Calling an Audible

football clipartIf you know anything about football, you know that sometimes, after a play is designed in the huddle and the team lines up to snap the ball, the quarterback may see something he didn’t expect and doesn’t like. At that point, he calls an audible…he changes the play on the fly. This is something that can only be done if the team has prepared well and knows what the alternative plays are.

In religious education, catechists often find themselves in a position to “call an audible” – to change their lesson plan on the fly. Such was the case for me last night, however, the only reason I was able to do so effectively was because of thorough planning in the first place.  You may recall in my lesson plan for last night’s session that I anticipated the possibility of not having enough time to accomplish everything I had planned. Well, talk about not having enough time! The opening prayer service (which was very nice) took longer than I expected (when you factor in the movement from one building to another, etc.) so when all was said and done, I had about 30 minutes left to teach as opposed to the 45 minutes I anticipated. Time to call an audible!

Thanks to the fact that I had a thorough plan in place, I was able to shift gears and drop a number of things I had hoped to do in order to focus on just one or two things. Here’s the scoop:

  1. When we got to class, I took some time to see if I could recall their names…I only knew about half of the 16 so I told them that I promise that by next week I would know all of their names.
  2. I asked if anyone remembered my name and to my surprise, they all raised their hands!
  3. We spent more time doing a “show and tell” of the objects they brought in to add to our prayer table. All but 4 of the kids brought in something: Rosaries, crosses, sea shells, and rocks. It was very nice.
  4. I played a recording of How Great Thou Art and as they looked at the lyrics, I asked them to recall what we learned last week. After the song, they easily recalled that we learned about God’s great gift of creation and I asked for examples that the song mentioned as well as examples that we talked about the previous week.
  5. I introduced the concept of a family heirloom and showed them an example that I brought in: a bottle of Paprocki’s Cough Medicine from the old Paprocki family pharmacy. They thought that was pretty cool. Once they understood what a family heirloom was, I asked if they had some at home that they could think of and many did so. I then told them that the Church hands on to us some “family heirlooms” – the hymns we sing and the prayers we pray. I talked about the fact that the Lord’s Prayer is nearly 2000 years old and then we prayed it together.
  6. At this point I now realized I had only about 15 minutes left. Without hesitation, I dropped the video segment I planned to show (The Lion King) and simply wrote the words, “thy kingdom come” on the board. I showed them a picture of a king (with a crown, robe, and sword) and asked what a king does. I emphasized that the sword has a lot to do with the role of a king. One bright young girl said, “He protects the people.” Exactly! I wrote the word protects on the board and said that this is why we call God our king and Jesus “Christ the King” because he protects us from sin. I emphasized that God arms us with faith, hope, and love to shield us from sin.
  7. We didn’t even have time to read out of the textbook at this point but I felt OK about that since they were grasping the concept of a king as one who protects and how faith, hope, and love serve to “arm” us against the power of sin.
  8. Seeing now that I only had 5 minutes left, I called my last audible. Instead of having them work on creating a shield in class as I had planned, I told them to take it home and to work on it with their parents and to tell them that they learned about how God is our King who protects us from sin by giving us faith, hope, and love. I distributed the materials and showed them what the finished product would look like and they asked a few questions to clarify the directions and I could see that they liked the idea and understood exactly what to do.
  9. Now with only 2 minutes left, I put on the CD of the song To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King and had them listen to the words about Jesus as our king. After the first verse and refrain, as the song continued to pay, I invited them to come forward and bless themselves with holy water (held by my aide, Daneen) on their way out. It made for a nice prayerful ending.

That turned out to be a lot of calling audibles and shifting gears, but it is more easily done when a good plan is already in place. Instead of trying to do everything and ending up feeling scattered and disappointed, I tried to do only a few things and do them well. Although my class ended up very different from what I had planned, the end result was what I had hoped for:  a better understanding of what it means to pray, “thy kingdom come.”

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. Whoooooooohooooooo! You did it and you also did a great job! 🙂

    Something always comes up for me during each lesson to throw it off a bit. Last week I got a new student and I had to get him caught up with what we are doing and let the parents know what we are planning to do during the year. I had an Introductory Letter to Parents from last week’s Open House which really came in handy. 🙂

  2. Hi Joe, it’s sounds like you are pro at what you do. ” Calling an audible” seems to have worked with your lesson. When I taught lesson 2 this past Sunday, we “kinda” did the opposite from your class. We spent a lot of time reading from the text. I did form a prayer circle and prayed with the whole class the “Our Father”. When I asked them to add their own prayer of petition afterward, none of the kids volunteered (maybe because they are still trying to get a feel for the class). Some things seemed to flow while other things didn’t. Just before class ended, we all prayed the Act of Faith holding out our hands in the orans position…I think the kids felt awkward (or self conscious) doing this . In general though, I think class went well. I love reading your blog!!! Josie

    • Hi Josie. You can say I’ve “been around the block” a few times! It sounds like your class is going well and that you are all “feeling eachother out.” For the petitions, you may want to pass a candle (battery operated) or some other symbol (a cross, etc.) and invite them to say one thing they are thankful for. That usually loosens them up and it’s non-threatening. Eventually, you can invite them to mention someone or something they’d like to pray for. Keep at ’em…you definitely want to teach them how to pray.

      • Thanks for the candle (battery operated) idea. I think I will try that along with mentioning something they are thankful for…maybe that will loosen them up. You have great ideas! Thanks for staying in touch. Josie

  3. Regarding your comment that the Church’s family heirlooms are “the hymns we sing and the prayers we pray” — have you thought what you’re doing to your kids’ CCD instructor next year, when the new text of the Mass comes out? If they think that the current Novus Ordo is a “family heirloom”, what will they then think about the upcoming changes? (I might suggest that you bring this specific example up in class this year, pointing out that the changes aren’t something new, but something renewed… in order to get us closer to the “family heirloom” of the original (Latin) prayers!

    • Larry, I agree that this is how we need to explain it…not that what we have now was wrong but that we are continuing our ongoing efforts to get closer to the Latin which is the normative language of the Roman Missal. I certainly would not hesitate to refer to the current Novus Ordo as a family heirloom because the new translation does not negate it but strives to make it richer, more Scriptural, and more faithful to the Latin. To take the metaphor a step further, it’s as if we are taking the family heirloom to someone who can “restore” it so that it more closely resembles its original state.

  4. The “family heirloom restoration” analogy is a great one — mind if I use it, too? ;^)

    My concern was simply that, in the absence of additional explanation, a student might look at the upcoming changes and think, “Wait — I thought that this is a ‘family heirloom’?!?! Why are we changing it?”

    • Larry, by all means, feel free to use the metaphor. You’re right that good explanations – solid and thorough catechesis – is going to be needed in this situation.

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