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An elementary-aged girl participating in interactive learning.
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Interactive Learning: The Latest Classroom Transformer

Discover the power of interactive learning for your Sunday school and children’s ministry. Plus, a teacher training meeting!

Interactive learning, also known as cooperative learning, is the latest thing in public school educational methodology. In interactive learning, kids learn together in groups. Unlike traditional “group activities,” which can be dominated by outgoing students, interactive learning requires each student to contribute to the group’s success. Students in interactive learning groups understand that they’ll “sink or swim” together.

“I really like the idea of letting kids do group work,” Ruth said, “but every time I try it, they get off task.” Ruth isn’t alone in her experience. She’s heard about the benefits of interactive learning and wants to try it in her classroom. So she lets the kids interact, and before she knows it, the kids are interacting about everything but the lesson! How can we train teachers to get interactive learning to work for them instead of against them?

Why Interactive Learning Works

Interactive learning offers kids the following benefits:

Social skills

In interactive learning classrooms, kids develop positive social skills as they depend on one another to complete a task. Interactive learning also provides an excellent model of life in the body of Christ. Kids learn firsthand that each person in the church performs a different but equally important function.

Increased learning

Kids learn more by pooling their knowledge. They’re motivated to learn by the joy of discovery rather than the prodding of a teacher. And they remember more of what they’ve learned because they’ve discovered answers for themselves.

Positive peer relationships

As children work together, they get to know their classmates and often form lasting friendships. The formation of positive Christian friendships equips kids to help each other live out their Christian faith.

How Interactive Learning Works

Establishing and maintaining interactive classrooms isn’t easy, but the results are well worth the effort. The following guidelines will help you train teachers to use interactive learning in their classrooms.

Have a heart.

Commit to helping teachers establish interactive classrooms. Think about the kids in your ministry and how the benefits of interactive learning will affect each child. Pray that God will guide teachers and students as they journey together toward authentic learning.

Set up classrooms.

Have teachers move the furniture in their rooms to allow kids to interact. Kids in each group need to be close enough to see and talk to each other without raising their voices. Groups need to be situated far enough apart so they don’t distract each other.

Establish guidelines.

For successful interactive learning, help teachers form a plan to deal with situations that may get out of control. Have teachers explain to children that they’ll be trying a different way of learning. Tell kids that this new way of learning might be a little noisier, and ask them to think of rules that’ll keep them from disturbing other classes.

Choose an attention-getting signal.

An attention-getting signal can be a simple noisemaker, a rhythmic clap, or a raised hand. Explain that when kids hear the signal, they should stop what they’re doing, give the response, and listen quietly for the next instructions. Kids can respond by raising their hands, clapping, or giving you a “thumbs up” sign.

Form base groups.

Groups can vary in size from two to four. Have teachers consider children’s wishes in group formation but definitely have the final say. Put male and female, active and passive, and reading and nonreading students together. Visitors can jump into an existing group with friendly regulars who know the routine.

Use interactive learning techniques.

Simply assigning kids to groups doesn’t guarantee that they’ll cooperate and work together. Structure group interaction for optimal learning experiences. See the “Interactive Learning Structures” box for ideas.

Reward positive groups.

Tell teachers not to give all their attention to a rowdy group. Rather, focus on the group that seems to exhibit the greatest degree of cooperative interaction. Praise that group’s success. Soon other groups will follow their example.

Encourage problem-solving.

Have teachers refrain from jumping in to save the day if there’s a problem. Have kids consult with each other, then with another group, before teachers offer help. Cheryl Reames, a certified elementary teacher, suggests having kids use problem-solving steps such as “listen to everyone’s side,” “don’t interrupt while someone is explaining,” and “try to find a solution that’ll make everyone happy.” If you’re constantly intervening, evaluate the situation with kids. Ask why they think things aren’t working. Often, kids will say, “We don’t understand what we’re supposed to do.” Clarify any questions kids have, and encourage them to move on.

Evaluate students’ progress.

Walk around and observe groups. Jane Hardin, an elementary ministries coordinator in Colorado, says, “When kids work in groups, teachers can interact with more students-especially if their classes are large.” At the end of each session, have groups identify two or more things they did well and one thing they’d like to do better next time.

Interactive Learning Structures

Start small and help kids become comfortable with this new style of learning. Use the following techniques:


Have partners work together to solve a problem or discuss an issue or question. Nancy Paulson, a preschool teacher from Oregon, suggests using a pair-share to teach 4-year-olds about sharing. Give each pair a toy and say, “Show what you’d do if you didn’t want to share.” Then say, “Now show what you’d do if you wanted to share.”

Complementary role assignments

Assign each child in a group a specific role. Roles could include

  • Timekeeper-makes sure the task is completed in the allotted time,
  • Recorder-writes the group’s ideas,
  • Reporter-reads the group’s ideas to the class,
  • Encourager-makes sure everyone participates, and
  • Checker-makes sure everyone understands and agrees with any answers the group comes up with.


Have kids in each group of four number off from one to four. Then have all the 1’s go to one corner, all the 2’s go to another corner, and so on. Have numbered groups in each corner learn a piece of the whole lesson, such as a different Ten Commandment. After a certain amount of time, have group members return to their original groups and teach the others what they’ve learned in their corners.

Teacher Training Meeting: Interactive Learning

1. Getting Started

Read aloud Ecclesiastes 4:9-10. Introduce an attention-getting signal and explain to teachers that they’ll experience interactive learning methods.

2. Head-to-Head

Have teachers pair up with a partner who teaches within the same age range. Have pairs brainstorm “out-of-control” situations they might experience in a classroom. After several minutes, signal for attention. Ask pairs to share their situations with the group. List the situations on newsprint. Tell teachers they’ve just completed a pair-share activity.

3. Who Am I?

Have pairs from each age range join each other to form groups of four. Have each group appoint a recorder, a reporter, an encourager, and a checker. Then have groups list relevant issues kids in their age range could brainstorm with a partner, such as their fears or qualities of a good friend. After five minutes, signal for attention. Explain that they’ve just completed a complementary-role-assignment activity. Ask:

  • What did you like or dislike about each role?
  • What other roles do you think kids might enjoy?

4. Break Out

Have the teachers in each group number off from one to four. Then have all the 1’s go to one corner, all the 2’s go to another corner, and so on. Tear the “out-of-control” situations newsprint in fourths and give one piece to each corner group. Have corner groups discuss solutions to their situations. After 15 minutes, signal for teachers to return to their original groups and share what they discussed. After another 15 minutes, signal for attention. Explain to the teachers that they’ve just completed a jigsaw activity. Ask:

  • What kind of information could you have kids learn in a jigsaw activity?

5. Closing

Give each teacher a photocopy of this article. Then read aloud 1 Corinthians 12:14-20. Close in prayer, asking God to help teachers use these techniques to help children interact with one another in the body of Christ.

Looking for more teaching tips? Check out these ideas!

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