Curriculum Challenges 5:

Games Galore!

Games can be wonderful teaching tools if they add something to the lesson that is being taught. However, sometimes circumstances make the games in curriculum impossible to use. I encountered a few challenges with games in curriculum I used, and perhaps sharing these experiences will help others.

One challenge can be the size of the classroom. Some games, especially those with a lot of activity, may not work for churches with small classrooms and no play area. At times, if the weather permits, this type of game can be taken outside where there’s plenty of room for running around.

 Secondly, a challenge may come about when there is an unworkable number of students in the class. One example of this came about when I taught a class of primary-age students (Grades 1-3). The curriculum we were using included a game that I thought the students would enjoy and it went well with the lesson.

The curriculum included a small game board and a few pieces for students to move along the board. The challenge became apparent when I tried to gather ten youngsters around the table where I setup the game. There was not enough room for the students to gather around and be able to see the game board. Nor were there enough game pieces for each student to participate. Soon the students lost interest and became restless.

In an attempt to solve the problem, I pinned the game board to a bulletin board in front of the classroom. This didn’t work because the markings on the game board were too small to see from that distance. Consequently, we gave up the game and did another activity.

On another day, with a smaller class, we had a game that wouldn’t work because there were not enough students in the class. Throughout my years of teaching Bible, I’ve encountered the following challenges with games that were included in curriculum I used:

  1. Companies don’t include enough game pieces or cards to make the game work for the class.
  2. The game board and/or writing on the board was too small for the students to read when they gathered around the table where the game was set up. Also, the students kept crowding in front of one another and creating arguments so the game had to be stopped.
  3. The game took so much time that it consumed a large part of class time, and we could not finish it.
  4. The game moved along too slowly and the students got bored with it.
  5. The game provided did not relate to the lesson or unit theme and didn’t add anything to the lesson.
  6. The game included a lot of movement and we only had a small classroom space.
  7. The game did not work for a class that had students of various ages and sizes.

I understand curriculum designers and writers can’t possibly foresee every challenge that might come up in classrooms using their materials. They can only gain insight by hearing responses from teachers and workers who have used Bible curriculum. Therefore, I offer up the above tips and tidbits for consideration. Only with God’s help and by working together, can we improve teaching materials.

I want to encourage curriculum designers to keep the games coming because students enjoy and learn from them.

Limited Coverage:

Some curriculum companies plan for only a small repetitive cycle of Bible lessons—say one or two years worth—in their curriculum packages. After completing this cycle, the teacher returns to the beginning lesson, and students from a different year go through the same cycle of lessons.

One curriculum I used repeated its program every two years. My class was made up of Primary Students, grades 1-3. Unfortunately, this didn’t work with the limited coverage of the two-year lesson cycle. This became apparent when a few of the older students in my class recognized the lesson materials as they had gone through them before. I had no idea these students had encountered the lesson materials before, and there was not enough time to order in new materials. I found myself in an awkward situation.

To solve this challenge, I used the same Bible stories and scripture verses but tried to find new angles and facts to teach the students from those scriptures. I also added new songs, discussion questions, and craft activities to bring some freshness into the material for those students who had heard it before. We managed to get through the year without too many problems.

But why do we limit our teaching materials to short cycles when there is an unlimited supply of topics in God’s word? What about classes that have several grades of students together in one class? We should encourage our students to learn more from God’s word instead of sticking them in a short, repetitive cycle of lessons and giving them limited coverage.

Memory Verse Mania:

Memorizing scripture is a great way for students to get knowledge of God’s word. Memory verses can remain in the person’s memory for a long time. When an appropriate time comes, the Holy Spirit will remind the student about the verse and bring revelation of its meaning. The Holy Spirit will bring a scripture back for a variety of reasons. One example of this is when circumstances in a student’s life line up in a way that the Holy Spirit can reveal deep meaning of the verse to the student and encourage or teach the student a lesson. Another example is when the Holy Spirit brings back a verse to be shared with another person to counsel, direct, encourage or teach them.

A Bible teacher can work with the class on a memory verse by having the students say the verse repeatedly in class as a group. The teacher can also have the students, individually, say the verse out loud in class. Memory verses can also be added to craft activities and games.

With a large class, it takes more time to make sure each student learns the verse. While the teacher works with each individual, the other students get tired of waiting, and get bored.  Having to wait for long periods of time can ultimately lead to bad behavior in class. Furthermore, I think the time would be better spent working together on a lesson activity or worksheet. This way, all of the students would be doing or learning something instead of waiting. Waiting for something to happen can be a big waste of class time.

This may be surprising coming from a Bible teacher, but I am convinced that even when teachers try to do their best to get the students to memorize scripture, the bulk of scripture memory and follow up is the responsibility of the child’s parents and/or guardians. Teachers don’t always have the time needed to make sure the student knows the verse, and besides, God gives fathers the ultimate responsibility of making sure their children are trained up in the ways of the Lord. Christian parents should work together to teach their children scripture, Bible principles and application of those principles to their daily lives and walks with God. Parents should also live godly lives and be godly examples for their children.

At times I’ve seen Bible curriculum with memory verses that are too difficult for the grade level of the students, too long, and too saturated with large words, making it nearly impossible for the student to memorize or even understand what the verse means. What good is it to spend time memorizing something when you don’t know what it means or why you are memorizing it?

At home, parents could take more time to explain the meaning of the big words and to monitor the ability of their child so the child can be challenged but not overwhelmed. Even if a family has only enough time to work on one verse a week, they are making progress. Perhaps the parents can join with their children in memorizing the weekly verse. Scripture tells us, “Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life; but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons.” (Deuteronomy 4:9 KJV) Scripture also says, “And these words, which I commanded thee this day, shall be in thy heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 KJV)

 On occasion, Christian workers and parents can offer small rewards to encourage scripture memory. However, the students should be excited about God’s word and not have to be rewarded every time for their scripture memory work. They should do it because it can help in their life, and because it brings pleasure to God. One main purpose for our creation is to bring pleasure to God. It’s worship and God is worthy of our praise and worship.

To Date or Not to Date?

Sometimes curriculum materials come predated. In my opinion, this isn’t the best approach. Dating curriculum prevents the material from being used repeatedly or on a day other than the one printed on the materials. If for some reason class is cancelled or postponed, the teacher may end up wasting the predated materials because he or she doesn’t want the students to see the wrong date on the items. Or the teacher may already have new items, and the materials for the previous week generally get thrown away. Believe it or not, even preschoolers and primary students notice the wrong date on materials and quickly point it out to the teacher. I know, it happened to me.

In addition, dating curriculum eliminates a teacher’s flexibility. If the teacher wants to plan a special activity for his or her class, he or she is discouraged from doing so because the predated materials do not allow for postponing the lesson for another week. Also, the teacher cannot miss the lesson without getting behind on the curriculum’s agenda. Since when is the curriculum supposed to dictate the daily lesson or put condemnation and guilt on the teacher for wanting to bring something special to class? Or when is curriculum supposed to rule over the subject matters being taught in class? Or why should a class of students have to miss out on a special blessing because the curriculum isn’t flexible enough to allow for special times? Why should the teacher feel stressed out about being behind the curriculum’s agenda, not using all of the materials, and wasting the church’s money by throwing unused material in the garbage?

I know curriculum can be a great guide for teachers and the Holy Spirit can use it for His Glory. It can also help church leadership plan the topics their teachers present in class, and this oversight is good. However, it is the Holy Spirit in the believer’s heart that is supposed to lead and guide us to all truth. If the Holy Spirit puts a special activity or lesson on the teacher’s heart, with permission from the church leaders, he or she should be allowed to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit without being bound by predated curriculum materials.

Teachers may get opportunities to do special activities in class. For example, a parent may want to bring their musical talent or a special craft project into their child’s class. Or perhaps the church has a special celebration, such as a baptismal, picnic or guest speaker, and wants to have the children participate in this activity. One example of this came up when one of my students’ mother volunteered to put on her clown outfit (complete with painted face) and come into the classroom. I thought the children would enjoy it so I asked the leaders for permission and told the mom that her act needed to somehow add to the lesson. I gave her the lesson topic and told her what we were going to talk about. This mom came into class and did a wonderful job of reinforcing the lesson while she did her clown act. The children loved it!

Also, predated curriculum materials must be continually replaced with new materials. No one wants to use materials with dates from previous years on them. As a result, churches and other organizations that use predated curriculum materials have to keep spending more money on new materials. Consequently, companies that make curriculum keep their customers bound up on a conveyor belt of continually putting money out for new materials that will be used briefly and thrown away, if they are used at all.

Why not make Bible curriculum that can be used repeatedly and with flexibility? Which do you think is better—to date or not to date?