Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

May 29, 2013

A Simple Approach to Teaching Religion

What is the single most important thing for my students to learn?

We often overlook this important question. Our textbooks have so much information. The curriculum is very demanding. The days, weeks, and months we have to do actual instruction in class seem to be getting shorter and shorter as time goes on often interrupted by assemblies, sports, and other school events.

There is just too much to teach and not enough time.

Then exam time comes and we find our students can barely remember a thing we taught them months ago. How is this possible? They studied it. We reviewed and reinforced it again and again. How could they possibly forget?

Let's cut our students some slack. They have a lot to remember and learn well beyond our subject areas. It is a lot to take in for anyone.

So what can we do as religion teachers to plant in their minds and hearts an enduring memory of the concepts we are teaching?

Keep it simple, stupid!

That's right: simplify. It is extremely hard to do for many of us, but it is the best way to create a long-lasting memorable experience of you as a teacher and of your subject.

How to Simplify What You Teach

Try answering these two statements:

  • If they learn nothing else, they must learn . . .

  • The single most important thing for students to learn is . . .

Ask yourself these questions at the beginning of the school year, at the end of the school year, while you are planning each chapter/unit plan, and each lesson plan.

You can easily transform these simplified statements into your lesson objectives or unit goals. Or, if you use the Understanding by Design system, turn these statements into your enduring understandings (big ideas) and essential questions.

Simple Quotes to Help Keep Things Simple

"Plurality is never to be posited without necessity." —William of Occam (Occam's Razor)

"It is futile to do with more things that which can be done with fewer." —William of Occam

"It is superfluous to suppose that what can be accounted for by a few principles has been produced by many" —St. Thomas Aquinas

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." —Attributed to Albert Einstein

"Nature operates in the shortest way possible." —Aristotle

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" —Leonardo Da Vinci

"Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves. —Jesus to his Apostles (Mt 10:16)

This simple post is an adaptation of "Day 23: Simplify Your Lesson" from 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator by Jared Dees. Get your copy here at Ave Maria Press.

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