I went into my session on the Beatitudes with a mixture of confidence and trepidation. Confidence, because after experimenting with ways to convey the Beatitudes over the past few years, I felt I had a solid lesson plan that would get the young people out of their seats and engaged. But I also felt trepidation, because the plan called for volunteers to do skits, and I wasn’t sure I could get the number of volunteers needed from this particular group. They haven’t been eager to volunteer to read aloud sections of the book or take roles in prayer services.
After the bell rang and we prayed our opening prayers, we recalled that the previous week we had talked about the parables. To bridge that session and this one, we were going to do a skit on two popular parables, the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son/Forgiving Father. I had two girls volunteer right away, but the remaining three volunteers took some prodding to come forward. I asked one boy in particular to participate. He had been vocal in our other sessions, so I thought he wouldn’t be embarrassed to help out, even if he wasn’t the volunteering type. Then two other young people somewhat reluctantly said they would help. Whether it was because they didn’t really want to volunteer, or they became nervous in front of their peers, the skit didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped. The volunteer actors mumbled for the most part and none of them really got into their parts. But we did a debriefing on the content of the skit to proceed with the lesson.
Now, though, I was nervous, because I had planned to use another skit—this one requiring two new volunteers—as my transition into the Beatitudes. After my general invitation for volunteers fell flat, I asked two young people—one who is generally engaged in class and the other who is not shy but not as engaged—to help out their classmates and be brave volunteers. With the individualized encouragement to participate, they did, and one of them was not bad in taking up the acting charge. In choosing those two students, I wanted to see if participating would help draw out the less-engaged student and encourage the engaged one to take a more involved role in his learning.
I knew going into this session that my group is a quiet one without a lot of eager volunteers, but I still wanted to try the skits with the group. Acting wasn’t a rousing success, but it at least showed the group that we could try a variety of activities during the year. I’m not sure if I’ll try skits with this group again, but I do want to find other ways to encourage volunteer participation. If we want to form young Christians who are active participants in their parish communities, they must be offered opportunities to participate in the religious education classroom to help enforce the message that they are a part of the community.
How do you deal with a situation where your students aren’t volunteering for roles essential to the session plan you laid out? How do you encourage children to participate in your classroom?
After 30 years of teaching grades 2 through 8 (primarily in 2nd grade) and an additional 3 years as a catechist, I have found that with young children a sticker is a great motivator, particularly when they get to choose the sticker themselves. To motivate them even further, after they have accumulated 20 stickers they can choose a small prize such as a religious medal or other small token prize. I use the sticker method to encourage weekly attendance, as well. Children receive a sticker for attending class. They receive an additional sticker for arriving to class on time. My first and second graders have the best attendance record in our program.
Wanda, that’s great that you have found a successful way to encourage attendance.
I’ve been a catechist for grades 7-9 and subbed for younger classes.
Here are strategies that help me with skits:
–Keep them short. Even if you need different scenes, 2-4 brief lines per skit is better, and you could debrief the first scene then have another group do the next scene. Remember, especially with low-speaking, non-animated “volunteers”, the larger group will find it hard to process and may tune out after initial curiousity.
–Recognize your “lame”ness and ask the kids to help. That is, communicate that you don’t know how kids talk these days so if they find the writing “bad”, they should make it better. Here’s how I do that: I have written 2-3 lines for two-three players, and asked each table to rewrite what my characters said and then add two lines, with the lesson in mind. Then they choose who are the actors, and they deliver the scene to the larger group in turns. Each table (or groups of desks) gets a different variation of the theme, so even if no-one can hear or process the others’ presentations, perhaps because they are still working on their own, they will still get the lesson. Note that this method also gets EVERY table/group of desks to participate as they choose in the skit, by contributing to the rewrite and by choosing the actors, and allows them to stay at the table.
–Ask for “amazing actors.” Sometimes this invitation surprises you with who responds to that.
–Have each kid take on a role that’s a surprise to the group. Somehow, pulling a kid to the side to explain their role heightens the interest for all. I illustrated the Parable of the Sower using a poem in the textbook. I whispered to each third-grade volunteer on the side, “You’re the seeds that got eaten” “You’re the plant that got choked by the weeds.” etc, and told them to act that out when I got to their part in the poem. It was fun for the kids to observe a kid rise up during the recitation, and then, perhaps, grab his neck with a gagging noise and fall on the floor wriggling.
Alicia, thanks for sharing these good ideas. I like the idea of having the young people rewrite and complete the scripts in their own language.