Skills, Tips, and Practical Advice for Preparing the Learning Environment

My new book, The Catechist’s Toolbox, is now available to order from Loyola Press! I just received my own copies of the book and I’m really excited about it! Here’s another little peek inside:

Skills, Tips, and Practical Advice for Preparing the Learning Environment

If you were having people over for dinner, you would no doubt prepare the environment to heighten the enjoyment and express a mood of celebration and hospitality. When we teach, we are hosting a “meal” for our participants. We are bringing them nourishment for the spirit and soul. Therefore, we need to take the necessary steps to “set the table.”

  • Make a Clean, Neat Space—A job seems twice as overwhelming if it is surrounded by a mess. The same is true of teaching. It is imperative that you and the participants are entering a learning space that is clean, neat, and in order. You want your participants to know that the “food” you will be serving is of the highest quality. If participants see a mess upon entering a room, they will be more than happy to add to it. Likewise, a messy learning space is conducive to messy behavior (i.e., poor discipline). Be sure to arrive early to clean up whatever mess was left from the previous group that used the room.
  • Provide a Welcoming Seating Arrangement—Do you recall that when Jesus fed the five thousand, he arranged them into groups of fifty and a hundred? Arranging your “crowd” is crucial to your lesson as well. If at all possible, arrange the desks in a circle or semicircle or some other arrangement that encourages interaction and is also conducive to prayer. Your goal should be to create an arrangement that keeps order but also communicates a sense of welcome, comfort, and community. It should encourage participation while removing intimidation and rigidity.
  • Provide Name Tags—Calling your participants by name is a way of honoring them and letting them know that you really are interested in them. It is also a way of keeping order in your room. If a participant is misbehaving, it helps to be able to call them by name rather than saying “Hey, you!” In baptism, we were each given a name that is inscribed in heaven. Jesus calls us each by name. We should do no less for our participants. Providing name tags, especially for the first few meetings, is an effective strategy.
  • Create a Prayer Center—What is the central focus of your learning environment? Is it a desk or a podium? The chalkboard? In a catechetical setting, it is imperative that the central focus of your space be Jesus. You can do this through the prominent placing of a Bible, a candle, and/or a bowl of holy water and a crucifix. If you truly are encouraging your participants to make Jesus the center of their lives, begin by making Jesus the center of your learning space.
  • Display Posters, Pictures, and Sacred Objects—We live in a very visual age. By the time participants reach your learning space, they have been conditioned to receive more information visually than orally. Take advantage of this fact by putting up posters and religious images that can reinforce your lesson. Pictures and posters of Scripture stories and the saints can make for an effective addition to your lesson. Sacred objects and images can also add to the message you are teaching. Likewise, photos of your participants in action can show just how much importance you really place on them. If you’re sharing the space with another group, you can easily create a portable display panel (using a trifold display board) that you can carry in and out for your lesson and use as a focal point.
  • Utilize the Chalkboard, Easel, Wipe-Off Board, and Overhead Projector—Arrive early and write key phrases, directions, or names and definitions on the board, easel, or overhead. This way, when your lesson begins, you can refer to these images without turning your back on your participants to write. This gives the participants the strong message that you are prepared and that there is work to be done. For those more technologically advanced, “SMART Boards” connected to a notebook computer are also available, as are LCD projectors for doing a PowerPoint presentation.
  • Organize a Supply Station—After Jesus fed the five thousand, he instructed the disciples to gather all the leftovers into baskets. Jesus knew that the key to making the most of resources was to be organized. Be sure to have a supply station to keep all supplies—such as handouts, textbooks, pencils, crayons, glue, and scissors—well organized and at your fingertips. Whether it is a table, a desk, a shelf, a cabinet, or a crate, you need to have your supplies organized. By doing so, when they are needed for your lesson, you do not need to interrupt the proceedings to go in search of them. Again, if you are sharing your learning space with others, a portable supply station can do the trick.
  • Use Technology—Jesus didn’t use VCRs or CD/DVD players. He did however use the medium of his time—he taught using parables. We, too, must take advantage of the medium of our time. The proper use of technology can enhance a lesson greatly. You do not have to be a technical genius to handle this equipment either. If you are showing a video or DVD, or playing a tape or CD, be sure you’ve got it set to start at the right place.
  • Straighten Up before Leaving—As your session is coming to an end, have the participants straighten the room. They should be responsible for: gathering up materials and textbooks; repositioning tables, chairs, and desks; and displaying their work on bulletin boards or posters. By displaying their work, they are able to see the progress they are making. Like a decorator standing back to see how nice the wallpapering is coming along, you and your participants also need to stand back and admire what can be done with God-given talents.
About Joe Paprocki 2736 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at

5 Comments on Skills, Tips, and Practical Advice for Preparing the Learning Environment

  1. I have to say, that I could not agree with you in 100% regarding , but it’s just my opinion, which could be wrong 🙂

  2. Hi Joe,
    I am a junior high catechist and I am trying to make better use of technology in my lessons. Can you tell me more about what is needed to make use of smartboards? Are there lesson plans that can be downloaded for this technology or is this something I would need to create? If so, can the lessons be created in powerpoint or is some other software program needed?
    Thank you,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.