Active Students + Active Learning = Active Faith

In Sunday School, we want to teach God’s Word in such a way that God’s Spirit can activate faith in the everyday lives of students. We are not trying to turn young children into “Sunday Christians” who know how to look and act in a church building. We want them to become seven-day-a-week disciples. When Bible lessons include active learning methods that match everyday activities, children find it easier to apply God’s ideas to everyday events.

Using Active Learning

When I first began teaching, I used the “sit still and listen” teaching plan. Today I use active learning in every Bible lesson. How can a teacher move from one teaching style to another? An acronym of the word active can become a memory device for moving from a “sit still and listen” teaching style toward an active learning style in Sunday School.


Accept that young children will remember more and will more easily transfer Bible ideas into everyday living if they are actively involved in Bible learning. When children only hear a Bible idea, they will remember only 10 percent. When they hear and see a Bible idea, they remember 50 percent. When they hear, see, and do, they can remember 90 percent.

Create an active learning strategy that fits your children, your classroom, and your resources. There are many ways to adapt active learning for any setting. Here are three possibilities.

In a small room with a few students tailor active learning to use at a table. (See the list of tabletop learning activities.)

With a larger group in a larger room, use furnishings and equipment to divide the room into learning centers. If possible, assign a team teacher to participate in each center to guide the children’s learning.

If there are not enough teachers, use one center at a time, moving from center to center with all children together. If two teachers are teaching, one can begin in the next center with some children while the other remains in the current center to finish with the remaining children.

Talk about each activity so children connect what they are doing with an idea about God. Talk is essential to connect the activity with a faith idea. Jesus used talk to connect everyday activities like planting seeds and looking for lost money with faith ideas. Talk during active learning serves the same purpose. Suppose that while children shape play dough food, you talk with them about how God created food to grow in different ways. The next time children use play dough to shape pretend food at home, the activity will trigger a memory about God’s creation of food.

Invest time and resources into active learning. Teaching is a high calling. Jesus is a teacher (Acts 1:1). God the Father is a teacher (Psalm 86:11). The Holy Spirit is a teacher (John 14:26). Teaching merits an investment of our time, our energy, our resources, and our money. While God does not expect us to give more than we have, He does want us to offer what we have for His purposes.

Most churches provide some resources for teaching God’s Word. In addition, teachers can enrich active learning with their own resources. For some teachers, this may mean investing time to create homemade blocks, play dough, or snacks. For others it may mean buying a set of duplos or toy animals to support active learning. Some teachers may creatively use household linens to act out Bible stories in class. Others may donate a portable CD player to support active worship times. Each of us can prayerfully ask how we can invest in the spiritual nurture of our students.

Vary active learning methods each week. Different children learn in different ways. Auditory learners need to hear and say Bible ideas in order to remember them. Singing action Bible choruses may help them internalize a Bible verse more quickly than simply hearing a teacher repeat the verse. During the same lesson, visual learners may remember more from the picture they painted or the Bible skit they saw. Children with physical intelligence may need to march and climb as they act out ideas in a Bible lesson. Each kind of active learning repeats the basic Bible idea in a way that reinforces Bible learning for different children.

Also vary the length of time spent on activities. Children may lose interest in an activity sooner than expected. Just bring the activity to an end and move on to another method.

Sometimes vary the order of learning activities. If children arrive hungry, for example, you may want to move the snack to the beginning of the lesson rather than wait until after the story.

Evaluate how your students respond to the active learning. By evaluating active learning, you can consistently improve children’s participation. Were they over-stimulated? Consider alternating quiet and active methods. Were they messy? Carefully plan giving clear instructions, one at a time, and saving any messy element for the last. During a painting activity, for example, pass out the paint last, and limit the amount to a quarter-sized dollop at a time on a paper plate. Did the children fail to follow directions? Next time base using active learning on the children’s commitment to listen and follow directions. Have them practice following instructions.

Active learning is the key to active faith for active children. Ask your teaching partner, the Holy Spirit, to guide your lesson planning to tailor active learning for the children in your class.


Sharon Ellard is promotions coordinator for the Sunday School Department, Springfield, Missouri. Sunday School. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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