Bible Literacy in the Classroom— 8- to 12-year-olds

One of the greatest gifts a teacher can give students is to train them in how to study the Bible for themselves. By the time students have reached eight years old (third grade), they should be encouraged and expected to interact with more and more text during the lesson, including reading passages aloud. Their Bibles should be open more often than not. They should be able to quickly look up two or more passages of Scripture during a lesson and/or be able to examine larger portions of text. Doing this will require careful thought and preparation on the part of the teacher.

Teacher Tips

  • Be strategic in how many passages you assign the students to read aloud. If you have many texts to look at in a particular lesson, you may want to assign students to each look up a passage before the lesson begins, and then call on them to read their assigned passage during the lesson.
  • Use guided questions and explanations to help the children properly interpret the text
  • Have the children observe a text and note key words, phrases, patterns, and simple context, and then ask them to summarize the meaning of the text.

Here is an example: the parable of the unforgiving servant from Matthew 18:23-35. Because this is a parable, this story is best read in its entirety before asking any questions. Consider these options:

  • choose one or two students
  • assign 1 or 2 verses per child
  • you read it

Each option has some distinct advantages. Whenever possible, it is definitely preferable to have the students actually reading the text. However, for a long text such as this, there are also some disadvantages:

  •  Slow or quiet readers may cause the listeners to lose focus
  • Constantly changing readers may be distracting and lose flow of story
  • Too many difficult words to stumble over
  • Children may not be able to give the story the necessary/helpful tone

In this case, because of the above disadvantages it might be advisable for the teacher to read it. But there are ways that you can still encourage the children to follow along in their own Bibles. For example, in your lesson preparation, highlight several key words from the passage. Then explain to the children that, as you read the text to them, you are going to stop at several points, not saying the word that comes. They are to follow along in their own Bibles and, when you stop, they are to call out the next word. (This is another reason to have everyone using same Bible translation.)

Also, ahead of time, write out any unfamiliar words and their definitions on a whiteboard. An example would be to write out the following:

ten thousand talents = millions of dollars

a hundred denarii = a few dollars

After the text has been read, it is important to lead the children through a systematic series of questions in order for them to understand the structure and meaning. Also, whenever possible, ask questions in a way that requires them to really look at the text so that they really have to interact with it.

Examples of questions to ask from Matthew 18:23-35:

  • In this parable we have three main characters or people, who are they?
  • Look at verse 26. What does the word “imploring” mean?
  • According to beginning of verse 27, why did the king forgive the servant? What specific word does the Bible use to describe the king’s feeling toward this servant?
  • Why is verse 28 surprising? How would you compare the debt of the first servant to the debt of the second servant?
  • Who does verse 29 sound like?
  • Did the first servant respond like the king?  Why not?
  • What did the king do to the first servant when he found out what happened?
  • Look at verse 35. What is the warning in this verse? Who is the king in the story like, us or God?  Who are we to be like, the first or second servant? Are we more like the second servant sometimes? Is this pleasing to God?

As you can see, these questions are meant to take the students step-by-step through the passage. In a long passage, it is helpful to state specific verses you want the students to look at since it breaks up the text into smaller pieces that are easier to examine. Also, the questions then move beyond the story and are aimed at the heart—each individual heart. The text is not just giving information; it is challenging our own attitudes and actions.

You might also want to ask the students if they can think of other verses in Scripture that address the same theme. For example, ask the students: Can you think of other verses that talk about how we are to be forgiving? (e.g., in the Lord’s prayer, Ephesians 4:32) This challenges them to recall prior information learned and see how it relates to other texts, emphasizing a unity in the Bible’s message.

At this age, it is also important to teach the students about “context” where appropriate. For example, in this text, we could ask the question:

Why did Jesus tell this parable?

Look at the two verses that come before the story, verses 21 and 22.

Many people think that children of this age cannot handle serious Bible study. But our children can handle the “meatiness” of Scripture if we cut it up into bite-sized pieces and teach them how to chew it carefully.  What a wonderful feast to offer them!

(Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Written by Jill Nelson

Jill Nelson

Jill Nelson is a wife, mother, grandmother, teacher and author. She has taught Sunday School for over 20 years and writes God-centered curriculum for Children Desiring God.

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