Ten Tips for Teaching Theology to Teens
As Christians we are all called to teach the word of God in some fashion. For some of us this comes in the form of Catechesis--handing on the faith to younger generations. Here are 10 teaching tips to use in the class room when trying to teach youth (7-12 grade) about the faith. Of course, a lot of these apply to older and younger persons as well, and also apply to other areas of teaching, but my specialty is in Youth Catechesis. Enjoy.
10) ATTENTION SPANS
Youth typically have an attention span which is equal to their grade (ex. 11th grade = 11 min. attention span). While this does not hold true for every kid in every class, the most important thing to remember is to vary the activity and methods of teaching. Lecturing can be fine, but make sure it’s broken up with fun and engaging activities!
One of the primary ways in which teens can learn is through discussion of topics. Try to foster an environment of trust and comfortability so they can feel they can easily talk. This will allow them to build relationship with each other, with you, and help them to really own the material. It will also help them gain conversation skills they need in real life. One of the best ways to learn is by seeing different points of view and integrating them together.
DON’T be afraid of silence! It doesn’t always mean that they don’t care or they’re scared; many times it means that they are thinking very hard about a question you’ve just asked them. Give appropriate “wait time”. Silence can also be used as a form of discipline. Sometimes stopping in the middle of what you’re doing and being silent sends the message that you don’t appreciate what someone is doing. Finally, silent prayer is always important, so let the kids experience times of controlled silence every so often.
Ask them a lot of questions. Even if they don’t know the answer it will get them to think of the idea and search for a solution. Questions can also be used to direct attention, or regain attention after a teen has been distracted. Finally, ALWAYS leave time for them to ask you questions. It shows that they’re picking up on what you’re teaching, and sometimes asking questions is the best way they can understand the material.
6) LESSON PLANS
Your Lesson Plan is your greatest friend! Memorize it so you don’t actually have to use it. This ensures that your attention will be on who you’re teaching, not on trying to remember what you had planned to do next. Over plan, it’s better to run out of time for the non-essentials than it is to be scrambling for something to do and wasting class time. Always have a couple back-up plans, games, or good questions that you can pull out of your pocket in times of need.
In whatever you do, be consistent. If you promise something to the class, follow through. If you make a “threat” follow through with that too. This helps with discipline and order in the class room, as well as helping the students to trust and respect you so they can open up to you.
Teens actually want to be challenged. They are more likely to take up the challenge of Holiness or of learning something, or even of winning a game if you take on an attitude of challenging them to be better than they are. A good way of doing this to “empower” them, or make them feel able to achieve anything. Much of the reason that they don’t care, is because they don’t feel they can live up to the expectations that people want them to.
At all times, be humble. Even though you’re the teacher, you can still be wrong. If you make a mistake, apologize. If you don’t know how to teach or do something, or if you don’t know the answer to a question they ask, tell them you’ll get back to them, or find someone who does know. NEVER MAKE UP AN ANSWER TO A QUESTION. This will help the teens respect you and thus help classroom dynamics.
The most important attitude you can have towards your students is respect. Be affirming, especially after discipline, and never be condescending or humiliating. If you do not respect your students they will not respect you. You do not have to like all your students, but you do have to wish the best for them and treat them with the respect they deserve.
When in doubt, PRAY. Prayer is your #1 tool for a successful class. Pray before, after, and during class, both with your students and silently to yourself. And remember, though you may be the “teacher” it is the Holy Spirit teaching through you. Put your faith and trust that he will give you the tools you need.
© 2009 R D Langr