gotcha! teaching


Teach wide-eyed, jaw-dropping lessons
every time…and stop disruptions before they

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That Sunday morning, I’d just had it! My Kids Church ministry had
attracted three out-of-control fifth-grade boys. They’d snickered,
joked, and disrupted their way through worship. When it was time
for them to go to class, I called them aside. I issued a simple
ultimatum: Correct your behavior or suffer the consequences.

And like most rambunctious boys, they chose to test my authority.
I’m not proud to say that I let them get the best of me. Feeling
overly tired and having no tolerance left, I sternly told them to
“leave!” I gave them no grace and directly escorted them to the

The next day I had a heart attack. I was given plenty of time to
review my actions as I lay in a hospital bed.

I know the value of discipline. I know discipline must be fair,
consistent, and appropriate. I’ve used time-out chairs, separated
friends, and taken away privileges. I’ve given the “look,”
delivered the lecture, and sent students to their parents. But the
effectiveness of that kind of discipline has been short-lived, and
it cramps my teaching style.

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There are other means of achieving desired behaviors that are more
productive. If you’re at your wit’s end trying to figure out how to
get and keep kids’ attention, try these new ideas.

Spot potential problems before they escalate into
The child who always seeks attention by
speaking out in class would be great as the main character in your
Bible story. Stand behind him and move his arms and hands to
imitate the actions of a Bible character reaping grain or making
soup. Or bring your class wanderer up front with you. Move him from
place to place like a Bible character traveling from town to town.
Use him as you would a puppet for a short period of time. I once
put a class comedian in a 38-gallon garbage can (lid on) to
demonstrate how it might’ve felt for Joseph to be thrown into a
well by his brothers. His funny antics disappeared in the can, yet
it was appropriate for everyone to laugh for a moment.

I guarantee you’ll have your distracted student’s full attention.
But beware! Not all students will respond positively to being the
center of attention. Nor is it good for the same student to receive
all the attention all the time. Know your students well.

Be on the move. Today’s children are used to
having their eyes flooded with moving objects. A teacher glued to a
chair inadvertently gives permission for every student’s mind to
wander. Circle your students. Walk beside them. Walk behind them,
all the time presenting the lesson without interrupting your flow
of thought.

Use common items as props. As you wander, pick up
a child’s coat and put it on, illustrating Joseph’s coat of many
colors, or simulating how cold it must’ve been to watch sheep in
the night, or demonstrating an ill-fitting suit of spiritual armor.
Choose someone’s hat to represent a crown. Or pick someone’s scarf
to represent a blanket shielding a poor widow from the elements.
Take away someone’s glasses to see how the blind might respond. Or
put yours on someone else to get that same response.

While telling the story of the 99 sheep, I picked up a young boy
to demonstrate how a shepherd might carry an injured lamb across
his shoulders until that lamb was completely healed. The class was
wide-eyed as I carried their classmate around the room for the
remainder of the lesson. I finally put him down as I told them how
that lamb wouldn’t wander far from the shepherd ever again. They
all wanted me to do the story again and carry each of them. I
quickly declined, but I’ll have no problem choosing a willing
volunteer in the future.

Teach to your discipline problem. If you prepare
your lesson to meet your most difficult student’s needs, the
chances are great that you’ll meet and far exceed the entire class’
needs. That may mean supervising a lot of life-application-oriented
art projects. It may mean creating lesson demonstrations by using
sports. It may mean cooking unleavened bread in the church kitchen.
Whatever grabs that child’s attention will usually grab the others’
attention. If your student knows the Bible story and wants to tell
it, let her. Just don’t lose control. Steer her through the story
quickly, positively adding details she doesn’t remember.
Acknowledge her accomplishment when she’s finished.

Replace distractions with ordinary stuff. What
boys don’t want to talk about swords and spears and shields and
slingshots and rocks? What girls don’t want to talk about queens
and jewels and babies and slingshots and rocks? Brooms make great
swords and spears. Garbage can lids are good shields. Old prom
dresses are terrific royal robes. Small stones from a rock tumbler
are precious in little eyes. Shooting paper wads from an old wrist
rocket shows how difficult it can be to hit a moving target with a

None of these things should become the focus of a lesson, but they
should be brought out at the appropriate time to focus student
attention back to the point. Each object should be used just long
enough to accomplish its purpose, then put away. It may be used
more than once in a lesson or in conjunction with other props as

As I told the story of Abraham offering his son, I loaded firewood
into my son Isaac’s arms. Several times during the story I checked
to make sure we had everything we needed. Isaac obediently followed
me as we trudged along. At the end of the journey, Isaac asked me,
“Where is the sacrifice?” I recounted our supplies: wood, fire,
water, food, knife. “God will supply the sacrifice,” I said.
Abraham’s deep trust in God became crystal clear to the observers
as I prepared to lay my son on the pretend altar.


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Children's Ministry Magazine

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