Reading Ahead and Preparing for the Year to Come

planning calendar

Each summer I like to dedicate my office time towards a specific project. Last summer I opted to cozy up with the catechist’s books and become really familiar with the curriculum. Though I have taught much of the material in previous years, I wanted to have a more intimate understanding of our textbooks and the subjects that my students would cover.

At my parish the DRE traditionally dictates which chapters should be taught each week. I balked at the idea at first; sketching out ten grades of material over the summer seemed like a lot of work. But I soon discovered that this allowed me a certain amount of control over the quality of the lessons. I was able to pair compatible chapters together, even if they weren’t sequential. I could ensure that all of the most important topics were covered and that we wouldn’t miss out on chapters that always fall at the end of the book. I was able to manipulate the calendars so that students in different grades were studying the same subject each week.

As a result, I began to develop lesson “cheat sheets” that I could send out to my catechists a week in advance of their classes. Each cheat sheet was a one- to one-and-a-half-page document that contained a brief summary of the chapters that were to be taught and helpful background info for the catechists. I compiled an extensive list of ideas to further the lesson beyond those suggested in the catechist’s book. I incorporated a selection of links to YouTube videos, craft and game ideas, Scripture suggestions, materials from our faith formation library, and some inclusion activities for students with special needs. I copied the Web addresses for all online resources so that my catechists could easily access them. For some of the more difficult chapters, I included a list of anticipated questions that students might ask, along with with age-appropriate answers.

These cheat sheets were a huge hit. My time-strapped catechists absolutely loved them. Their lesson planning time was dramatically reduced, as I had done a lot of their preparation for them. Many of them picked a couple of suggestions that I provided and found a few other things on their own to enhance their lessons. I observed my catechists trying new things in class that they wouldn’t have thought to do before, and I noticed that students were more engaged than ever before. I had far fewer classes in which catechists tried to “just wing it” through the lesson; using the cheat sheets, all they had to do was pull a few suggestions off the list and still teach a quality lesson.

Overall, I was very happy with the results brought about by last summer’s long, quiet weeks in the office. I was more prepared to answer questions about lessons, and I was able to plan ahead to have the right supplies on hand for activities that catechists wanted to do. My catechists requested that I continue to develop the cheat sheets this summer to include newly developed materials, more hands-on suggestions, and a short summary of the lesson that they can share with parents after class.

How do you use the long, quiet days of summer to prepare for next year’s faith formation classes?

About Shannon Chisholm 15 Articles
Shannon Chisholm is a Ph.D. candidate in Religious Education at Fordham University. Over the years, Shannon has ministered as both a catechist and Director of Faith Formation. She is currently serving as a catechist at Holy Family Parish in New Rochelle, NY. She holds a BA and MA in Theology from the University of Notre Dame. When she isn’t daydreaming about lesson plans for her second-grade class, Shannon enjoys spending time with her family, discovering new coffee shops, and cheering on the Fighting Irish.

2 Comments on Reading Ahead and Preparing for the Year to Come

  1. Yes, Great Job! I had cheat sheets too but was told by a catechist that as catholics we don’t cheat. We should call them guidance sheets 🙂 Also would you be willing to share your guidance sheets with us?

  2. Hi Erika,
    We’re not able to share those sheets directly with you, but please reference the publisher’s textbook website for ideas specific to your chosen curriculum. For ideas on specific faith formation topics, browse the “Topics We Teach” section of this site or see the Activity Finder from Loyola Press. Best of luck with your preparations for next year!

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