Use this article with your teachers to help them get kids thinking about faith using these levels of critical thinking, as identified by Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Scott memorized “Love thy neighbor as thyself” in Sunday school. He can quote it perfectly now, but he still fights constantly with neighborhood kids.
You may have a Scott in your class-or someone like him. You wrack your brain wondering, “What can I do to ensure that my students live what they learn in Sunday school and church?”
Sadly, there’s no sure way to accomplish this, but there are ways to guide kids beyond simply reciting biblical principles to actually internalizing those principles. It’s a simple process, and Jesus used it throughout his earthly ministry. He asked questions to get people thinking.
The types of questions you ask your students can affect whether children apply biblical truths to their lives or not. Our goal as Christian educators is to ask questions that’ll require higher level or critical thinking skills in our students. We want our students to go beyond the obvious “fill-in-the-blank” answers. We want our students to think-to really think. How do we do this?
Many of us are programmed to ask questions that require only the lowest levels of thinking to answer. But if we want children to own their faith, we must help them develop strategies to think creatively and analyze complex problems.
Critical Thinking Skills
Many theorists define and identify critical thinking skills. Benjamin Bloom is perhaps the most well-known. Bloom’s Taxonomy identifies a hierarchy of thinking skills with each skill on the hierarchy being a prerequisite to the one listed after it. The levels of thinking as identified by Bloom are
- synthesis, and
Jesus was a master teacher who utilized each of these six levels of thinking during his ministry here on earth. The results of his dynamic teaching left followers who were willing to give their life for the gospel and have perpetuated it for 2,000 years! Now that’s life application at its best!
Let’s take a look at Jesus’ teaching methods, how they fit into Bloom’s Taxonomy, and suggestions for use in your ministry.
What it is: At the lowest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy of thinking skills is the capacity to recall facts. The ability to recall facts is based on one’s ability to memorize. “How many books are in the Bible?” “Name the 12 disciples,” “What did God create on the third day?” are knowledge questions with only one right answer. The recitation of memory verses is also an example of this thinking skill.
How Jesus used it: Jesus used recall many times when he was questioned by Pharisees and when he quoted Scriptures from the Old Testament. When a lawyer asked Jesus what the greatest law is, Jesus recalled Deuteronomy 6:5 as an answer-“You shall love the Lord your God…”
How you can use it: Use recall questions as a quick review to make sure kids understand the basic content. Then move on quickly to higher level thinking. If you use Scripture memory, make sure kids understand the verses and can apply them to their lives. There’s a place for knowledge questions in our teaching, but let’s not limit ourselves and our students by relying solely on this method.
What it is: This thinking skill requires the ability to paraphrase, summarize, and interpret. “Tell us in your own words what you think that verse means?” “Can you say that another way?” and “Please summarize what has happened so far” are examples of this thinking skill.
How Jesus used it: In Luke 7:40-42, Jesus told the story about two debtors who owed differing amounts of money to a man. But the man forgave both debts. Jesus asked, “Which of them therefore will love him more?”
To have asked, “How much did the two men owe?” would have been a knowledge question. But Jesus dug deeper to get his listeners to interpret the true meaning of this story.
How you can use it: Ask “Why?” or “What does this mean?” questions to get kids thinking. Comprehension questions are easy to integrate into your lesson and will tell you much more about the understanding level of your students. Avoid “only-one-right-answer” questions. Kids may give off-the-wall answers, and that’s okay. If they do, ask follow-up questions such as “What do you mean by that?” or “Say more about that.”
What it is: The application level is the ability to put knowledge to use in new or novel situations. In other words, it’s the ability to “practice what you preach!” As children think about how biblical principles actually apply to everyday life, they position themselves at the great precipice of change. They’ll either leap to do the thing they’ve heard or they’ll fall into the great gulf of failed applications-with no change and no growth.
How Jesus used it: Jesus was always seeking a response from people. In John 8:46, he asked his followers, “If I speak the truth, why do you not believe me?” It was never enough for Jesus to have people hear him but not act on what they’d heard.
How you can use it: Help children choose appropriate actions based on biblical principles. Use application questions such as “How can you use the story of the good Samaritan to be a good neighbor at school this week?” “What can you do to avoid gossip?” or “In what ways can we honor the Sabbath?” Identify and praise behaviors in class that are on the application level. For example, say, “Thank you, Paula, for sharing your Bible with the new student today.”
What it is: Analysis involves breaking down material into its component parts. It’s being able to make the organization of ideas clear. Outlining, diagraming, recognizing, distinguishing, relating, and inferring are examples of analytical skills.
How Jesus used it: A perfect example of Jesus using analysis is in the story found in Matthew 13 of the farmer who went out to plant seed. Some fell by the road, some on rocky ground, some among thorny weeds, and some on good ground. Later in that same chapter, Jesus explained every component of the story.
How you can use it: Analysis is a higher critical thinking skill used in problem-solving. Get kids thinking by having them solve problems together. For example, have groups design a ministry to meet the needs of younger children in the church. Or have them read a case study and decide what the main character should do to solve a problem.
What it is: Synthesis is the ability to generalize, relate, compare, and contrast objects and ideas. It is also the ability to put together elements to form a new, creative product or viewpoint.
How Jesus used it: In Luke 13:18, Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like, and to what shall I compare it?” Jesus used this level of thinking in his teaching more than all the others. He was constantly urging his followers to synthesize. Salt, light, birds, lilies, wedding feasts, wise men, and foolish men are just a few of the items Jesus used to compare or contrast the life of a Christian.
How you can use it: Having to translate an active-learning experience with everyday objects into real-life learning takes synthesis. “How is wearing the rose-colored glasses like telling someone about Jesus Christ?” or “How was building the card tower like growing in faith?” are just a few examples of questions that encourage the thinking skill of synthesis.
What it is: According to Bloom’s Taxonomy, the ability to judge the value of ideas, procedures, and methods using appropriate criteria is the highest critical thinking skill.
How Jesus used it: A perfect example of the use of this questioning technique is found in Matthew 16 when Jesus asked Peter, “Given all you know about me, who do you think I am?”
How you can use it: Panels and debates require evaluation. You can incorporate this highly effective thinking skill by asking, “Given all you know about the theories of evolution and creation, which do you believe and why?” and “If you follow someone who leads you away from God, who’s more responsible-you or the false leader? Explain.”
Sarah Smith is an experienced educator and Sunday school teacher.