Looking back at your last lesson, what did your kids
learn? It's not such a simple question. Here are ways to make your
lesson learner-based and maximize each child's
Here's a simple question: Looking back at your last lesson, what
did your kids learn? Don't answer that too quickly. It can be easy
to respond by simply reciting the Bible point or explaining the
topic. Perhaps your children memorized a wonderful Bible passage or
created a beautiful craft. Your class could've seemed to follow the
lesson plan pretty well, even answering questions the right way.
But what did they really learn? How do you know? Not that simple of
a question, is it?
Just as kids have different
personalities, physical features, and personal backgrounds, they
also learn differently. And the way each child learns is often
different from the way we like to teach. But making our lessons
learner-based is more than just getting kids out of their seats and
moving around. It's about reaching every child every time. In the
next few pages, we're going to give you secrets to making a lesson
learner-based-by maximizing each child's potential.
We recently took our cameras into the children's ministries of
local churches to see how churches were effectively helping
children grow spiritually. What we captured on camera was
compelling. While churches varied in their programming and
structure, they all had one thing in common: a need for real
learning. This is what we saw.
Talk, Talk, Talk
Kids sit quietly; some lay their heads on their desks. Others
watch the teacher sitting at the front of the room. The teacher
reads a story from a book. As the story comes to a close, children
wiggle in their seats, but they're still quiet. When the Bible
story is finished, the teacher then explains what it means. He
tells kids the background of the Bible story and how it should
apply to their lives. Finally, he closes by saying, "The point we
should get out of this is that Jesus helps us."
Passive children, quiet room, no one misbehaving: Sounds like a
teacher's dream, right? But what did the kids learn? Studies show
that very few people can learn by merely listening, but teachers
love to talk.
Why? Perhaps because we think we have all the answers. But when
we teachers do all the talking, we shortchange kids from genuinely
exploring and learning for themselves. The children in this
classroom weren't given the opportunity to learn from exploration.
They were only told what they were supposed to take away.
Unfortunately so many of us teach this way, and our talking gets in
the way of kids' learning.
- Let kids talk. Ask a question every now and then that
encourages kids to explore their thoughts and feelings and connect
the story or lesson to their lives.
- Give kids a chance to tell the story-in their way. Give kids
Bibles to look up the passage. Then have them create a piece of
art, a story, or a skit that applies the Scripture to their
- Dialogue with kids to gauge their learning. Ask kids to
summarize what they just heard, or have them tell a partner two
things they took from the Scripture.
"Let's learn this week's Bible verse now," the teacher says as
she opens her Bible. "It's found in Romans 12:10: 'Be devoted to
one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.'
Romans 12:10." The kids then reply in unison, " 'Be devoted to one
another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.'
Romans 12:10." After repeating it several more times, the teacher
asks for volunteers who feel like they know the verse well enough
to perform it for the entire class, which a couple do very nicely,
not missing a word.
Another teacher closes in prayer: "Repeat after me. Dear Jesus,"
pause, "thank you for your love and friendship." Pause. "We know
you came to Earth to love us and die for us," pause, "so that we
can be with you forever." Pause. "Help us show your love to others
so they can know you too." Pause. "We want to live the way you want
us to." Pause. "Amen."
In both cases, the children follow along very well. But do they
understand what they just said? Memorizing Scripture is very
important. Is repeating after a leader the best way to learn? Were
children able to apply the Scripture's wonderful truth to their
lives? Probably not, because there was no effort to teach for
understanding. Children also need to learn how to pray and to have
faith in God through prayer, but repeating after a teacher only
helps a child learn how to repeat, not how to pray.
- Focus on meaning. Help kids discover the meaning of the passage
they're memorizing. Lead them in an active learning experience that
helps them discover the Scripture's truth. For great examples of
activities, go to Web Extras at www.cmmag.com.
- Make the activity learner-directed. Let kids find the passage
and create their own way of memorizing. Some kids may be able to
memorize by repeating. Others may need to write it a couple times
or put the words to music.
- Make prayer personal. Give children opportunities to pray from
their heart, having their own conversations with God. Try starting
the prayer, then allow kids to add their sentences throughout.
Only One Way
Children learn about Paul and Silas. The leader helps children
find the story in their Bibles. Then she has kids take turns
reading the verses. Following the story, she asks a list of
- Who were the two men in the story?
- Where were they?
- Did they get thrown in jail for telling about Jesus?
- How did they get out of jail?
- Is it hard for you to tell people about Jesus sometimes?
- Who can tell us about a time you told someone about Jesus?
- The answers: Paul and Silas; in jail; yes; they prayed; yes; I
As teachers, we like to know the answer, so we tend to ask
questions with only one possible answer. Or we may discount any
other possible answers to make sure kids take the path we want them
to take. In the example above, all except the last question are
closed-ended questions, following a set path with set answers.
These kinds of questions don't really help kids learn or gain
understanding-they simply help kids remember the story. It's
natural, though, for us to follow a path like that, because other
paths may take us into uncharted territory.
- Start by getting kids involved in the telling of the story.
Then you don't even need to see if they remember it. The children's
ability to "teach" the story helps you know they have the facts of
the story down.
- Use open-ended questions. Use questions that'll help kids apply
the biblical truths to their lives, such as, "Why is it hard to
talk about Jesus sometimes? How can Jesus help you tell about him?"
Kids may give a vast array of answers, but the questions will give
them a deeper understanding. If an answer is way off-track, you can
easily redirect by having kids tell you more about their thought
- Allow children to ask questions. This will lead to a different
valuable lesson for each child. When you ask children to ask
questions, they may say, "I don't know what to ask." If so,
encourage their thinking process by asking questions such as, "What
would you ask if you were me? If you just guessed at a question,
what would it be?"
Out of Their World
The teacher holds up a white paper heart to begin his object
lesson. He says, "This is what my heart looks like in the morning.
I wake up and start a brand new day with a clean heart. As I go
through my day, I make choices that can change my heart. The
choices might keep my heart clean or they might dirty my heart." As
the kids watch, he tells them about one of his typical days. As he
does this, he makes marks on his heart. He gives an example of
someone cutting him off on his way to work, how he reacted to
different situations at work, and so on. When he's finished, his
heart is all smudged. Then he explains that Jesus makes our hearts
clean again if we ask, and he shows the kids a clean heart.
This is a great object lesson! It shows how our choices, good or
bad, change our heart in different ways. But the kids get lost when
the teacher gives examples from his adult life. Most kids don't
quite understand the concept of being cut off while driving. And
they may not be able to identify with the situations the teacher
had at work. For learning to be maximized, kids need to identify
with the examples.
- Know your kids and their lives. Find out what their days are
like as you provide examples that bring the Scriptures to
- Think like a child. Give examples of things they'd recognize by
talking about an experience when you were their age. Help them
connect to you.
- Pull from kids' experiences. Ask kids to provide the examples
as you teach your object lesson.
Missing the Moment
As the 4-year-olds in one room work on a craft, a little girl talks
to the leader sitting next to her about something going on in her
life: "I don't ever get to see my daddy." As she says this, she
reaches for someone to listen to her. The leader responds, "When my
parents got divorced, I didn't get to see my dad much, either." End
This is a prime example of a teachable moment. A young child
brought a concern to her trusted leader, but the leader missed the
opportunity to talk to her about her feelings and give her a word
of encouragement-or just an understanding ear. God gives us little
moments in time to connect with children, to help others grow, and
to reach out. Teachable moments present themselves to us in so many
ways when we teach children; we just have to listen and look.
- Ask for more. When children open up a teachable moment, ask
questions to draw them out: What happened? How does that make you
feel? How can I pray for you?
- Listen. Really listen. The girl in our example just needed a
friend-who could've changed her life.
- Pray! Don't stop at that last question. Actually spend time,
just you and the child and God, talking about what's on the child's
Learning Styles vs. Teaching Styles
In a second- and third-grade setting, the leaders choose
different children to read portions of the Bible story. Children
take turns, and everyone eventually has a turn to read. Then the
leaders hand out a worksheet for kids to complete. When kids finish
the word scramble on the worksheet, they turn it over to answer
questions and fill in blanks about the story. They get most of
their answers right. In closing, the teacher says a prayer.
As teachers, we get comfortable doing certain activities, either
because we've done them so many times or they're what we're good
at. We tend to lead lessons the same way each time, and it's the
way we teach best, rather than the way children learn best. This is
an easy mistake to make. This lesson was much too focused on the
learning style of reading-to the exclusion of other learning
styles. It can take time to build a lesson for different learning
styles or different groups of children, and we may not feel like we
have the expertise to do it well. So here are a few ideas to get
- Make connections. Form groups where kids learn the Bible story
and connect it to their lives in different ways. One group may be
the creative arts group, another may re-create the story in drama,
while another may actually read the story and write something about
it. For more on creative ways to teach for each child's style, go
to Web Extras at www.cmmag.com.
- Give kids choices. Let them choose how they'll learn each week.
Then let them choose how they'll apply that learning to their
lives. You can give them three or four options to choose from, but
make the ultimate decision theirs.
- Create a learning profile for each child. Keep notes of ways
children learn, interesting characteristics about each child, and
things you do that work or don't work.
If your lesson is broken, you're missing reaching every child in
your classroom. Use these fixer-uppers to fix your lesson so you'll
reach every child, every time. cm
Scott Kinner is associate editor of Group Publishing's KidsOwn Worship™ and
Bible Curriculum in Loveland, Colorado.