How to write your own lesson materials using just your Bible, your knowledge of the children and your creativity.
Although commercially produced Sunday School materials are out of reach for many Sunday School teachers, that is no reason to despair. A Sunday School teacher who has a good grasp of the Bible, who leads a life that is a good testimony, and who is enthusiastic about interacting with children, can do lots without any fancy materials. All it takes is a little planning so that the children are able to understand, appreciate and apply the Bible stories, and a bit of creativity.
A hard reality of Sunday School is that it is only one day a week. For a child, a week is a very long time between lessons. Pre-school children will be unable at all to connect lessons a week apart. Children in school are able to retain lessons even with an intervening week, but their retention is increased if the previous lessons are reviewed and if the lessons have a connection to each other. A series of lessons that share a theme or are part of a continuing narrative is called a ‘unit’ and teaching in units is a good way to make your teaching more effective. A unit can be as many weeks as you like, but should be no fewer than three and, depending on the age of the children, more than 6-8 weeks would be too long.
It is important to keep the overall theme of the Bible in mind when deciding on Sunday School lessons. The sweeping story of God creating humans to have a special relationship to Himself, the Fall and the breaking of that relationship, then the plan of redemption being worked out through the people of Israel, the Messiah, and now the church with the anticipation of Christ’s return to claim back what is His is the story the children need to grasp in order to make that life-changing decision for salvation. This ‘big picture’ should never be far from the telling of every Sunday School story.
Here are some ideas for unit topics or themes:
How to Pray
Listening to God
Why God sent Jesus
Stories Jesus Told
How the Church Started
God Gives Courage
Once a topic is chosen, you need to find stories in the Bible that communicate some aspect of that topic.
Other times a teacher can take a Bible character, like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, David, Elijah, Elisha, Daniel, Mary, Peter, or Paul, and do several lessons with stories from these people’s lives. But when a lesson is done by taking an episode from a Bible character’s life, ask what lesson that person learned that drew him or her closer to God.
A Sunday School lesson should draw out one ‘central truth’ or main lesson that can be applied to our lives that week. This is the aim of the lesson. The aim might be something the teacher wants the child to know, or to feel, or to do. Whatever aim is chosen, the teacher should keep it in mind when telling the story and helping the children apply it.
A Sunday School lesson should have three parts to it:
The approach: this is something that gets the child interested to hear the Bible story. It can be a review of last week’s lesson if you are doing a continuing story, or a parallel story that sets the topic to be learned in a today’s context. Whatever is done, the approach should prepare the child to apply the lesson learned from the Bible story.
The Bible story: this should be told as dramatically as possible. Emotions can be shown with face and voice, descriptions should give the children a picture in their minds, and the drama of a story should build up to a climax to keep the children’s attention. Use questioning carefully, as questions can either keep the children engaged in the story or kill the excitement.
The application: this really is the most important part of the lesson. The children need to make a connection between the Bible story and their lives. The older the children, the more they can be encouraged to think of applications for themselves. But make sure that an application is made, otherwise you have only entertained them with a story.
A lesson may also include:
A Bible memory verse – these are good to help the children learn what God says in the Bible, but make them fun to learn. Do a game or a contest to learn the verse. When you pick a verse to memorize, think of the following qualifications: Is it a complete thought out of its context? Is it a verse worth memorizing – does it remind the children of a principle to be remembered? Is it the right length for the age of the children – not too long for little ones and not too short for older children?
Handwork – making something, colouring a picture, doing a puzzle or writing down something from the story. Take-home papers or handwork are useful in helping the children remember the lesson through the week, especially if parents are asked to look at the work and review it with their children.
Some teachers think they must have fancy, store bought materials to make the lessons interesting to the children. Not so! Visual aids are useful to children, to help them picture the story in their heads or to keep their attention. But they do not have to be fancy. Drawing stick figures on a chalkboard or with a stick in the dirt can do the trick. Dressing in a simple costume (a shawl can be very versatile) and play-acting the parts can keep their attention. Using an object for a prop or giving an object lesson (where a property of the object relates symbolically to something you want to teach) can be exciting. A teacher is limited only by his or her imagination! Open your eyes to all the possibilities around you!
If possible, it’s best to divide the children into age groups so that the lesson can be more relevant to their needs. Small children (pre-school) really like stories about God’s love and protection because those stories help them feel secure. Primary school children like super-hero stories so they can imagine themselves doing great things. Secondary school students want role models – good people who followed God but still faced struggles, just like they do. These stories help them face the hard choices they have to make in the tough world of adolescents.
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