When your lesson is broken…how to fix it every
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
• 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?”