Methods That Tune In to the Students' World

About this article

Over ten active and student-centered teaching activities, including music, web sites, news, movies, and family rituals, are briefly explained in this article.

Jack Kelly, who teaches religious studies at Saint Albert High School in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, offers us thoughts on how to engage students, using the contemporary media that are so familiar to them.

The textbook, chalkboard, and teacher remain valued components of religious education, but teachers also have to be able to use media technology to capture the interest and imagination of our students, who are immersed in a culture that is highly technological.

The following are some assignments that could be used in a unit on the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke. They could be adapted to other scriptural study topics as well. In one form or another, I have used each of them, often with astonishing results.

Songs. List four major themes of the infancy narratives. For each theme, find five contemporary songs that express the theme in modern terms. For each song submit the title, the artist, the album it is from, and some of the words that link the song to the scriptural theme.

Web sites. The infancy narratives are set in a certain place and time. Locate four web sites that give the history, geography, or politics of the time of Jesus' birth. Submit notes you have taken from each site. In a one-page essay, use your own words to describe the life of the people at the time of Jesus' birth.

TV news. Each of the infancy narratives gives a rich account of Jesus' birth. In each narrative we meet many people, some named and some not named, who were there. Play the part of a roving reporter with Eyewitness News, and interview some of the characters about what they have witnessed. Present a ten- to fifteen-minute videotaped interview with at least five different people who were involved in the momentous events.

Movies. Numerous feature films, both religious and secular, have depicted the birth of Jesus and the meaning of Christmas (e.g., Jesus of Nazareth, Scrooged, and Miracle on 34th Street). Using a guidebook on videos, choose one religious and one secular film about Christmas. View them both. Compare and contrast them either in poster form or through a PowerPoint presentation.

Chad Steimle, who teaches religion at Assumption High School in Davenport, Iowa, shared on our listserv (see page 7 of this issue) the following suggestions for using media to teach the Ten Commandments.

Music. Have students put the Ten Commandments to music. The best I've seen was when students used the music and rhythm for "The Ants Go Marching One by One." Not only did they include all the Commandments, but they also worked a little with the meaning of some of them as they tried to get them to fit the rhythm.

Media tracking. Have students check out TV news and shows or other media and keep track of how many times they observe each Commandment being violated. Once again, this will help students look for the meaning of the Commandments. This assignment could also lead into a good discussion of which Commandments are broken most often, which ones the media highlight, and so on.

Using Family Rituals to Teach Sacraments

Cynthia Cameron teaches religion at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School in Washington, D.C. She offers the following method for introducing students to the role of ritual in the sacraments.

1. Begin with the following homework assignment: Come up with at least one action that your family uses to celebrate some event every year-for example, reading "The Night Before Christmas" on Christmas Eve, looking at old photos on a family member's birthday, or sharing a meal with family and friends on Thanksgiving.

2. The next day have the students describe their family tradition without discussing the meaning behind it. ("We always look at our old baby pictures on our birthday.") As each student presents his or her family ritual, have the other students try to guess what that ritual celebrates or why it has meaning to that particular family.

3. After each student has had a chance to share, lead into a discussion of the ritual actions of the church and their meanings. Have the students identify some of the ritual actions of our liturgy, such as reading from the Scriptures, sharing the Eucharist, and praying and singing together. Then ask them why we do these things: Why do we read the same stories over and over? Why do we share a sign of peace? Why do we repeat the Lord's Prayer? Why do we share a common meal?

4. The preceding steps can also lead into a discussion of the meaning of the rituals used in other sacraments (e.g., weddings and baptisms), of the significance of daily prayer, and of the meaning of sacramentals (e.g., candles, genuflection, holy water).


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Published January 1, 1998.