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Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

April 30, 2008

A New Type of Magazine!

There are many teen-focused magazines that talk about looks, broken relationships, dieting, “in styles” along with a certain amount of gossip. I often see my students with them as they walk around school and come into the classroom.

One day I borrowed one of their magazines to show the class, trying to teach them to look at it with a critical eye. I explained to them how difficult it is to find articles and stories about building self- esteem, dressing modestly, working to have healthy relationships and real friendships. We discussed the media’s goal to sell a product that is attractive to many teens. Most of my students agreed. So I went on to say “how great it would be to have a magazine that is attractive to teens, but yet speaks of positive values, Christian values, of good habits.” Even if a teen didn’t feel close to God in that moment of their life, they could still see the positive in the magazine.

I then offered them a project assignment: Create a magazine that contains aspects of a Christian lifestyle (positive values, Christian values, of good habits) but which is appealing to people their age. Some other details of the assignment:

  • Total length must be 20 pages
  • must have a title and cover page with details (like on a real magazine)
  • must contain at least three of each of the following: ads, stories, letters (asking for advice), tips (make-up, etc..), pictures and articles

The results were great! The photo shows the cover of one of the magazines.

Feel free to adapt it to your class.
And if you can, share the covers with us on the blog.

March 4, 2008

A Lesson on the Evangelical Counsels

Students will spend time learning the meaning of the evangelical counsels and the impact they can have on society if lived or not lived. They will then identify how others live them and discover ways to put them into practice in their everyday lives.

1) Give the students the three evangelical counsels: poverty, chastity and obedience, and the definition of each. Read over them together in class.

2) For each counsel, have the students make a list of ways how they may see lifestyles in society that contradict these counsels. Have them give examples wherever they can. The following examples may help if they are at a loss:
• For poverty – consumerism
• For chastity – intimate relationships between boyfriend and girlfriend
• For obedience – disobeying parents

3) Take time to discuss the ideas they come up with being careful to define any terms that might seem new or unclear. They may want to debate the ideas in class. This can be good if done in a respectable manner and for a limited period of time.

4) Next have them brainstorm about what can happen if the counsels are not lived in society and the repercussions. They should write down their ideas. Discuss their ideas and any foreseeable consequences.

5) Next have them write down how they can live each counsel in their own everyday life. This should be very concrete with specific examples. If time permits have them share them out loud with the class.

Media Probe
1) Have the students identify a billboard which is in contrast to one of the counsels. Let them re-create the billboard with a message more in line with that counsel.

2) Have the students identify a song is in contrast to one of the counsels. Let them re-write the song with lyrics more in line with that counsel.

This can lead into a wonderful discussion about the effects of media in our culture.

January 18, 2008

Keys to A Good Relationship

The topic of relationships is always of particular interest with teenagers. They are constantly looking for friends, trying to keep friends and sometimes losing friends. They want to understand love, experience love and be loved. They are also often in search of someone with whom they can have a more in depth boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. At the same time though it’s great to see their desire for wholesome, authentic relationships, for respect, for real freedom, for purity, for true love. And I see more and more everyday that this is truly what they are looking for.

I have visited and discussed the following website with my students various times and found it to be quite useful. Perhaps the site and the following ideas can be an activity for your class. Life Athleteswebsite is a guide to having good, authentic relationships. It’s especially geared toward young people. It’s about athletes who have made a choice about living their sexuality and their relationships and can therefore be good role models, especially for young athletes today.

Show them some of the athletes who are members. It helps them to see that people are really serious about true relationships. If the students follow sports, they may recognize some and be able to relate to them.

  • Present the Life Athletes Commitment:

1) I will try to do what is right even when it is difficult

2) I will give myself only to the special person whom I marry as my partner for life.
3) I will respect the lives of others, especially the unborn and the aged.

4) I will not quit or make excuses when I fail. I will try again.

  • Encourage them to make the pledge (at least in their heart)

  • Have them get together in groups and discuss how they understand them and how they could live them. This has often given rise to in-depth discussions where the students see their own strengths and are therefore encouraged, but also their weaknesses.

Quotes for Thought

“The best anyone can do for another is always what he is for the other.”

Adalbert Stifter

“The characteristic of Christian friendship is that it is not closed. It deepens in the measure in which it opens itself ever more widely to whoever is in need of love.”

Bernhard Haring

“Love wants nothing from the other but wants everything for the other.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“True friendship is experienced when everything around us disappears.”


September 3, 2007

Five Precepts of the Church: An Introduction

Here’s a lesson plan that can be used to help students learn and identify with the precepts of the Church.

Grade level: 9 - 11
Subjects: Catholicism, Christian Lifestyles

Purpose: The following lesson can help students enter into their Christian identity and get to know the precepts of the Catholic Church. It can also help them reflect on their own ways of living out their faith on a day to day basis.

Objective: The students will examine the five precepts of the Catholic Church and understand how they can incorporate them into their daily life.

Directions: Have the students write down the precepts so they have them to work with. Then have the students identify the ones they feel other youth would have trouble living. Ask them to share their thoughts on why they would have trouble. This can lead to a helpful guided discussion about what it means to be a Christian.

The next task takes the students a step deeper, if some are willing to participate. Ask the students to identify and then share about the precepts they feel they haven’t lived or can’t live. Use this opportunity to discuss the reasons why. Here could be your chance to bring other key concepts into the discussion. Often it’s enough to have one person speak and the dialogue will trigger other thoughts and comments. Feel free to let them voice their criticisms and worries as well. This helps them identify the obstacles they may have to living out their faith. You may then want to address a particular obstacle to guide them.

Lastly, have the students choose and write down two or three they would like to work on and improve on. For each one they choose have them write down a few steps they can take to achieve this. Hopefully this will become a “project” they want to take seriously and throw themselves into.

Follow up: At a later date ask them about their progress regarding the precepts they have chosen.

July 10, 2007

Forgiveness… even when it’s hard!

The topic of love was the main point of a lesson with my juniors one day. They were quite inquisitive about the various types of love expressed by the Greek terms such as eros, phila and agape. Then we moved on to the way we experience love for others. Here I made it a point to leave room for them to think, provoked perhaps by some of my questions regarding their memories of family and friends. They cherished the moments shared with the closest ones in their lives and the love they had for each person. Next was love for enemies, forgiveness. Here we hit a roadblock. I knew it would be a sensitive issue but I felt the need to face it. After I mentioned a few familiar figures in our recent past who may be remembered in a negative way, the majority of the kids agreed that love for enemies is asking too much. My students couldn’t imagine a love for people who committed such terrible crimes.

A recent tragedy that came to the forefront was the Virginia Tech incident. We spoke about what happened and the man responsible for the act but again forgiveness wasn’t an option. Later we read the words of a young person in a Living City magazine article written about the event: “There is Jesus in everyone, and despite the fact that (he) killed numerous people, we have to forgive him and keep loving everyone unconditionally.” We then turned to Jesus’ experience and words: “forgive them Father for they do not know what they do.” We discussed how Jesus loved to the end and wants us to do likewise. Slowly, they became somewhat convinced that they too could maybe have a similar love. Their response to similar topics in the past was “well, we’re not Jesus”, but by discussing and working through it, a light began to shine in the darkness. They started to see that just maybe they can forgive. Seeing their change of heart, and what it was costing, made a huge impression on me.

A prayer by Celeste

“Lord, can you fix my eyesight like you did for the blind man?
I want to see with your eyes those who are teased for being different at school.
I want to see with your eyes the homeless person on a park bench.
I want to see more than people who think that being thinner or stronger makes you more loveable.
I want to see more than people who look at wealth and think that’s what life is all about.
Help me to see with your eyes, Lord! Blind me to the way the world sees so that I won’t give in to judging people on their looks or skin color or possessions or personality.”

June 8, 2007

As the Year Came to a Close

As the school year wound down, the students began to get a handle on all the year’s material and prepare for final exams. There was a lot of nervousness and worry. It was certainly a year of fun times and laughter, but also one of hard work and stress. The end of the year is a time when they look back and try to review what they have learned. So one day, as they flip back through pages of notes and seek to piece things together, I asked them to stop and reflect. I asked them to reflect on a topic which we have talked about many times: happiness. I asked to answer this question “What do you feel is the key to happiness?”

I started playing a CD of Gregorian chant I had nearby and not a minute had gone by before they had begun to write. I went to my desk to give them some freedom. After a few minutes I went around the room and saw most desks with at least one page completed. It struck a cord. These teenagers had clear ideas about happiness. To my surprise, they weren’t focused on having things or going places, but on things that give meaning to life, that are fulfilling.

Their responses to the question “What do you feel is the key to happiness?” included:
“Family, friends and God”
“To follow God’s path”
“Being the best version of yourself”
“Everything that’s pure and clean”
“Loving people and people loving you back”
“Living life to the fullest and sharing special moments with your family”
“Being generous and helpful to others”
“Being around people you love and the people who love you”
“To have God in our lives”
“A sense of completeness”
“A sense of belonging”
“Being needed for something”
“Knowing that you have a purpose”
“Perfect harmony with everyone and yourself”
“If doing good and helping others makes us happy, then the ability to choose to do good will make us happy”
“Living the way God wants”

We have explored many lives of people in the world who are making a difference such as at Do Something or the Urban Youth Ministry. These students are about to go off and begin their fun-filled summer vacation.

Perhaps this summer will be spent knowing that happiness has other roots. Perhaps they’ll be encouraged to strive to find true happiness, and join the many who are out there making the world a better place. If you still have some days left with your students before the year ends, offer them the challenge to get to know other youth their age who are out there helping others. They just might take you up on it.

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