Getting to Know Your New Textbook/Catechist Manual

I’ll be meeting tonight with 30-40 catechists in Munster, Indiana, to help them get to know the new textbook series they’ve adopted (Christ Our Life, 2009). Becoming familiar with a new textbook and the catechist manual is a crucial step in your planning and preparation process. If you are using a textbook/catechist manual for the first time this year, here are a few pointers that may be helpful:

  1. Read through the children’s book first…get to know its content, its flow, its “flavor,” and its various components.
  2. read through the introductory material in your catechist manual. In general, publishers do a very nice job of providing a thorough overview of the program and its components as a type of orientation.
  3. Pick a chapter…any chapter…and go through the catechist manual and the children’s book to get a feel for a lesson and the catechetical process being used. Look at the catechist notes and suggestions in the manual and determine how you can best utilize them.
  4. Get a feel for time constraints. Many catechetical textbooks provide more material than can be covered in an hour session. Why? Because some programs have much longer time frames and some books are designed to be used either by RE or by a Catholic school (which means that the school teacher needs enough material for 4-5 sessions per week). You can’t do it all. Determine what you CAN do and commit to doing a very good job of it. Better to do a few things very well than a lot of things poorly.
  5. Most catechist manuals provide a profile of the age group you are teaching. Look it over to gather insights into your students’ age group.
  6. Look for those parts of the catechist manual that provide catechist background. A good catechist manual should first speak to you as an adult and help you to better embrace your faith and THEN show you how to communicate it to the age group you are teaching.
  7. Begin writing notes in the margin or use post-its to add your own thoughts and ideas to lessons in the catechist manual.
  8. Look through the catechist manual and children’s book to locate additional resources that you can turn to if you finish a lesson and still have time left or if you just want to embellish a lesson. Look for things like a glossary, seasonal lessons, special features on saints, and a reference section featuring Catholic beliefs, practices, and prayers that are suitable for the age you are teaching.
  9. Check to see if the catechist manual comes with Blackline Masters and determine how you can best utilize these.
  10. Working with your catechetical leader, plan a schedule/syllabus for the year.
  11. Focus on finding the BIG IDEAS that are being taught in each lesson. We sometimes strive to teach so many things that the kids come away remembering little. Focus on a few BIG IDEAS and hammer them home throughout your lessons. A good way to do this is to look for LEARNING OUTCOMES in the catechist preparation pages of your catechist manual.
  12. Look to see how prayer is handled in the children’s book and catechist manual. Be sure to plan how you will incorporate prayer into your lessons.

Finally, visit your publisher’s Web site to find more help. Talk to your catechetical leader or another catechist if you are having some difficulty getting comfortable with the textbook and/or the manual…often another person can show you the “key” to a particular program’s logic.

Other suggestions?

About Joe Paprocki 2742 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


  1. Make the text fit your theme. I really dislike the text I have been given, but the DRE is ademant that using a different one is not an option. So I’ve decided to focus the year on the study of the “Our Father” prayer and take the children slowly through the various points of the “Our Father” by cherry picking which chapter apply rather than taking a children on a “death march” through the textbook. I’ll be relying heavily on the Catechist handbook, which does have some useful supplimental material and ejecting as much of the children’s text as I can reasonably get away with.

  2. I am a DRE, and I have been encouraging my catechists NOT to use the book page for page- I may have to coin your phrase “death march” to emphasize my point!!

  3. Darcie, I work for the publisher of the textbook that I use in class and even I never go page by page! Yes, textbooks are crucial resources, but faith is alive and unless we pull our noses out of the books and come up for air once in awhile, we run the risk of making the Catholic faith a subject instead of a way of life and an encounter with Jesus. Thanks for your comment.

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