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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.)

Biblical Literacy—What Will our Students Need?

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Imagine doing the following exercise with a classroom of 16-year-old students:

Summarize and explain the main meaning of Romans 3:21-26. How does this text apply to your own life?

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (ESV)

How do you think those 16-year-olds would do? What type of skills would be necessary in order to rightly read, interpret, and apply the text? Consider the following:

  • There are big words that must be understood—righteousness, justified, redemption, propitiation, forbearance, to name a few.
  • There are Old Testament concepts that must be identified and connected to their New Testament fulfillment.
  • There are important doctrines about God, man, Jesus, and redemption.
  • Essential truths about the Gospel and salvation are being proclaimed.
  • “…to be received by faith” calls for a specific personal response.

This might be a difficult exercise for a 16-year-old, but as parents and teachers we should long for our students to be able to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15) by the time they leave our homes and classrooms. This will not happen by accident, but by careful and intentional instruction of the whole counsel of God.

To that end, it’s important that we give our students all of the following :

a chronological, story-based presentation of both Old and New Testament that highlights the character of God, and the major people, themes, and events

  • biblical theology that explores the “meta-narrative”—the historical/redemptive storyline of the Bible
  • systematic theology that teaches the essential doctrines of the Christian faith
  • an explicit presentation of the Gospel
  • the Bible’s moral and ethical instruction
  • inductive Bible study skills

Granted, biblical literacy cannot be measured merely by a student’s ability or inability to rightly read and interpret Romans 3:21-26. However, it is important to remember that genuine faith comes about and matures through a right knowledge and understanding of the Word (Romans 10:17, 2 Timothy 3:14-17). So let’s be committed to pressing our students forward, encouraging them to…

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV)

(Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Making the Most of Your Sunday School “Transition Time”

Children Desiring God Blog  //  Making the Most of Your Sunday School "Transition Time"

“Transition Time” is the time period at the beginning of class when children begin arriving. It is often characterized by children arriving at varying times. Depending on your classroom structure and routine, this time may be only 10 to 15 minutes in length. What happens during this time is important as it often sets the tone for the rest of the class session. Therefore, we would like to encourage you to carefully plan and prepare meaningful, God-centered, faith-nurturing activities. Here are a few suggestions:

Small Group Activities

At the beginning of the year, divide the class into groups of 5-8 children, each assigned to an adult small group leader throughout the course of the study. As soon as the children enter the classroom each week, they immediately go to their assigned group. This option maximizes the time that the children spend with a faith-nurturing adult who comes to know the children in his group on an increasingly familiar basis. The children feel welcomed and have a place to belong, and the setting is ideal for doing the following kinds of activities: (more…)

Reading the Bible through the Right Lens

Children Desiring God Blog //  Reading the Bible through the Right Lens

If you have attended the preconference at one of our Children Desiring God national conferences, you probably remember the teaching emphasis that “the Bible is first and foremost a book about God.” This emphasis can revolutionize the way you teach the Bible to children. But, has it also revolutionized your time with God in the Word?

In her book, Women of the Word, Jen Wilkin talks about “getting things backward” in her reading of the Bible. She states, (more…)

“More Sword Drills, Please!”

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Many years ago, I taught 2nd-grade Sunday school. At that time, we were just beginning to implement a new strategy to more intentionally present our children with a God-centered, Bible-saturated focus in our Sunday school classes. In order to maximize our classroom time toward that goal, we began moving away from the regular and time-consuming crafts to which the children had grown accustomed. However, not all teachers were convinced that this was the best thing to do. Won’t the children be upset? Won’t they grow “bored” if we don’t have some fun, hands-on crafts each Sunday? (more…)

Mining for Treasure in the Bible

Here is a new video from John Piper giving a sneak-peek at his new endeavor, “Look at the Book,” which will be coming out in September. From the description, “Look at the Book” seems like a great resource for parents, teachers, and older students so that we might read and understand the Bible in a way that will cause us to better treasure God’s Word and God Himself.

Remember, we needn’t wait until our children are older to teach them to “look at the book.” We can begin even before they are readers and continue to slowly and intentionally, step-by-step, lead them through the process of “mining” the Scriptures. Want to learn more? Check out this free handout.

Don’t Miss: “Look at the Book”

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In a recent Desiring God blog post titled, “The Legacy I Want to Leave,” John Piper shares the following sentiments:

When I think of the coming generations, I am not content to only leave them a deposit of books and sermons that celebrate the glories of God and the wonders of Christian Hedonism. A great teacher once told me to ignore the conclusions of commentaries, and only look for their arguments. I have tried to give good arguments. (more…)

Will Our Children “Drip” Bible?

I have seen this video clip by Pastor David Michael numerous times, but it still stirs my heart every time.

Bible-saturated children from Children Desiring God on Vimeo.

“We Can’t Teach That Because…”

In two previous posts, we heard Sally Michael explain why and how we should teach difficult doctrines to children. In this video, she raises and then answers the following five objections:

We can’t teach difficult doctrines to children because….

1. These truths are inappropriate to teach to children (e.g., dark; violent; evil).
2. These truths are too hard for children to understand.
3. These truths are too hard for me to understand.  How can I hope to teach them to children?
4. The kids are going to be bored with all of this theology.
5. These topics are too controversial.  I will get in trouble if I teach these things.

Creative Classroom Idea: Bible Memory Puzzles

Puzzle Piece Game
Here is a super simple activity that combines children’s love of completing puzzles with encouragement to memorize Bible verses. Target Age: 1st-3rd Grade

Supplies:

  • Cardstock or heavy-weight paper (e.g., 8.5″ x 11″)
  • Scissors
  • Plastic storage bags or envelopes
  • Computer and printer

Preparation:

  • Using a computer, type and format a Bible memory verse you are encouraging the children to learn. To add interest, include clipart or other design elements. Print the page on the cardstock.
  • Cut the page into 10-20 puzzle pieces, depending on the age of the children. (Search “puzzle template” for downloadable options.)
  • Make duplicate puzzles, depending on the number of children or based on how the puzzles will be used (e.g., one puzzle per group).
  • Place the puzzle pieces in the plastic storage bag or envelope. Label the bag or envelope with the verse reference.

(more…)

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