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Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

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December 17, 2019

New Text: Your Christian Vocation! New Chapter Assignments!

Chapter Assignments in the Encountering Jesus series are a popular feature! Students are given the choice of three assignments at the beginning of the study of a chapter with the expectation they will be able to complete the assignment within eight to ten days, prior to the time of the chapter assessment. Projects vary by type and learning styles. Each comes with a grading rubric.Listed below are three assignments from Chapter 5, "Challenges to Marriage and Family Life" in a new textbook Your Christian Vocation available now at the Ave Maria Press website.Also, don't forget to signup and use all of the classroom resources for this new text.

1. Research and Report

  • Choose one of the following topics, and research relevant information to supporting its position:
  • Married couples who follow the teachings of Humanae Vitae have happier and more satisfying marriages.
  • The benefits and blessings of a large family strongly outweigh its challenges.
  • Because of Christ and the founding of the Church, women are given more esteem and value in married life than ever before.
  • Divorced Catholics have served the Church well in ministry.

Write a five-hundred-word position paper supporting one of these positions. Cite specific evidence and examples to support your claims.

2. Novena for Married Couples

  • Create a novena for of married couples. Novena comes from the Latin word for “nine”; it is a prayer that takes place over nine days. Use the following sample day as your template for designing the remaining eight days of your “Novena for Married Couples”:

Day 1

  • Copy a Scripture reflection on marriage.

Home and possessions are an inheritance from parents, but a prudent wife is from the Lord (Prv 19:14).

  • Write a two-sentence reflection on the passage.

Common sense, wisdom, and prudence are marks of family life. Domestic happiness depends on these gifts that spouses share with one another much more than on any material possessions that they might acquire.

  • Choose and name a married saint. Write a prayer to this saint on behalf of healthy marriages.

St. Monica (332–387)

St. Monica, you suffered through the debilitating effects of emotional abuse in your marriage, only to witness the conversions of your husband and your son, St. Augustine. Pray for married couples to persevere in faith that they too might be unified in seeking the Lord. We ask this in Christ’s name. Amen.

3. Finding Solutions to the Challenges of Married Life

  • Interview seven to ten married people (individually, not as couples). Ask each person to name four of the greatest challenges married couples face in today’s culture. Create a chart or graphic organizer to list each of the challenges they name. In an accompanying column or space, offer your own comments (at least two paragraphs per comment) on the challenges mentioned and on possible solutions in light of the Church’s teaching on marriage you learned in Chapters 3, 4, and 5.

December 6, 2019

Marian Assignments

In celebration of two December Marian feasts (the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe), listed below are seven assignment ideas.

 1.  Create a visual presentation on how the Blessed Mother has been portrayed in art through the ages. Include at least twenty pictures in your presentation.

2.  Research and report on one of the famous apparitions of Mary. Examples include Guadalupe, Lourdes, or Fatima..

3.  Write your own Litany to the Blessed Mother. For inspiration, refer to several popular litanies.

  • Litany of Loreto:
  • Litany of Mary of Nazareth
  • Litany of Our Lady of Lourdes:

4.  Research and report on Mary as the first disciple. See, for example, "Mary, the First Disciple."

5.  Create a booklet with pictures to illustrate any ten mysteries of the Rosary.

6.   Research and report on five feast days of the Blessed Mother.

7.  Read paragraphs 40–42, the Conclusion of Pope Benedict XVI’s Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love). Report on five interesting things he says about the Blessed Mother. Locate articles about the encyclical by conducting an Internet search of the English or Latin title.


November 22, 2019

Traditional Prayer Forms in Scripture

Directions: There are six traditional forms of prayer that can be prayed spontaneously or formally. Each type of prayer has examples in Scripture. Review the definition of each prayer form. Then use the information to see you can identify the prayer form in each Scripture passage. Some of the passages may include more than one form. In honor of Thanksgiving, one passage is listed in full below:


We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers, unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father, knowing, brothers and sisters loved by God, how you were chosen.

                                                                                     —1 Thessalonians 1:2-4


  1. Blessing is the basic movement of Christian prayer. You bless God for having blessed you.


  1. Psalm 107:1
  1. Prayer of adoration is a basic response to God, your acknowledgment that God is Creator.


  1. Psalm 144:1–5
  1. Prayers of petition are prayers of asking: for forgiveness and for all the things you need.


  1. 1 Timothy 2:1–4
  1. Intercessions are prayers of petition in which you ask for things on behalf of others.


  1. 1 John 5:14–15
  1. Prayers of thanksgiving are expressions of gratitude to God for every good thing.
  1. 1 Peter 1:3–5
  1. Praise is the form of prayer that gives glory to God for his own sake.


  1. Luke 18:1–5


  1. Ephesians 1:3–14


  1. 1 Corinthians 8:6


  1. 1 Thessalonians 1:2–4


  1. Colossians 1:9–12


November 12, 2019

40 Day Fast for Catholic Education

Please consider this important initiative from Justin McClain, Catholic author and Theology teacher at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland.

November 4, 2019

Can Your Students Solve This Puzzle?

One of our authors recently submitted a puzzle to go in the appendix of a new edition of The Old Testament: Our Call to Faith and Justice, due for release in the summer of 2020. However, we are having trouble solving the puzzle.

Maybe you and your students can give it a crack. The first winner to email me all of the correct steps  ( will win a $25 gift certificate from Ave Maria Press.


See home many steps it takes you to change from M-O-S-E-S to J-E-S-U-S by changing only one letter at a time. The catch is that you must create a new word each time you change a letter (e.g., MOSES to ROSES).

Remember, you must send ALL the correct steps!

Hope you have better luck than we have had here!


The puzzle was solve by several students and teachers! The winner is Here’s a solution from Andy C, a 10th grader at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, MN via his teacher Melissa Bauer. Thanks to all!


October 31, 2019

Tour of Sacred Places

Lead your students on a guided tour of several places in and around a church, chapel, and/or school that have sacred importance to the prayer life of your community.


The altar (and altar relic). Explain that the altar of a church should be located in a central space where it attracts the focus of prayer. Explain the traditional association between martyrs and saints and Catholic altars. For many years it was required that the relics of a saint or martyr be placed in the altar stone. If the altar at your church or chapel has a relic tell something about it and show where it is placed.

A grotto or statue of the Blessed Mother. Tell its history and note its dedication plaque. Also, explain that older churches have side altars since more than one Mass were often celebrated at the same time.

The statue of the church or school’s patron. Prepare a short biography of the person to share when the group has gathered near the statue.

The bell tower. Recall the traditional ringing of the bells three times a day to announce the Angelus. Explain and share the Angelus prayer. If your school or church does have a bell tower, consider having the students climb into the loft.

A news rack in the foyer of the church or school. Point out the various types of spiritual readings included and any other prayer cards. Also, show announcements for forming prayer groups like Scripture students and the like.

The Blessed Sacrament. Pause and kneel with the group before the Blessed Sacrament. Point out the sanctuary lights, indicating Christ’s presence. Explain something of the history and practice of Benediction, a short ceremony from the fifteenth century in which the Eucharist, in the form of a large consecrated host, is venerated.

October 17, 2019

Pray the Rosary with Baseball Legend Vin Scully

With the World Series being played this month, take a bit of class time to share something of the life of Vin Scully, the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodger announcer for 67 years, from 1950 to 2016. Vin is noted for several great calls in World Series history, including:

Vin is also a devout Catholic. After sharing something of Vin’s life, pray a decade of the Rosary led by Vin Scully who has recorded his recitation of the Rosary in connection with Immaculate Heart Radio.October is the month of the Rosary.

October 1, 2019

Emoji Good News





Provide copies of the following material for each student.

Directions: Pretend you are transmitting the Good News of Jesus’ Resurrection to a friend via electronic or social media. Use emojis to express emotions described by the people in the following passage. Then write two more sentences adding your personal message to your friend about Jesus’ resurrection. Use emojis in these new sentences too.


But at daybreak on the first day of the week they took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.        They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.        While they were puzzling over this, behold two men in dazzling garments appeared to them.        They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground.        They said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?        He is not here, but he has been raised.        Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day.        And they remembered his words.        Then they returned from the tomb and announced all these things to the eleven and to all the others.

                                                                                             −Luke 24:1-0

September 19, 2019

The Rules of Engagement Webinar

Church leaders bemoan the number of teens and young adults leaving their faith behind. Contrary to popular belief, these folks don't want to be entertained by the Church; they want to be engaged in their faith. In this webinar for teachers, catechists, youth ministers, parents, and anyone who works with teens, longtime youth minister and national speaker Mike Patin explores the values and principles needed in this digital generation to bring people into catechesis and ministry.

If you would like the slides that accompany this webinar in PowerPoint format, please contact Erin Pierce, Parish and Curriculum Marketing Specialist at Ave Maria Press.

September 6, 2019

Using Icons to Approach Theological Concepts

Although icons are often associated with the Eastern Church, the rich history and spirituality of these sacred images can help students better understand abstract theological concepts.  It should not be forgotten that art helps develop cognitive and analytical skills in student development (Eisner, The Arts and the Creation of Mind, 2002). The following lesson topic will help students explore the beauty and theological significance of Icons, as well as offering resources for educators.


  • Break the students into groups of 3 or 4.  Search for an icon that would best match the concept, vocabulary, or Scripture story that is the focus of a topic you are covering in class.
  • Supply students with an icon (relating to your chosen topic), such as Rublev’s The Trinity when discussing the story of Abraham in Genesis 18:1-8 and the Holy Trinity
  • Have the students explore and describe the visual representation of the icon (explain the use of color, body posture, eye contact, size of characters or objects, the nature of time or progression in the icon, etc.).
  • With their groups, have the students compare and contrast the icon with the chosen topic searching how the icon depicts and provides additional meaning to the icon.
  • Call on representatives from each group to share a summary of the discussion. Note common and different points of discussion on the board.


Helpful resources on approaching Icons for classroom use and exploration:

  • Jim Forest. (2017). Praying with Icons. Orbis Books.
  • Alfredo Tradigo & Stephen Sartarelli. (2006). Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Getty Publications.
  • Jeana Visel, OSB. (2016). Icons in the Western Church: Toward a More Sacramental Encounter. The Liturgical Press.

There is also a fascinating seven-part documentary about the purpose and spirituality that can offer more background of Icons entitled: The Icon by The Ostrog Monastery and the Academy of the Serbian Orthodox Church for Fine Arts and Conversation, 2011

Submitted by

Thomas Malewitz, M.T.S., Ph.D.

St. Xavier High School (Louisville, KY)


August 21, 2019

A Lesson on the Flesh and the Spirit


There is a great religious lesson in the short film (6:36) Giuseppe's Opus, starring Joe Marinelli. Conduct an activity around the film in this order:


1. Say: "I'm going to play a short film for you called Giuseppe's Opus; Giuseppe is the character in the film. The word opus means 'a large scale artistic work.'  When it is over I want you to tell me what you think its main lesson is."

2. Play the film.

3. Allow time for the students to write down some notes.

4. Divide the students in groups of three and tell them to each share what they think is the film's main lesson.

5. After time for discussion, call on representatives from each group to summarize some of the lessons the members shared. You can further summarize what the moderators report by writing a few words on the board, perhaps things like:

  • You have to quench the pangs of the flesh, before you can do the work of the spirit.
  • The work of the spirit is lifelong.
  • The work of the flesh is fleeting; the work of the spirit is everlasting.

6. After the discussion, remind the students of the sign on the wall in the shop: "The Flesh Is Dead. The Spirit Is Alive." Tell them this is a reference to Romans 8:11-13. Call on a student to read the passage aloud. Call on other students to suggest how the theme of the film is connected to the words in this passage.

7. Finally, share some details on the life of St. Francis of Assisi. (Recall that Giuseppe trims a vine back from the statue of St. Francis.) St. Francis gave up his inheritance and stripped away his physical possessions in order to spiritually build up the Church and follow Christ. Conclude by praying the Prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace; 
Where there is hatred, let me sow love; 
Where there is injury, pardon; 
Where there is doubt, faith; 
Where there is despair, hope; 
Where there is darkness, light; 
And where there is sadness, joy. 

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console; 
To be understood, as to understand; 
To be loved, as to love; 
For it is in giving that we receive, 
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, 
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. 


August 7, 2019

Bishop Barron on Catholic's Misunderstanding the Eucharist


A disturbing study by the Pew Research Center finds that most Catholics do not believe in Transubstantiation,a core teaching of the faith that the bread and wine at Eucharist become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Also, most Catholics surveyed do not know what the Church actually teaches on this subject.

The complete Pew Research Center study can be found here.

Bishop Robert Barron responds with on this video to the survey's findings.


July 17, 2019

Modeling Thomas Merton as a Response to Racism

Racism is a deeply embedded and terrible part of the American consciousness. Since its inception the Americas have been plagued by the commodity of objectifying other human beings, buying and selling them for a price. It is essential to reclaim and acknowledge the dignity of the human person in the midst of aggression and violence that continue today. Although racism is still present today, in obvious and physical actions, it is more often present in opinions that we hold in our hearts, directly or indirectly affecting our thoughts and actions. The following lesson can help adolescents recognize traumatic experiences of racism in the past, through a tangible example and the lens of Thomas Merton.

The Birmingham Bombing

On September 15, 1963, a bomb exploded at the 16th street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  The timed explosive device injured more than twenty and killing four young girls between eleven and fourteen years old.  It is chronicled that the Cistercian monk  and popular twentieth century author Thomas Merton was so haunted by a photo of one of the girls who was killed that he kept a magazine clipping of her picture in his journal – as a constant reminder of someone who never learned how to hate (Merton, The Road to Joy: Letters to Old and New Friends, 1989). Merton was also so moved by the horrific attack that he wrote a letter directly to the McNair family (who lost their daughter Denise in the bombing), as well as two poems inspired by the event (Merton, The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton, 1980). 


Have the students develop a contextual understanding of the Birmingham Bombing by researching several credible resources about the event (such as, but not limited to):

Have the students develop a contextual understanding of the Birmingham Bombing by researching several credible resources about the event (such as, but not limited to):


Have students choose a contemporary example of racism or stereotyping in culture (offer examples of groups/communities affected by racism, if necessary).  Then commission the students to create an artistic response to explain and address that situation or event of racism such as through: a poem, song, short film, eulogy, digital painting or online blog/article.


Submitted by

Thomas Malewitz, M.T.S., Ph.D.

St. Xavier High School (Louisville, KY)


July 9, 2019

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen to be Beatified

The Vatican has announced that Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979), a prominent evangelist of the mid-twentieth century who hosted a highly rated program, Life is Worth Living, on the new medium of television in the 1950s, will be beatified.

The diocese of Peoria, Illinois, reported that Sheen interceded after a baby born in 2010 and showed no signs of life. For 61 minutes the family and friends of the infant prayed to Sheen to intercede. After the baby was transferred to a Peoria hospital near the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception where Sheen was ordained in 1919 the baby showed signs of life.The baby's heart began beating and the child breathed. Today, the young child remains healthy. Msgr. Jasno Gray of Peoria who investigated the miracle explains it in an interview on EWTN.

No date for the beatification was immediately announced. One additional miracle must be credited to Archbishop Sheen before he can be canonize a saint.

Assign the following questions:

  1. What was the controversy concerning Archbishop Sheen's relics?
  2. What is the connection between Jack Benny and Lucille Ball with Archbishop Sheen?
  3. What did Sheen use as a prop on Life Is Worth Living?


June 28, 2019

Religious Liberty in America and around the World

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops offer several articles, videos, alerts and other resources on the topic of religious liberty.

Also, Ave Maria Press offers a free digital five-day mini unit, "Religious Liberty and Catholicism in the United States," that is suitable for both Catholic high school religion courses and very adaptable to parish youth ministry programs as well.

June 17, 2019

Fielding Questions about Why I Am Catholic

Brandon Vogt’s bestselling and aware winning Why I Am Catholic (And You Should Be Too) is a remarkable and persuasive argument for truth and beauty in the Catholic Church and for reasons why young people should throw off the common urge to leave the Church for the more radical decision to “join the rebellion” and go against the tide and remain or become Catholic.

Coming soon are teacher resources (lesson plans, assignments, quizzes, and more) to support this 180 pages engaging and clear read. There is also a companion study guide already available for the trade edition.

Brandon Vogt is an award-winning author, blogger, and speaker who serves as content director for Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire Catholic website.

In this recent podcast, Non –Catholic Q&A w/Bishop Barron (June 2019), Brandon and Bishop Barron field questions on the faith from non-Catholic listeners, including atheists and agnostics.  


June 10, 2019

New Edition of Your Life in Christ: Foundations in Catholic Morality!

Have you received a review copy of the third edition of the all-time best-selling Your Life in Christ: Foundations in Catholic Morality? If you are a high school theology teacher connect with Bob Wieneke to have a complimentary copy sent to your high school.



May 28, 2019

Do You Offer Your Students Extra Credit?

What is your opinion on offering extra credit to students especially during exam time? A college professor, Deborah J. Cohan, explains why she changed her mind on offering extra credit and some of its benefits in the article “A professor explains why she offers extra credit in her classroom.”

In our research with high school theology teachers, we have likewise found a majority do offer extra credit opportunities to their students. Hence we have included some questions and assignments in the Chapter Review portions of our text to help facilitate those opportunities. Some of the questions and assignments are based on the overall Focus Question of the chapter. Others are directly related to the particular section content. Even teachers who do not offer extra credit have shared that they use these questions and assignment as study guides to help their students prepare for quizzes and exams.


April 30, 2019

Church History: Comparing and Contrasting Alternate Beliefs

Helping students engage and remember Church history can be very overwhelming and is often abstract.    

The following cards offer a quick template that can assist students to quickly label, compare, and contrast specific factors of heresies, schisms, and various creeds that differ from the tenets of Roman Catholicism.  This type of assignment can also be beneficial for developing research skills, through digital literacy, and negotiating web resources to find the correct information.  For easy and creative access: use a hole punch and keep the grid cards on a ring for quick comparison.

Some of the groupings that I have used for this activity have included: Gnosticism, Arianism, Apollinarism, Nestorianism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, Mormonism, Anabaptist, Mennonite, Seventh Day Adventist, Islam, Iconoclasm, Methodist, Anglicanism, the Hussites, Presbyterianism, Baptist, and Scientology. Scour a Church history text for items that can serve to head up other groupings.



Group: ________________


Time period: __________________


Name of the founder of the movement:




Country of origin:




Main Tenets


1 –



2 –



3 -




Grouping: _______________


Time period: __________________


Name of the founder of the movement:




Country of origin:




Main Tenets


1 –



2 –



3 -

Written by:

Thomas Malewitz, M.T.S., Ph.D.

St. Xavier High School (Louisville, KY)

April 4, 2019

Five Tools for Implementing Technology in a Theology Classroom

In 2006 I had my first experience teaching in a 1:1 environment using technology. At the time, students had laptops and the classroom had a SMART board. Today, technology in the classroom includes e-textbooks and learning management systems (LMS). Since then I have worked with the iPad, Chromebook, and Surface Pro to integrate technology-based pedagogical methods into Christian religious education. From this experience, I would like to share five tools for implementing digital technology in a theology classroom.


  1. Nearpod


Nearpod is a web-based application that engages students in the teacher’s presentation of the class content and offers immediate assessment of student learning. With Nearpod, a teacher can create slides or upload an already prepared PowerPoint, Google Slide, or PDF. Additionally, a teacher can insert interactive slides to poll students’ views on a topic or ethical question, evaluate the student’ prior knowledge on a topic, or create a real-time formative assessment after a concept has been presented.

For example, a teacher could create a multiple-choice, true-false, matching pairs, or fill in the blanks questions quiz. The open-ended question slide permits students to express their thoughts on the topic, as well as respond to application or evaluation questions. The teacher can then show student responses on the main classroom display. Lastly, the teacher may opt to have students view the presentation on their 1:1 device. This allows students to follow the teacher presentation on their device or work at their own pace. Some limitations with Nearpod are its inability to allow users to rearrange the textboxes on a slide to make room for other textboxes or images, write on a slide while presenting, and to animate the content on a slide so the content does not appear all at once.


  1. Wooclap

Wooclap is a web-based application like Nearpod. However, Wooclap offers several interactive features not available in Nearpod, e.g. brainstorming, a rating-scale, finding a correct area on an image, prioritization, and sorting. Wooclap too allows for live messaging, gamification, and is compatible with PowerPoint. Compatibility with PowerPoint allows the user to insert Wooclap interactive slides into one’s PowerPoint presentation. Wooclap shares the same limitations noted for Nearpod. Unlike Nearpod (that is designed for educators), Wooclap is tailored for a broader population. Consequently, while Wooclap offers more features, Nearpod attends more to specific needs of educators.


  1. Kami

Kami is also a web-based application that allows the user to annotate e-books and PDFs. In Kami, the user can highlight text, use textbooks to make annotations, add notes on the side, draw and handwrite, and insert audio annotations. This means students can interact with their class textbook on PDF as they would with a hardcopy textbook. Moreover, students can add typed, hand-written, or audio annotations. Teachers can also go paperless as students can download handouts, complete them on Kami, and then submit the annotated assignment to the class’ LMS. As Kami is designed for educators, Kami offers blogs for educators to share best practices.


  1. Storyboard

This web-based application is a great tool for digital story telling as users can create a storyboard with scenes, characters, props, dialogue, and explanations. This is a helpful tool for presenting content and evaluating student learning, particularly when teaching a Scripture or Church history course.


  1. PowerPoint

PowerPoint’s strength lies on the user’s capability to customize the slides by mixing images, fonts, textboxes; along with the animation and transition of slides features. Additionally, when presenting, the teacher can highlight and write explanations on the slide with content or use the white screen function to have a clean whiteboard for which to offer further explanations. This is a valuable tool for classroom management as, when used with a tablet, a teacher can offer explanations from anywhere in the classroom. Lastly, the narration feature records the slide transitions and animations along with the teacher’s verbal and written explanations.

This narration can be exported into video to create Vodcasts. This is a valuable tool as students can access the lecture on their own device in class or at home. Also, students can work at their own pace. One limitation of PowerPoint is that the teacher is the active participant and students are passive recipients. However, the integration of Wooclap into PowerPoint overcomes this limitation. The integration of Wooclap also does away with the teacher having to choose between PowerPoint and another application that engages students and with switching between applications when presenting class content


Written by:
Israel Diaz, M.T.S., M.A. Theo
Department of Theology 
St. Thomas Aquinas High School


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