One of the goals of Bible classes for children or teens should be to move them towards independent Bible reading and study. It’s important that young people don’t become totally dependent upon their ministers and Bible class teachers to teach them the Bible. For one thing, there’s just too much information in the Bible for any church or ministry to cover adequately.
One of the problems with encouraging young people to read the Bible independently is that it’s hard to know who’s struggling and how we can help them. Because of that, some young people will struggle so much they stop reading the Bible independently for life. Anyone who grew up trying to read the old King James Version of the Bible can probably relate!
One way to help identify young people who are struggling is to teach them self monitoring. The reality is that struggling Bible readers may be unaware that they are struggling or why they are struggling. They may just think the Bible is boring or that they don’t like reading it. If asked why they aren’t reading the Bible at home, they may say the Bible is too hard, but be unable to give more specifics.
Self monitoring teaches them to be aware of their thoughts while they are reading the Bible. It teaches them to ask themselves certain questions about their reading that will help them more easily identify where their struggle is rooted. If you then gather this information from each student, it will allow you to give each person the strategies he or she needs to be successful.
- Did what I just read make sense? Sometimes young readers may substitute a word they know for the unfamiliar one in the passage. Or they may just skip over unfamiliar words in a passage. The result is their brain feels as if it has just read a heavily redacted document where only a few words were readable. If your students consistently respond that passages they read independently don’t make sense, they may need help with the vocabulary words and definitions that are somewhat unique to the Bible (at least compared to their daily language usage). They may also need help breaking down some of the big ideas contained in some scriptures. (Making sure they have an NIrV version of the Bible can also help. It’s on a third grade reading level, making it easier for even struggling readers to understand.)
- Can I picture the Bible story or restate the passage in my own words? An inability to visualize a Bible story could be a comprehension issue or it could be the cultural parts of the story. A child who has never seen an oil lamp or lived in a world without electricity, for example, may have trouble picturing the story of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. Comprehension issues can be addressed as in the answer above. Cultural confusion can be alleviated by taking the time to make students familiar with the cultures and every day life in Bible times.
- Did my brain “hurt” when I was reading it? Have you ever read really quickly that passage in Romans 7 where Paul starts talking about doing things he shouldn’t do and not doing things he should? That feeling of “What did I just read? I need to reread that more slowly.” is what a young person would call making their brain hurt or feel like it’s going to explode. It’s that feeling of trying to process too much new information too quickly. Teaching Bible students to recognize that feeling and immediately stop and reread what they just read more slowly can help. So can teaching them how to use study aids like Bible dictionaries and concordances.
Self monitoring won’t solve every problem that keeps young people from reading the Bible independently, but it will help you identify their comprehension issues and give them targeted support where they need it. For some Bible students, that will make all the difference in the world.