When you were in school, you generally had a pretty good understanding of what the teacher expected you to learn in a particular class. Older students may have been given a syllabus. Elementary students are generally told what will be on the test for a particular unit. You understood that most of the questions on the test centered on the most important things you were supposed to have learned in that time period.
Bible classes in church are different. Tests aren’t given. Students rarely know what the lesson is going to cover until the teacher begins teaching. If there is an attempt to group lessons into units, that information isn’t shared or is only provided on the most basic level. No wonder our Bible students often leave our classes more confused than anything. What were they supposed to actually learn from the lesson? Were there multiple things they were to have learned? What, if anything, was important to remember? Why is it important to remember this bit of information? Even more importantly, what, if anything, is supposed to be done with the information that was learned?
Unless we begin communicating our expectations more clearly, our Bible students are as likely to leave a particular lesson with the decision to forget everything they just heard (because they can’t determine where to “file” it in their brains) as they are to remember or use anything we wanted them to come away with from the experience.
Thankfully, there are some easy ways to help students frame Bible lessons in ways that will encourage them to remember and use what is being taught. Here are some of our favorites.
- Guiding questions. If you look at our Bible lessons, you will notice they include a guiding question. It’s an attempt to get students to focus on noticing the things in a particular lesson that answer the question. Asking the question before starting to teach, as well as writing it where it can be seen, can help students focus on the lesson.
- Developing success rubrics for units of Bible study. Since we don’t give tests, we need to encourage our Bible students to self evaluate their progress in learning and using what they learn in their life. When introducing a unit, give students a rubric they will look at each class to reflect on how well they are learning, remembering and using what is being taught. Try to focus on three levels of progress. The first level should focus on remembering the basics – can they give the surface details of what they have been taught. This could be the facts of a story, definitions of new words or other basic level information. The second level should ask questions encouraging them to think about how well they understand the principles and commands of the lesson. This is a bit deeper as they often must think about why God may have included a particular story in the Bible or the lessons He wants us to learn from it. The third level should ask questions focused on long term memory and actual use of the principles and commands in the lesson. Do they understand how to do what God wants them to do? Can they remember it in the moment when faced with a choice? Do they regularly use God’s commands and principles as a filter for their choices in life? Whether or not you have them share their self assessments with you and how will vary on the group of students you have. Regardless, it is a good habit to teach your students to use whenever they read the Bible.
- Sticky note reflection. At the end of every lesson, ask the students a question they are to answer on a sticky note and give you before they leave. The question should revolve around the one thing they learned and one thing they will do differently this week because of the lesson. You may choose to merely glance at the sticky notes and let them take them home as a reminder for the coming week.
- Learning objectives. Sometimes, it is the teacher who struggles with defining the point of the lesson. Learning objectives are each about one sentence long and describe something you want students to learn from the lesson. Each lesson should probably contain three to five learning objectives. Any more than that and your students will be overwhelmed. Since most Bible stories have multiple possible lessons in them, learning objectives will help you stay focused on your choice for the class as you teach. Our Bible lessons for children come with suggested learning objectives for over 200 Bible stories and the various activities for each one. Feel free to use ours, or write your own.
Making sure your Bible students understand your goals for each lesson makes it much more likely you will actually achieve those goals. It’s worth taking a little extra time and effort to include them in the process.