the major ways to see God is through His creation. Take your students outside. Take them on a hike or to a zoo. Bring interesting bits of nature into the classroom. You can easily tie God’s response to Job or the Psalms to many activities you can do with nature.
- Incorporate Museums and Other Field Trips. Many cities have museums with artifacts from cultures found in the Bible. If you live near Washington, D.C., the Bible Museum is opening in the Mall area sometime in 2017. A large part of our congregation attended a much smaller exhibit of what grew to be this museum a few years ago. Kids and parents alike learned so much and really appreciated how God has worked to keep the Bible accurate and available through the centuries. Everyone talked about it for months after the visit and the kids were able to easily tie things in the exhibit back to what they had learned in class. Older students can often benefit from a visit to a Jewish or Holocaust Museum as they often display objects used in Jewish worship and holidays your students may have never seen.
Taking the time to incorporate the things that interest your students into your activities will help increase their interest and excitement in what you are doing. Just remember to not lose the meaningful Bible learning in the process. Engaging your students in Bible learning is definitely worth the time and effort.