How to Teach Religion - Principles and Methods
by George Herbert Betts
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It is all-important that at this time the Bible material should furnish the most of inspiration and guidance possible. The life and service of Jesus will now exert its fullest appeal, and should be studied in detail. The work and service of Paul and of the apostles in founding the early church will fire the imagination and quicken the sense of the world's need of great lives. The ethical teachings of the Bible should now be made prominent, and should be made effective in shaping the ideals of personal and of social conduct which are crystallizing. The development of the Hebrew religion, with its ethical teaching, and the moral quality of the Christian religion are now fruitful matter for study.

During the later part of adolescence the youth is ready to consider biblical matter that throws light on the deeper meaning of sin, of redemption, of repentance, of forgiveness, of regeneration, and other such vital concepts from our religion. The simplest and least controversial interpretations—that is, the broader and more significant meanings—should be presented, and not the overspeculative and disputed interpretations, which are almost certain to lead to mental and perhaps spiritual disturbance and even doubt.

The guiding principle.—For whatever age or stage of the child's development we are responsible, we will follow the same principle. Because we want to cultivate in the child a deep and continuing interest in the Bible and the things for which it stands, we will seek always to bring to him such material as will appeal to his interest, stir his imagination, and quicken his sense of spiritual values. Since we desire to influence the learner's deeds and shape his conduct through our teaching, we will present to him those lessons from the Bible which are most naturally and inevitably translated into daily living. First we will know what impression we seek to make or what application we hope to secure, and then wisely choose from the rich Bible sources the material which will most surely accomplish this end.


The story is the chief and most effective means of teaching the younger child religion, nor does the appeal of the story form of expressing truth lose its charm for those of older years. Lessons incomprehensible if put into formal precept can be readily understood by the child if made a part of life and action, and the story does just this. It shows virtue being lived; goodness proving itself; strength, courage, and gentleness expressing themselves in practice; and selfishness, ugliness, and wrong revealing their unlovely quality. Taught in the story way, the lesson is so plain that even the child cannot miss it.

The story also appeals to the child's imagination, which is so ready for use and so vivid, and which it is so necessary to employ upon good material in order to safeguard its possessor from using it in harmful ways. Long before the child has come to the age of understanding reasoned truth, therefore, he may well have implanted in his mind many of the deepest and most beautiful religious truths which will ever come to him.

The Old Testament rich in story material.—The wonderful religious and ethical teachings of the Old Testament belong to a child-nation, and were written by men who were in freshness of heart and in picturesqueness and simplicity of thought essentially child-men; hence these teachings are in large part written in the form of story, of legend, of allegory, of myth, of vivid picture and of unrimed poetry. It is this quality which makes the material so suitable to the child. The deeper meanings of the story do not have to be explained, even to the young child; he grasps them, not all at once, but slowly and surely as the story is told and retold to him. If the story is properly told, the child does not have to be taught that the Bible myth or legend is myth or legend; he accepts it as such, not troubling to analyze or explain, but unconsciously appropriating such inner meaning as his experience makes possible, and building the lesson into the structure of his growing nature.

If full advantage is taken of the story as a means of religious teaching, the grounding of the child in the fundamental concepts and attitudes of religion can be accomplished with certainty and effectiveness almost before the age for really formal instruction has come.

The ethical quality alone not enough in stories.—Many stories of highest religious value are available from other sources than the Bible, yet no other stories can ever wholly take the place of the Bible stories. For the Bible stories possess one essential quality lacking in stories from other sources; the Bible stories are saturated with God. And this is an element wholly vital to the child's instruction in religion.

We cannot teach the child religion on the basis of ethics alone, necessary as morality is to life. We cannot help the child to spiritual growth and the consciousness of God in his life without having the matter we teach him permeated and made alive with the spirit and presence of God in it. Nor is there the least difficulty for the child to understand God in the stories. The child, like the Hebrews themselves, does not feel any necessity of explaining or accounting for God, but readily and naturally accepts him and the part he plays in our affairs as a matter of course.

Stories from other than Bible sources.—But once a sufficient proportion of Bible stories is provided for, stories should be freely drawn from other fields. An abundance of rich material possessing true religious worth can be found in the myths, legends, folk lore, and heroic tales of many literatures. These are a treasure house with which every teacher of children should be familiar; nor is the task a burdensome one, for much of this material holds a value and charm even for the older ones of us.

Later writers have enriched the fund of material available for children by treating many of the aspects of nature in story form, thereby opening up to the mind and heart of the child something of the meaning and beauty of the physical world, and showing God as the giver of many good gifts in this realm of our lives. There are also available the stories of history, and of the real men and women whose lives have blessed our own or other times, and whose deeds and achievements will appeal to the imagination and stir the ideals of youth.

The teacher as a story teller.—The successful teacher of religion must therefore possess the art which will enable him to use the story as one of the chief forms of material in his instruction. He must know the stories. He must be able to tell them interestingly. The story loses half of its effectiveness if it must be read to the child, but it may lose in similar proportion if it is haltingly or ineffectively told. It is not necessary, at least for the younger children, to use a large number of stories. In fact, there is positive disadvantage in attempting to employ so many stories that the child does not become wholly familiar with each separate one. Children do not tire of the stories they like; indeed, their love for a story increases as they come to know it well, and they will demand to have the same story told over and over in preference to a new one.

The use of the story with older children.—A mistake has been made in not a few of the Sunday school lesson series in sharply reducing the story material for all ages above the primary grades. It must be remembered that while the older child has more power to grasp and understand abstract lessons than the younger child, there is no age or stage of development at which the story and the concrete illustration are not an attractive and effective mode of teaching. Surely, all through the junior and intermediate grades the story should be one of the chief forms of material for religious instruction, while for adolescents stories will still be far from negligible.

The principles of story-using, then, are clear in the teaching of religion: Make the story one of the chief instruments of instruction; see that it is charged with religious and moral value; make sure it is adapted to the age of the learner, and that it is well told; for younger children use few stories frequently repeated until they are well known; do not insist that the child shall at first grasp the deeper meanings of the story, make sure of interest and enjoyment, and the meaning will come later.


The child's spontaneous love of nature and ready response to the world of objects about him open up rich sources of material for religious instruction. God who creates the beautiful flowers, who causes the breezes to blow, who carpets the earth with green, who paints the autumn hillside with glowing color, who directs the coming and going of the seasons, who tells the buds when to swell and the leaves to unfold, who directs the sparrow in its flight and the bee in its search, who is in the song of the birds and the whisper of the leaves, who sends his rain and makes the thunder roll—this God can be brought, through the medium of nature's forms, very near to the child. And the love and appreciation which the child lavishes on the dear and beautiful things about him will extend naturally and without trouble of comprehension to their Creator.

Nature material useful for all ages.—Most of the lesson material now supplied for our Sunday schools use a considerable amount of nature material in the earlier grades, but some important lesson series omit most or all nature material from the junior department on. This is a serious mistake. All through childhood and youth the pupil is continuing in the public school his study of nature and its laws. Along with this broadening of knowledge of the natural world should be the deepening of appreciation of its spiritual meaning, and the inspiration to praise and worship which comes from it. One does not, or at least should not, at any age outgrow his response to the wonders and beauties which nature unfolds before him who has eyes to see its inner meaning. None can afford to lose the simple, untutored awe with which children and primitive men look out upon the world.

Carlyle, recognizing this truth, exclaims: "This green, flowery, rock-built earth, the trees, the mountains, rivers, many-sounding seas; that great deep sea of azure that swims overhead; the winds sweeping through it; the black cloud fashioning itself together, now pouring out fire, now hail and rain; what is it? Aye, what?... An unspeakable, godlike thing, toward which the best attitude for us, after never so much science, is awe, devout prostration, and humility of soul; worship, if not in words, then in silence."

In the same spirit Max Mueller exhorts us: "Look at the dawn, and forget for a moment your astronomy; and I ask you whether, when the dark veil of night is slowly lifted, and the air becomes transparent and alive, and light streams forth you know not whence, you would not feel that your eye were looking into the very eye of the Infinite?" And Emerson reminds us: "If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile."

When, then, shall we have become too far removed from childhood to be beyond the appeal of nature to our souls? When shall we cease to "hold communion with her visible forms," and to find in them one of the many avenues which God has left open for us to use in approaching him! What teacher of us will dare to leave out of his instruction at any stage of the child's development the beneficent and wonder-working God of nature as he smiles his benediction upon us from the myriad common things around us!


God is to be found in the lives of nations and of men not less than in nature, and the evidences and effects of his presence there should be taught our children. The spirit which Jesus revealed in his life upon earth is exemplified in the lives of many of his followers who joyously spend themselves in the service of others. Men who set the standard for manliness, and women whose character and lives are the best definition of womanliness, are as much a revelation of God's work and power as a constellation of stars or the bloom of the rose.

The example of great lives.—So, along with the great Bible characters we will bring to the child the men, and women of other generations. We will bring to him the great souls who, as missionaries, have carried the Light to those who sit in darkness; those who in honesty and integrity of purpose have served as leaders of nations or armies or movements to the blessing of humanity; those who, with the love of God in their hearts, have gone out as ministers, teachers, writers of books, singers of songs, makers of pictures, healers of sickness; or those who, in any field, of toil or service, have given the cup of cold water in the name of the Master.

And we will bring to the child the story of the nations, showing him one people growing in strength, power, and happiness while following God's plan of human justice, mercy, and kindness; and another going down to destruction, its very name and speech forgotten, because it became arrogant and perverse and forgot the ways of righteousness. At the proper time in their development we will bring to our pupils the life and problems of the present—the wrongs that need to be righted, the causes that need to be defended and carried through to victory, the evil that needs to be suppressed, the work of Christ and the church which is, awaiting workers. Thus shall we seek to bring the challenge of life itself to those we teach.


No discussion of the curriculum can ignore the use of pictures as teaching material. Teachers of religion have long recognized the value of visual instruction, and every lesson series now has its full quota of picture cards and other forms of pictorial material.

In this picture material may roughly be distinguished three great types: (1) the symbolical picture; (2) the rather formal picture, often badly conceived and executed, always dealing with biblical characters or incidents; and (3) the more universalized type drawn from every field of pictorial art, representing not only biblical personages and events, but also typifying aesthetic and moral values of every range adapted to the understanding and appreciation of the child.

Types of pictures.—Representative of the first, or symbolical, pictorial type are found the more or less crude pen drawings of such things as the heart with a key, an open Bible with a torch beside it, tombstone-like drawings representing the Tables of the Law or three interlocking circles representing the Trinity, etc.

Not only are all these abstract concepts beyond the grasp or need of the child at the age when the pictures are represented, but the symbols are in no degree suggestive to the child of the lesson intended; they are devoid of meaning, without interest, possess no artistic value, and lack all teaching significance. Such material should be discarded, and better pictures provided.

The second type of pictures, or those dealing with Bible topics, contain teaching power, but should be merged with the third, or true art, type. That is to say, biblical subjects, moral lessons, and inspiring ideals should be treated by true artists and made a part of the religious curriculum for childhood. Wherever suitable masterpieces executed by great artists can be found, copies should be made available for teaching religion. Hundreds of such pictures hang in our art galleries, and not a few of them have already been incorporated into several excellent series for the Sunday school.

Further, the pictures offered children should be as carefully selected with reference to what they are to teach, and should be as carefully graded to meet the age, interests, and appreciations of the child as are other forms of curriculum material. Some otherwise excellent picture sets of recent publication lose the greater part of their usefulness as teaching helps through the lack of this adaptation.


Music as a part of the curriculum of religious education offers a peculiarly difficult problem. No other form of expression can take the place of music in creating a spirit of reverence and devotion, or in inducing an attitude of worship and inspiring religious feeling and emotion. Children ought to sing much both in the church school and in their worship at home.

Yet most of our hymns have been written for adults, and most of the music is better adapted to adult singing than to the singing of children. The ragtime hymns which find a place in many Sunday school exercises need only to be mentioned to be condemned. On the other hand, many of the finest hymns of the church are beyond the grasp of the child in sentiment and beyond his ability in music. The church seriously needs a revival of religious hymnology for children. In the meantime the greatest care should be used to select hymns for children's singing which possess as fully as may be three requisites: (1) music adapted to the child's capacity, (2) music that is worthy, interesting and devotional, and (3) words within the child's understanding and interest, and suitable in sentiment.

1. Many persons think that teaching the child religion and teaching him the Bible are precisely the same thing. Do you think it is possible to teach the child parts of the Bible without securing for him spiritual development from the process? Is it possible to make the Bible itself mean more to the child by supplementing it with material from other sources?

2. Do you ever find lessons provided for your class which are not adapted to their age and understanding? If so, do you feel free to supplement or substitute with material which meets their needs? Do you have sufficient command of the material of the Bible and other sources so that you can do this successfully?

3. Do you know a considerable number of stories adapted to the age of your pupils? Are you constantly adding to your list? Are you a good story teller? Are you studying to improve in this line? Even if your lesson material does not provide stories, do you bring such material in for your class?

4. What use do you make of nature in the teaching of religion? President Hall thinks that nature material is one of the best sources of religious instruction. Do you agree with him? Are you sufficiently in love with nature yourself, and sufficiently acquainted with nature so that you can successfully use the nature motive in your teaching?

5. Do you constantly make use of stories and illustrations from the lives of great men and women in your teaching? Do you take a reasonable proportion of these from contemporary life? Do you bring in stories of fine actions by boys and girls? What use have you been making of events in the lives of nations in your teaching? Are you reading and studying to become more fully prepared to use this type of material?


Houghton, Telling Bible Stories.

Raymont, The Use of the Bible in the Education of the Young.

Brace, The Training of the Twelve.

Drake, Problems of Religion, chapter IX.

Athearn, The Church School.



The organization of material to adapt it to the learner's mind and arrange it for the teacher's use in instruction is hardly less important than choosing the subject matter itself. By organization is meant the plan, order, or arrangement by which the different sections of material are made ready for presentation to the child. The problems of organization may apply either (1) to the curriculum as a whole, or (2) to any particular section of it used for a day's lesson.

It is possible to distinguish four different types of organization commonly used in preparing material for religious instruction:

1. The haphazard, in which there is no definite plan or order, no thread of purpose or relationship uniting the parts, no guiding principle determining the order and sequence.

2. The logical, in which the nature and relationships of the material itself determine the plan and order, the question of ease and effectiveness in learning being secondary or not considered.

3. The chronological, applicable especially to historical material, in which the events, characters, and facts are taken up in the order of the time of their appearance and their sequence in the entire situation or account.

4. The psychological, in which the first and most important question is the most natural and favorable mode of approach for the learner—how the material shall be planned and arranged to suit his power and grasp, appeal to his interest, and relate itself to his actual needs and experience.


Haphazard organization.—The haphazard plan, which is really no plan at all, is, of course, wholly indefensible. No teacher has a right to go before his class with his material in so nebulous a state that it lacks coordination and purpose. It is this that results in chance and unrelated questions, irrelevant discussions, and fruitless wanderings without definite purpose over the field of the lesson, such as may sometimes be seen in church classes.

The outcome of such instruction hardly can be more than occasional, disconnected scraps of information, or fragmentary impressions which are never gathered up and bound together into completed ideals and convictions. The haphazard type of organization may result from incompetence, indifference, and failure to prepare, or from taking a ready-made and poorly prepared plan from the "lesson helps" which is not adapted to our class. Pity the child assigned to a class presided over by a teacher who esteems his privilege so lightly as not to make ready for his task by careful planning.

Logical organization.—In the logical arrangement of material, the first care is not given to planning it in the most favorable way for the one who studies and learns it, but, rather, to fit together the different parts of the subject matter in the way best suited to its logical relationships. The child is pedagogically ignored; the material receives primary consideration. The logical order of material fits the mind of the adult, the scholar, the expert, the master in his field of knowledge; it begins with the most general and abstract truths. But the child naturally starts with the particular and the concrete. It gives rules, principles, definitions, while the child asks for illustrations, applications, real instances, and actual cases.

The logical method is adapted to the trained explorer in the fields of learning, to one who has been over the ground and knows all of its details, and not to the young novice just starting his discoveries in regions that are strange to him. The logical plan will teach the young child the general plan of salvation, man's fall and need of redemption, the wonder and significance of the atonement, and gracious effects of divine regeneration working in the heart—all of which he needs finally to know—but not as a child just beginning the study of religion. The child must arrive at the general plan of salvation through realizing the saving power at work in his own life; he must come to understand the fall of man and his need of redemption through meeting his own childhood temptations and through seeing the effects of sin at work around him; he must understand the atonement and regeneration through the present and growing consciousness of a living Christ daily strengthening and redeeming his life.

Chronological organization.—The chronological order of material is desirable at the later stages of the child's growth and development. But in earlier years the time sequence is not the chief consideration. This is because the child's historical sense is not yet ready for the concept of cause and effect at work to produce certain inevitable results in the lives of men or nations.

The sequence in which certain kings reigned, or the order in which certain events took place, or in which certain books of the Bible were written is not the important thing for early childhood. At this time the great object is to seize upon the event, the character or the incident, and make it real and vital; it is to bring the meaning of the lesson out of its past setting and attach it to the child's immediate present.

Psychological organization.—It is the psychological organization of material that should obtain both in the curriculum as a whole and in the planning of the individual lessons. We must not think, however, that a psychological order of material necessarily makes it illogical. On the other hand, the arrangement of material that takes into account the child's needs is certain to make it more logical to him than any adult scheme or plan could do. That is most logical to any person which most completely fits into his particular system of thought and understanding. If we succeed in making our plan of presenting material to the child wholly psychological, therefore, we need not be concerned; all other questions of organization will take care of themselves, and the psychological will constantly tend to become logical.

What is meant by a psychological method of arranging material for presentation has already been discussed (Chapter III). Suffice it to say here that it is simply planning the subject matter to fit the mind and needs of the child—arranging for the easiest and most natural mode of approach, securing the most immediate points of contact for interest and application, remembering all the time that the child speaks as a child, thinks as a child, understands as a child.

Jesus' use of the psychological plan.—The teacher who seeks to master the spirit of the psychological presentation of religious material should study the teaching-method of Jesus. Always he came close to the life and experience of those he would impress; always he proceeds from the plane of the learner's experiences, understanding, and interests. Did he want to teach a great lesson about the different ways in which men receive truth into their lives?—"Behold a sower went forth to sow." Did he seek to explain the stupendous meaning and significance of the new kingdom of the spirit which he came to reveal?—"The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed," or, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal," or, "The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field."

And with this simple, direct, psychological, homely mode of approach to great themes Jesus made his hearers understand vital lessons, and at the same time showed them how to apply the lessons to their own lives. So throughout all his teaching and preaching; the lesson of the talents, the prodigal son, the workers in the vineyard, the wedding feast, placing a little child in the midst of them—all these and many other concrete points of departure illustrate the highest degree of skill in the psychological use of material.


The material offered in the curriculum of our church schools is not, taking it in all its parts, as well organized as that in our public day schools. This is in part because the material of religion is somewhat more difficult to grade and arrange for the child than the material of arithmetic, geography, and other school subjects. But it is also because the church school has not fully kept pace with the progress in education of recent times.

A century or two ago the day-school texts were not well graded and adapted to children; now, we have carefully graded systems of texts in all school subjects. While the logical and the chronological method of organization still holds a place in many of the public school texts, the psychological point of view, which considers the needs of the child first, is characteristic of all the better schoolbooks of the present. Just because religion is more difficult to teach than grammar or history or arithmetic, we should plan with all the insight and skill at our command to prepare the religious material for our children so that its arrangement will not suffer by comparison with day-school material.

Three types of lesson material.—Material representing three different types of organization and content of curriculum material is now available and being used in our church schools:

1. The Uniform Lessons, which are ungraded, and which give (with few minor exceptions) the same topics and material to all ages of pupils from the youngest children to adults.

2. The Graded Lessons, which seek to adapt the topics and subject matter to the age and needs of the child, and which therefore present different material for the various grades or divisions of the school. These are usually printed in leaflet or pamphlet form.

3. Real textbooks of religion which are based on the principles used in making day-school texts. The material is divided into chapters, each dealing with some theme or topic adapted to the age of the child, the lessons not being dated nor arranged to cover a certain cycle of subject matter as in the case of the regular lesson series. The books are printed and bound much the same as day-school texts.

The uniform lessons.—Although many churches still employ the Uniform Lessons, we shall not hesitate to say that no church school is justified in this day of educational enlightenment in using a system of ungraded lessons. Such lessons are planned for adults. They ignore the needs of the child, and force upon him material for which he is in no sense ready, while at the same time omitting matter that he needs and is capable of understanding and using. For example, some of the topics which primary children, juniors, and all alike find in their ungraded lessons of current date are, man's fall, the atonement, regeneration, the city of God, faith—splendid topics all, but too strong meat for babes.

Why should we thus ignore the educational progress of the age, starve our children spiritually, and hamper them in their religious development by this obsolete system of education which has been long since outgrown in the public schools? Why should we not ignore tradition, prejudice, and personal preference, where these are in the way, and let the needs of the child decide? Why should thousands of church schools to-day be using the Uniform Lessons?

Some use them because they are cheaper; others because they always have used them and do not like the trouble and disarrangement of a change; others because of the doubtful theory of the inspiration that comes from having all the members of the family studying the same lesson at the same time (we do not expect all the family to read or study the same material in other lines); and perhaps others because they have not been accustomed to thinking of religious education following the same principles and laws as other education. But whatever the explanation of the use of the Uniform Lessons in our church schools in the past, let us now see to it that they give way to better material. Let us not be satisfied, even, when the ungraded uniform lessons are "improved"; they should not be improved, but discarded.

Graded lessons.—A large and increasing number of our best church schools are now using some form of graded lesson material based on the topics supplied by the International Lesson Committee. Each great denomination has its own lesson writers, who take these topics and elaborate them into the graded lessons such as we know in the Berean Series, the Keystone Series, the Pilgrim Series, the Westminster Series, etc. All such lesson material, which seeks to adapt the material to the needs of the child as he progresses year by year from infancy to adulthood, is infinitely superior to any form of ungraded material. It is easier and more interesting for the child to learn, less difficult for the teacher to present; and its value in guiding spiritual development immeasurably greater.

Some form of closely graded lessons is the only kind of material which should be used in our church schools; the children have the same need and the same right to material graded and prepared to meet their understanding in religion as in language or in science. But when we employ graded lessons we must make sure that the child, and not the subject matter; is the basis of the grading. We must make certain that the writer of the lessons knows the mental grasp, the type of interests, the characteristic attitudes, and the social activities of the child at the different stages, and then arranges the material to meet these needs. We must not simply aim to cover so much biblical material, even if we select it as well as we may to come within the child's grasp; we must have his real religious needs, his religious growth, and his spiritual development in mind, and provide for these.

Adapting graded lessons to young children.—In the graded series of lessons now most commonly used in the church schools the material is, on the whole, fairly well selected to meet the needs of the beginners and the primary section. Interesting stories are told, and much nature material presented. The work is, of course, all presented to the pupils by the teacher, as the children cannot yet read. In some cases the stories used are undoubtedly too difficult, and not a few of them lack the elements of good story-telling.

Yet the instruction usually centers about the topics most needed by the child at this time—the love and care of God both for our lives and in the world of nature about us; the Christ-child and his care for children; lessons of kindness, obedience and love in the home, etc. Because of this directness of appeal the child responds to the material and the teacher finds her task much easier and more fruitful than with the difficult topics of the ungraded lessons.

Graded lessons not all well adapted to ages.—As the graded lessons pass on into the junior age, the adaptation of material is generally less successful than for the primary grades. The topics are based less on the interests and spiritual needs of the child, and more on the material. The lessons for the greater part consist of biblical material only, and are often too difficult for the child to be interested in them or to understand them. No coordinating principle relates the topics to each other, and the material consequently comes to the child in rather disconnected scraps. Too frequently this material, because it belongs to a later stage of development, is without any particular or direct bearing on the learner's experience, and hence not assimilated into his life.

The remedy here is to use a larger proportion of story material, of biography, of lessons from nature, and of such gems of literature as carry a spiritual message suited to the child. The caution is to avoid over-intellectualizing the child's religious instruction, and to make sure that we do not outrun his rate of development in the material we give him. The same principles should carry over into the intermediate, or preadolescence, age. The hero-worship stage is then, at hand, and the lesson material should be arranged to meet the natural demand of the child for action and adventure.

In planning a graded series of lessons it is not less important to meet the needs of the seniors, or adolescents, than of the younger pupils. This has not always been accomplished. Here again, as in the earlier years, the immediate interests and needs of the learner are to be the key to the planning of material. A series of unrelated topics dealing with a distant time and civilization, with little or no application to the problems and interests that are now thronging upon the youth, will make small appeal to him. The youth's growing consciousness of social problems, his interest in a vocation, his increasing feeling of personal responsibility as a member of the family, the community, the church and the brotherhood of men are suggestions of the nature of the topics that should now form the foundation of religious study and instruction.

It is possible that the forgetting of this simple fact in the planning of material for adolescent pupils is one chief reason for the tragic loss of interest in the Sunday school which so often occurs at the adolescent stage.

Text books of religious material.—The text book type of religious material differs more in the organization and arrangement of material than in the subject matter itself. The lessons are not based on a set cycle of biblical material, though, of course, such material is freely used. Usually one topic or theme is followed throughout the text, the number of lessons or chapters provided being intended for one year's work. The following titles of texts now in use suggest the nature of the subject matter: "God's Wonder World," "Heroes of Israel," "Heroic Lives," "The Story of Jesus," "The Making of a Nation," "Our Part in the World," "The Story of a Book," "The Manhood of the Master," "Problems of Boyhood," "Social Duties," "The Testing of a Nation's Ideals."

Beyond question, the material we teach our children in religion should be organized and published as real books and not as paper-covered or unbound serial pamphlets. There is really no more reason why we should divide religious material up into lessons to be dated, and issued month by month, than why we should thus divide and issue material in geography, history, reading, or any other school subject. Children who are accustomed in day schools to well-made, well-bound books, with good paper and clear, readable print, cannot be expected to respond favorably to the ordinary lesson pamphlet. The child should be encouraged and helped in the building of his own library of religious books, but this can hardly be done as long as his church-school material comes to him in temporary form, much of it less attractive on the mechanical side than the average advertising leaflet which so freely finds its unread way to the waste basket.

Many of the Sunday school leaflets carry at the top (or the bottom) of the page an advertisement of the denominational lesson series—matter in which the child is not concerned, which injures the appearance of the page, and which lowers the dignity and value of the publication. And some lesson pamphlets are even disfigured with commercial advertisements, sometimes of articles of doubtful value, and always with the effect of lowering the tone of the subject matter to which it is attached. Religious material printed in worthy book form escapes these indignities. That textbooks in religion will cost more than the present cheap form of material is possible. But what matter! We are willing to supply our children with the texts needed in their day-school work; shall we not supply them with the books required for their training in religion? If the texts prove too much of a financial burden for the children or their parents, there is no reason why the church should not follow the example of the public school district and itself own the books, lending them for free use to the pupils.

Guiding principles.—The principles for the organization of the church-school curriculum, are, then, clear. Its lessons should start with matter adapted to the youngest child. It should present a continuous series of steps providing material of broadening scope adapted to each age or stage from childhood to full maturity. Its order and arrangement should at all times be decided by the needs and development of the learner, and should make constant point of contact with his life and experience. It should be printed in attractive textbook form, the paper, type, illustrations, and binding being equal to the best standards prevailing in public-school texts. In short, we should apply the same scientific and educational knowledge, and the same business ability in preparing and issuing our religious material that we devote to this phase of general education.


The teacher's plan or organization of each lesson for presentation to the class in the recitation is a matter of supreme importance. Even the best and most experienced teachers never reach the point where they do not need to prepare specifically for each recitation. No matter how complete the knowledge of the subject, nor how often one has taught it, there is always the necessity of fitting it directly to the needs and interests of the particular class before us. This preparation should result in a definitely worked out lesson plan which, though it may finally be modified to fit situations as they arise in the class discussion, will nevertheless serve as an outline of procedure for the recitation. Even the teachers' manual supplied with most of the lesson series cannot take the place of this definite, individual plan prepared by the teacher himself for his immediate class.

The lesson plan.—The first step in arranging a lesson plan is to determine the range and amount of material which is to be presented to accomplish the aim of the class hour. This will include the lesson or story from the Bible, nature material, memory work, music, pictures or any other subject matter to be considered. In determining this point the age of the children, the time available, and the nature of the subject must all be taken into account. It is a mistake to attempt more than can be done well, or to try to do so many things that the recitation is too much hurried to be interesting or profitable.

The lesson plan should provide for a few chief points or topics, with the smaller points and the illustrations grouped under these. To have many topics receiving the same amount of emphasis in a lesson indicates poor organization. For example, in teaching the lesson of obedience from the Garden of Eden story the material may well be grouped under the following topics: 1. The many good and beautiful things God had given Adam and Eve, 2. There was one thing only which they might not have. 3. Their disobedience in desiring and taking this one thing, 4. Their feeling of guilt and unhappiness which made them hide from God. Under these four general heads will come all the stories, illustrations, and applications necessary to make the lesson very real to children.

Small matters of large import.—Of course the particular questions to be asked and the more immediate applications to be made must await the unfolding of the lesson discussion with the class. Good planning requires, however, that we have a set of pivotal questions thought out and set down for our guidance; and also suggestions for illustrations and applications under the various topics. If expression work is to be used, this should be noted in its proper place, and provision made for carrying it out. In planning for older classes, reference should be made in the plan to special assignments to be made in books, magazines or any other material.

Provision should be made in the plan for a summary at the end of the lesson period, and for the making of the final impression which the class are to carry away with them. Nor must the assignment of the next lesson be forgotten. Probably no small proportion of the characteristic failure of pupils to prepare their lessons comes from lack of definite assignments showing the child just what he is expected to do, and how to do it.

Details of a typical lesson plan.—Let us suppose that we are to teach the lesson of obedience from the story of Adam and Eve to children of early primary age. Our Lesson Plan might be something as follows:

I. The Aim or Purpose of the Lesson—OBEDIENCE.

1. Knowledge or information to be given the class— a. Of the Bible story itself. b. Of the fact that God requires obedience. c. That disobedience brings sorrow and punishment. d. That children owe obedience to parents and teachers.

2. Attitudes, and feeling response to be sought. a. Interest in and liking for the Bible story. b. Appreciation of God's many gifts to his children. c. Desire to please God with obedience. d. Sorrow for acts of disobedience. e. Respect for authority of home, school and law.

3. Applications to the child's life and conduct. a. Acts of obedience to God in being kind, cheerful, and helpful to others. b. Cheerful obedience in home and school with no lagging nor ill nature. c. Prayer for forgiveness for any act of disobedience.

II. Material or Subject Matter to be Presented.

1. The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden. The version of the story is important. The original from the Bible is too difficult. If the lesson material does not offer the story in satisfactory form, go to one of the many books of Bible stories and find a rendering suited to your class. Be able to tell the story well.

2. Pictures of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Be sure the picture is interesting, well executed, and that it shows attractive and beautiful things.

3. Prayer on obedience. The prayer to be brief and simple, asking God to help each one to obey him and to obey father and mother, and to forgive us when we do not obey.

4. Music. If possible, the music may correlate with the thought of the lesson. If not, let it be devotional and adapted to the children in words and melody.

5. Handwork or other form of expression material. Cutting and pasting pictures in notebooks; coloring, or other such work, to be done either in the classroom or at home.

III. Mode of Procedure—the Presentation, or Instruction.

1. Greetings to the class—opening prayer and song.

2. Introduction of the lesson and telling of the story.

3. Discussion, questions and illustrations to reveal: a. The many beautiful gifts which God had given Adam and Eve, and which he gives us. b. How Adam and Eve were allowed to have everything except just one thing among many. Application of this thought to child's life at home, etc. c. How Adam and Eve yielded to temptation and disobeyed. Practical application to child's life. d. How Adam and Eve felt ashamed and guilty after they had disobeyed God, and how they tried to hide from him. This can be made very real to children. e. How punishment follows disobedience. f. Why we must ask for forgiveness when we have been disobedient.

4. Summary, or brief restatement of chief impressions to carry away, and of applications to be made in the week ahead by the children themselves.

5. Closing prayer and song.

Adapting the lesson plan to its uses.—It is, of course, evident that lesson plans can be made of all degrees of complexity and completeness. With a little practice the teacher can easily decide the kind of plan that best suits himself and his particular grade of work. On the one hand, the plan should not be so detailed as to become burdensome to follow in the lesson hour. On the other hand, it should not be so brief and sketchy as not to bring out the significant elements of the lesson.

Different grades of pupils and different subjects will require different lesson plans. It is probable, however, that the three major heads of "Aims," "Material," and "Mode of Procedure" will prove serviceable in all plan making. While the teacher should have his plan book at hand in the recitation, he must not become its slave, nor allow its use to kill spontaneity and responsiveness in his teaching. Both the subject matter and the day's plan should be so well mastered that no more than an occasional glance at the details in the plan book will be required. Nothing must be allowed to come between the teacher's best personality and his class.

1. Have you heard lectures, sermons, or lessons which were constructed after the haphazard plan? Were they easy to follow and to remember? Did they develop a line of thought in a successful way? Do you think that the haphazard type of organization indicates either lack of preparation or lack of ability?

2. Do you definitely try to organize your daily lesson material on a psychological plan? How can you tell whether you have succeeded? Are you close enough to the minds and hearts of your pupils so that you are able to judge quite accurately the best mode of approach in planning a lesson?

3. Do you study the lesson helps provided with your lesson material? Do you find them helpful? If you find that they are not well adapted to your particular class, have you the ability to make the suggestions over to fit your class?

4. Do you make a reasonably complete and wholly definite lesson plan for each lesson? Do you keep a plan book, so that you may be able to look back at any time and see just what devices you have used? If you have not done this, will you not start the practice now?

5. What type of lesson material do you use, uniform, graded, or textbook? Are you acquainted with other series or material for the same grades? Would it not be worth your while to secure supplemental material of such kinds?

6. Do you read a journal of Sunday school method dealing with problems of your grade of teaching? If day-school teachers find it worth while to read professional journals, do not church-school teachers need their help as much? If you do not know what journals to secure, your pastor can advise you.


Strayer, A Brief Course in the Teaching Process, chapter XVI.

Betts, Class Room Method and Management, chapter VIII.

Earhart, Types of Teaching.



Our teaching must be made to stick. None but lasting impressions possess permanent value. The sermons, the lectures, the lessons that we remember and later dwell upon are the ones that finally are built into our lives and that shape our thinking and acting. Impressions that touch only the outer surfaces of the mind are no more lasting than writing traced on the sand. Truths that are but dimly felt or but partially grasped soon fade away, leaving little more effect than the shadows which are thrown on the picture screen.

Especially do these facts hold for the teacher in the church-school class. For the impressions made in the church-school lesson hour bear a larger proportion to the entire result than in the public school. This is because of the nature of the subject we teach, and also because of the fact that most of our pupils come to the class with little or no previous study on the lesson material. This leaves them almost completely dependent on the recitation itself for the actual results of their church-school attendance. The responsibility thus placed upon the teacher is correspondingly great, and requires unusual devotion and skill.


The things that impress us, the things that we remember and apply, are the things to which we have attended wholly and completely. The mind may be thought of as a stream of energy. There is only so much volume, so much force that can be brought to bear upon the work in hand. In attention the mind's energy is piled up in a "wave" on the problem occupying our thought, and results follow as they cannot if the stream of mental energy flows at a dead level from lack of concentration.

Or, again, the mind's energy may be likened to the energy of sunlight as it falls in a flood through the window upon our desk. This diffuse sunlight will brighten the desk top and slightly increase its temperature, but no striking effects are seen. But now take this same amount of sun energy and, passing it through a lens, focus it on a small spot on the desk top—and the wood bursts almost at once into flame. What diffuse energy coming from the sun could never do, concentrated energy easily and quickly accomplished. Attention is to the mind's energy what the lens is to the sun's energy. It gathers the mental power into a focus on the lesson to be learned or the truth to be mastered, and the concentrated energy of the mind readily accomplishes results that would be impossible with the mental energy scattered or not directed to the one thing under consideration. The teacher's first and most persistent problem in the recitation is, therefore, to gain and hold the highest possible degree of attention.

Three types of appeal to attention.—We are told that there are three kinds of attention, though this is not strictly true. There is really only one kind of attention, for attention is but the concentration of the mind's energy on one object or thought. What is meant is that there are three different ways of securing or appealing to attention. Each type of attention is named in accordance with the kind of compulsion or appeal necessary to command it, as follows:

1. Involuntary attention, or attention that is demanded of us by some sudden or startling stimulus, as the stroke of a bell, the whistle of a train, an aching tooth, the teacher rapping on the desk with a ruler.

2. Nonvoluntary, or spontaneous, attention that we give easily and naturally, with no effort of self-compulsion. This kind of attention is compelled by interest, and, when left unhindered, will be guided by the nature of our interest.

3. Voluntary attention, or attention that is compelled by effort and power of will, and thereby required to concern itself with some particular object of thought when the mind's pull or desire is in another direction.

How each type of attention works.—The first of these types of attention, the involuntary, has so little place in education that we shall not need to discuss it here. The teacher who raps the desk, or taps the bell to secure attention which should come from interest must remember that in such case the attention is given to the stimulus, that is, to the signal, and not to the lesson, and this very fact makes all such efforts to secure attention a distraction in themselves.

The spontaneous, or nonvoluntary, attention that arises from interest is the basis on which all true education and training must be founded. The mind, and especially the child's mind, is so constituted that its full power is not brought to bear except under the stimulus and compulsion of interest. It is the story which is so entrancing that we cannot tear ourself away from it, the game which is so exciting as to cause us to forget all else in watching it, the lecture or sermon which is so interesting that we are absorbed in listening to it, that claims our best thought and comprehension. It is when our mind's powers are thus driven by a tidal wave of interest that we are at our best, and that we receive and register the lasting impressions which become a part of our mental equipment and character.

This does not mean, however, that there is no place for voluntary attention in the child's training. For not everything can be made so inviting that the appeal will at all times bring about the concentration necessary. And in any case a part of the child's education is to learn self-direction, self-compulsion, and self-control. There are many occasions when the interest is not sufficient to hold attention steady to the task in hand; it is at this point that voluntary attention should come in to add its help to provide the required effort and concentration. There are many circumstances under which interest will secure a moderate amount of application of mental energy to the task, but where the will should step in and command an additional supply of effort, and so attain full instead of partial results.

Children should, therefore, be trained to give attention. They should be taught to take and maintain the attitude of attention throughout the lesson period, and not be allowed to become listless or troublesome the moment their interest is not held to the highest pitch.


Sometimes we speak of "arousing the child's interest," or of "creating an interest" in a topic we are teaching. Strictly speaking, this is incorrect. The child's interest, when rightly appealed to, does not have to be "aroused," nor does interest have to be "created."

Every normal child is naturally alert, curious, interested in what concerns him. Who has not taken a child for a walk or gone with a group of children on an excursion, and been amazed at their capacity for interest in every object about them and for attention to an endless chain of impressions from their varied environment? Who has not observed children in a game, and noted their complete absorption in its changing aspects? Who has not called a child from an interesting tale in a book he was reading, and found that it required the combined force of our authority and the child's will to break the spell of his interest and separate him from his book? Interest is always ready to flow in resistless current if we can but find the right channel and a way to set it free. When we find our class uninterested, therefore, we must first of all seek the explanation not in the children, but in ourselves, our methods, or the matter we teach.

Interest depends on comprehension.—First of all we must remember that interest never attaches to what the mind does not grasp. Go yourself and listen to the technical lecture you do not understand, or try to read the book that deals with matters concerning which you have no information; then apply the results of your experience to the case of the child. The matter we teach the child must have sufficient connection with his own experience, be sufficiently close to the things he knows and cares about, so that he has a basis on which to comprehend them. The new must be related to something old and familiar in the mind to meet a warm welcome.

If we would secure the child's interest, we must make certain of a "point of contact" in his own life and meet him on the plane of his own experience. God smiling in the sunshine, making the flowers grow or whispering in the breeze is closer to the child than God as "Creator." God protecting and watching over the child timid and afraid in the dark is more real than God in his heaven as "protector." We must remember that not what we feel is of value, but what the child feels is of value is what will appeal to his interest and attention. And no exertion or agonizing on our part will create interest in the child in matters for which his own understanding and experience have not fitted him. For example, probably no child is ever interested in learning the church catechism or Bible verses which we prize so highly, but which he can not understand nor apply; he may be interested in a prize to be had at the end of the learning, but in this case the interest is in the reward and not in the matter learned. Empty words devoid of meaning never fire interest nor kindle enthusiasm.

Interest attaches to action.—Children are interested more in action, deeds, and events than in motives, reasons, and explanations. They care more for the uses to which objects are to be put than for the objects themselves.

No boy is interested in a bicycle chiefly as an example of mechanical skill, but, rather, as a means of locomotion. No girl is interested in dolls just as dolls, nor as a product of the toy maker's skill, but to play with. It is this quality that makes children respond to the story, for the story deals with action instead of with explanation and description. In the story there is life and movement, and not reasoning and mere assertion. The story presents the lesson in terms of deeds and events, instead of by means of abstract statement and formal conclusion.

This principle carries over to the child's own participation. Everyone is most interested in that in which he has an active part. The meeting in which we presided or made a speech or presented a report is to us a more interesting meeting than one in which we were a silent auditor. To the child, personal response is even more necessary. No small part of the reason why the child "learns by doing" is that he is interested in doing as he is not interested in mere listening. All good teaching will therefore appeal to interest through providing the fullest possible opportunity for the child to have an important share in the lesson. And this part must be something which to the child is worth doing, and not, for example, an oral memory drill on words meaningless to the pupil, nor "expression" work of a kind that lacks purpose and action. There are always real things to be done if the lesson is vital—personal experiences to be recounted, special assignments to be reported upon, maps to be drawn or remodeled, specimens of flowers or plants to be secured, character parts to be represented in the story, a bit of history to be looked up, prayers to be said, songs to be sung, or a hundred other things done which will appeal to the interest and at the same time fix the points of the lesson.

Interest requires variety and change.—Interest attaches to the new, provided the new is sufficiently related to the fund of experience already on hand so that it is fully grasped and understood. While there are certain matters, such as marching, handling supplies, etc., in the recitation which should be done the same way each time so that they may become habit and routine, yet there is a wide range of variety possible in much of the procedure.

The lessons should not be conducted always in the same way. One recitation may consist chiefly of discussion, with question and answer between teacher and class. Another may be given largely to reports on special assignments, with the teacher's comments to broaden and apply the points. Another may take the form of stories told and illustrations given by the teacher, or of stories retold by the class from former lessons. The great thing is to secure change and variety without losing sight of the real aims of the lesson, and to plan for a pleasant surprise now and then without lowering the value of the instruction.

Interest is contagious.—Every observing teacher has learned that interest is contagious. An interested and enthusiastic teacher is seldom troubled by lack of interest and attention on the part of the class. Nor, on the other hand, will interest and attention continue on the part of the class if confronted by a mechanical and lifeless teacher. The teacher is the model unconsciously accepted and responded to by his class. He leads the way in interest and enthusiasm. Nor will any sham or pretense serve. The interest must be real and deep. Even young children quickly sense any make-believe enthusiasm or vivacity on the part of the teacher, and their ardor immediately cools.

Children's typical interests have their birth, ripen to full strength, and fade away by certain broad stages. What will appeal to the child of five will not appeal to the child of ten, and will secure no response from the youth of fifteen. Space will not permit even an outline of these interest-stages here, but genetic psychology has carefully mapped them out and their nature and order of development should be studied by every teacher.


There is no possibility of securing good results from a lesson period constantly broken in upon by distractions. The mind cannot do its best work if the attention is diverted every few moments from the train of thought, requiring a new start every now and then. Every teacher has had the experience of the sudden drop in interest and concentration that has come from some interruption, and the impossibility of bringing the class back to the former level after the break. The loss in a recitation disturbed by distractions is comparable to the loss of power and efficiency in stopping a train of cars every half mile throughout its run instead of allowing it an unbroken trip. Careful planning and good management can eliminate many of the distractions common to the church school lesson hour.

Distractions from classes reciting together.—The class should have a room or space for its own sole use, and not be compelled to recite in a large room occupied by several other classes. The older Chinese method of education was to have each pupil study his lesson aloud, each seeking to drown out the confusion by the force of his voice. Many of our church schools of the present day remind one of this ancient method. The church building being planned primarily for adults, not enough classrooms are provided for the children, and it is a common thing to find half a dozen classes grouped in the one room, each constantly distracted by the sights and sounds that so insistently appeal to the senses. It is wholly impossible to do really good teaching under such conditions.

Every church building should provide classrooms for teaching its children. If these cannot be had in the original edifice, an addition should be made of a special school building. As a last resort, a system of curtains or movable partitions should be provided which will isolate each class from every other class, and thereby save at least the visual distractions and perhaps a part of the auditory distractions. To fail to do this is to cultivate in the child a habit of inattention to the lesson, and to kill his interest in the church school and its work because of its failure to impress him or attract his loyalty.

Planning routine to prevent distractions.—Not infrequently a wholly unnecessary distraction is caused by a poorly planned method of handling certain routine matters. The writer recently observed a junior class get under way in what promised to be a very interesting and profitable lesson. They had an attractive lesson theme, a good teacher, a separate classroom, and seemed to be mentally alert. Soon after the lesson had got well started an officer appeared at the door with an envelope for the collection, and the story was stopped to pass the envelope around the class. It was not possible after this interruption to pick up the thread of the lesson without some loss of interest, but the teacher was skillful and did her best. She soon had the attention of the class again and the lesson was moving along toward its most interesting part and the practical application. But just at the most critical moment another interruption occurred; the secretary came in with the papers for the class and counted out the necessary supply while the class looked on. It was impossible now to catch up the current of interest again, but the teacher tried. Once more she was interrupted, however, this time by a note containing some announcement that had been overlooked in the opening exercises!

All such interruptions as these indicate mismanagement and a serious lack of foresight. The fault is not wholly with the teacher, but also with the policy and organization of the school as a whole. The remedy is for both officers and teachers to use the same business sense and ability in running the church school that they would apply to any other concern. The collection can be taken at the beginning of the lesson period. The papers and lesson material can be in the classroom or in the teacher's hands before the class assembles, and not require distribution during the lesson period. In short, all matters of routine can be so carefully foreseen and provided for that the class will be wholly free from all unnecessary distractions from such sources.

Mischief and disorder.—An especially difficult kind of distraction to control is the tendency to restlessness, mischief, and misbehavior which prevails in certain classes or on the part of an occasional pupil. Pupils sometimes feel that the teacher in the church school does not possess the same authority as that exercised by the public-school teacher, and so take advantage of this fact. The first safeguard against disorder in the class is, of course, to secure the interest and loyalty of the members. The ideal is for the children to be attentive, respectful, and well behaved, not because they are required to, but because their sense of duty and pride and their interest in the work leads them to this kind of conduct. It is not possible, however, continuously to reach this ideal with all children. There will be occasional cases of tendency to disorder, and the spirit of mischief will sometimes take possession of a class whose conduct is otherwise good.

Whenever it becomes necessary, the teacher should not hesitate to take a positive stand for order and quiet in the class. All inattention is contagious. A small center of disturbance can easily spread until it results in a whole storm of disorder. Mischief grows through the power of suggestion, and a small beginning may soon involve a whole class. There is no place for a spirit of irreverence and boisterousness in the church school, and the teacher must have for one of his first principles the maintenance of good conduct in his classroom. No one can tell any teacher just how this is to be achieved in individual cases, but it must be done. And the teacher who cannot win control over his class would better surrender it to another who has more of the quality of leadership or mastery in his make-up, for no worthy, lasting religious impressions can be given to noisy, boisterous, and inattentive children.

Distractions by the teacher.—Strange as it may seem, the teacher may himself be a distraction in the classroom. Any striking mannerism, any peculiarity of manner or carriage, extreme types of dress, or any personal quality that attracts attention to itself is a distraction to the class. One teacher may have a very loud or ill-modulated voice; another may speak too low to be heard without too much effort; another may fail to articulate clearly. Whatever attracts attention to the speech itself draws attention away from the thought back of the speech and hinders the listener from giving his full powers to the lesson.

A distracting habit on the part of some teachers is to walk back and forth before the class, or to assume awkward postures in standing or sitting before the class, or nervously to finger a book or some object held in the hands. All these may seem like small things, but success or failure often depends upon a conjunction of many small things, each of which in itself may seem unimportant. It is often "the little foxes that spoil the vines."

Avoiding physical distractions.—In the church school, as in the public school, the physical conditions surrounding the recitation should be made as favorable as possible. Not infrequently the children are placed for their lesson hour in seats that were intended for adults, and which are extremely uncomfortable for smaller persons. The children's feet do not touch the floor, and their backs can not secure a support; weariness, wriggling and unrest are sure to follow. Sometimes the ventilation of the classroom is bad, and the foul air breathed on one Sunday is carefully shut in for use the next. Basement rooms are not seldom damp, or they have a bad odor, or the lighting is unsatisfactory, or the walls are streaked, dim and uninviting. If such things seem relatively unimportant, we must remember that the child's spiritual life is closely tied up with the whole range of his experiences, and that such things as lack of oxygen in the classroom, tired legs whose feet can not touch the floor, eyes offended by unloveliness, or nostrils assailed by unpleasant odors may get in the way of the soul's development. Our churches should not rest satisfied until children in the church schools work under as hygienic and as pleasant conditions as obtain in the best of our public schools.


It is a well-known law in pedagogy that negatives are not often inspiring, and that to hold before one his mistakes is not always the best way of helping him avoid them. Along with the positive principles which show what we should do, however, it is well occasionally to note a few of the danger points most commonly met in the classroom.

Lack of definiteness.—This may take the form of lack of definiteness of aim or purpose. We may merely "hear" the recitation, or ask the stock questions furnished in the lesson helps, or allow the discussion to wander where it will, or permit aimless arguing or disputing on questions that cannot be decided and that in any case possess no real significance.

Indefiniteness may take the direction of failure to carry the thoughts of the lesson through to their final meaning and application, so that there is no vital connection made between the lesson truths and the lives of those we teach. Or we may be indefinite in our interpretation of the moral and religious values inherent in the lesson, and so fail to make a sharp and definite impression of understanding and conviction on our pupils. Our teaching must be clear-cut and positive without being narrowly dogmatic or opinionated. The truth we present must have an edge, so that it may cleave its way into the heart and mind of the learner.

Dead levels.—We need to avoid dead levels in our teaching. This danger arises from lack of mental perspective. It comes from presenting all the points of a lesson on the same plane of emphasis, with a failure to distinguish between the important and the unimportant. Minor details and incidental aspects of the topic often receive the same degree of stress that is given to more important points. This results in a state of monotonous plodding through so much material without responding to its varying shades of meaning and value. Not only does this type of teaching fail to lodge in the mind of the pupil the larger and more important truths which ought to become a permanent part of his mental equipment, but it also fails to train pupils how themselves to pick out and appropriate the significant parts of the lesson material. It does not develop the sense of value for lesson truths which should be trained through the work of the lesson hour. Each lesson should seek to impress and apply a few important truths, and everything else should be made to work to this end. The points we would have our pupils remember, think about and act upon we must be able to make stand out above all other aspects of the lesson; they must not, for want of emphasis, be lost in a mass of irrelevant or monotonous material of little value.

Lack of movement in recitation.—Some recitations suffer from slowness of movement of the thought and plan of the lesson. We sometimes say of a book or a play or a sermon that it was "slow." This is equivalent to saying that the book or play or sermon lacks movement; it dallies by the way, and has unnecessary breaks in its continuity, or is slow in its action. The same principle applies in the recitation. Pauses that are occupied with thought or meditation are not, of course, wasted; they may even be the very best part of the lesson period. But the rather empty lapses which occur for no reason except that the teacher lacks readiness and preparation, and does not quite know at every moment just what he is to do next, or what topic should at this moment come in—it is such awkward and meaningless breaks as these that spoil the continuity of thought and interest and result in boredom. We must remember that every pause or interval of mere empty waiting without expectancy, or without some worthy thought occupying the mind, is a waste of energy, time, and opportunity, and also a training in inattention.

Low standards.—The acceptance of low standards of preparation and response in the recitation is fatal to high-grade work and results. If it comes to be expected and taken as a matter of course both by teacher and pupils that children shall come to the class from week to week with no previous study on the lesson, then this is precisely what they will do. The standards of the class should make it impossible that continual failure to prepare or recite shall be accepted as the natural and expected thing, or treated with a spirit of levity. The lesson hour is the very heart and center of the school work, and failure here means a breakdown of the whole system. The standards of teacher and class should be such that probable failure to do one's part in the recitation shall be looked forward to by the child with some apprehension and looked back upon with some regret if not humiliation. In order to maintain high standards of preparation the cooperation of the home must be secured, at least for the younger children, and parents must help the child wisely and sympathetically in the study of the lesson.

1. To what extent are you able to hold the attention of your pupils in the recitation? Is their attention ready, or do you have to work hard to get it? Are there any particular ones who are less attentive than the rest? If so, can you discover the reason? The remedy?

2. To what extent do you find it necessary to appeal to involuntary attention? If you have to make such an appeal do you seek at once to make interest take hold to retain the attention?

3. What measures are you using to train your pupils in the giving of voluntary attention when this type is required? When is voluntary attention required?

4. How completely are your pupils usually interested in the lessons? As the interest varies from time to time, are you studying the matter to discover the secret of interest on their part. In so far as interest fails, which of the factors discussed in the section on interest in this chapter are related to the failure? Are there still other causes not mentioned in this chapter?

5. What distractions are most common in your class? Can you discover the cause? The remedy? Do you have any unruly pupils? If so, have you done your best to win to attention and interest? Have you the force and decision necessary to bring the class well under control?

6. What do you consider your chief danger points in teaching? Would it be worth while for you to have some sympathetic teacher friend visit your class while you teach, and then later talk over with you the points in which you could improve?


Bagley, Class Room Management.

Betts, The Recitation.

Maxwell, The Observation of Teaching.

Strayer and Norsworthy, How to Teach.

Weigle, The Pupil and the Teacher.



Life is a great unbreakable unity. Thought, feeling, and action belong together, and to leave out one destroys the quality and significance of all. Religious growth and development involve the same mental powers that are used in the other affairs of life. The child's training in religion can advance no faster than the expansion of his grasp of thought and comprehension, the deepening of his emotions, and the strengthening of his will.

It follows from this that religious instruction must call for and use the same activities of mind that are called for in other phases of education. Not only must the feelings be reached and the emotions stirred, but the child must be taught to think in his religion. Not only must trust and faith be grounded, but these must be made intelligent. Not only must the spirit of worship be cultivated, but the child must know Whom and why he worships. Not only must loyalties be secured, but these must grow out of a realization of the cost and worth of the cause or object to which loyalty attaches. Religious teaching must therefore appeal to the whole mind. Besides appealing to the emotions and will it must make use of and train the power of thought, of imagination, of memory; it must through their agency make truth vivid, real, and lasting, and so lay the foundation for spiritual feeling and devotion.


Much has been gained in teaching religion when we have brought the child to see that understanding, reason, and common sense are as necessary and as possible here as in other fields of learning. This does not mean that there are not many things in religion that are beyond the grasp and comprehension of even the greatest minds, to say nothing of the undeveloped mind of the child. It means, rather, that where we fail to grasp or understand it is because of the bigness of the problem, or because of its unknowableness, and not because its solution violates the laws of thought and reason.

The reign of law, the inexorable working of cause and effect, and the application of reason to religious matters should be conveyed to the child in his earliest impressions of religion. For example, the child has learned a valuable lesson when he has comprehended that God asks obedience of his children, not just for the sake of compelling obedience, but because obedience to God's law is the only way to happy and successful living. The youth has grasped a great truth when it becomes clear to his understanding that Jesus said, "To him that hath shall be given," not from any failure to sympathize with the one who might be short in his share, but because this is the great and fundamental law of being to which even Jesus himself was subject; and that when Paul said, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap," he was not exacting an arbitrary penalty, but expressing the inevitable working of a great law. The boy who defined faith as "believing something you know can't be true" had been badly taught concerning faith.

Religious truth does not contradict reason.—To begin with, while all of us come to believe many things that we cannot fully understand, not even the child should be asked to believe what plainly contradicts common sense and so puts too great a strain on credulity. In a certain Sunday school class the lesson was about Peter going up on the housetop to pray, and the vision that befell him there. This class of boys, living in a small village, had had no experience with any kind of housetop except that formed of a sharply sloping roof. Therefore the story looked improbable to them, and one boy asked how Peter could sleep up on the roof and keep from falling off. The teacher, also uninformed concerning the flat roofs of Oriental houses, answered, "John, you must remember that with God all things are possible." And John had that day had the seeds of skepticism planted in his inquiring mind. Another teacher, thinking to allay any tendency on the part of his class to question the literal accuracy of the story of Jonah and the whale, said, "This story is in the Bible, and we must believe it, for whatever is in the Bible is true; and if the Bible were to say that Jonah swallowed the whale that would be true, and we would have to believe that also." But who can doubt that, with boys and girls trained in the schools and by their contact with life itself to think, such an invitation to lay aside all reason and common sense can do other in the long run than to weaken confidence in the Bible, and so lessen the significance of many of its beautiful lessons?

True thinking about Bible truths.—What, then, shall we teach the child about the literalness of the Bible? Nothing. This is not a question for childhood. The Bible should be brought to the child in the same spirit as any other book, except with a deep spirit of reverence and appreciation not due other books. Parts of the Bible are plainly history, and as accurate as history of other kinds is. Other parts are accounts of the lives of people, and the descriptions are wonderfully vivid and true to life. Other parts are plainly poetry, and should be read and interpreted as poetry. Other parts are clearly the stories and legends current in the days when the accounts were written, and should be read as other stories and legends are read. The great question is not the problem of the literal or the figurative nature of the truth, but the problem of discovering for the child the rich nugget of spiritual wisdom which is always there.

When the young child first hears the entrancing Bible stories he does not think anything about their literalness; he only enjoys, and perhaps dimly senses the hidden lesson or truth they contain. This is as it should be. Later, when thought, judgment, and discrimination are developing and beginning to play their part in the expanding mind, questions are sure to arise at certain points. This is also as it should be.

When such questions arise let us meet them frankly and wisely. Let us have the spiritual vision and the reverence for truth that will enable us, for example, to show the child how the servants of God in those ancient times used the bold, picturesque figure of "feathers" and "wings" to express the brooding love and care of God; how they told the wonderful story of God's creation of the world in the most beautiful account they could conceive; how they showed forth God's care for his children, his companionship with them, and man's tendency to sin and disobedience by one of the most beautiful stories ever written, this story having its scene laid in the garden of Eden; how these writers always set down what they believed to be true, and how, though they might sometimes have been mistaken as to the actual facts, they never missed presenting the great lesson or deep spiritual truth that God would have us know.

Protecting the child against intellectual difficulties.—Children taught the Bible in this reasonable but reverent way will be saved many intellectual difficulties as they grow older. Their reverence and respect for the Bible will never suffer from the necessity of attempting to force their faith to accept what their intellect contradicts. They will not be troubled by the grave doubts and misgivings which attack so many adolescents during the time when they are working out their mental and spiritual adjustment to the new world of individual responsibility which they have discovered. They will, without strain or questioning, come to accept the Bible for what it is—the great Source Book of spiritual wisdom, its pages bearing the imprint of divine inspiration and guidance, and also of human imperfections and greatness.

The developing child should, therefore, be encouraged to use his reason, his thought, his judgment and discrimination in his study of religion precisely as in other things. His questions should never be ignored, nor suppressed, nor treated as something unworthy and sinful. The doubts, even, which are somewhat characteristic of a stage of adolescent reconstruction, may be made the stepping-stone to higher reaches of faith and understanding.

The youth who went to his pastor with certain questionings and doubts, and who was told that these were "the promptings of Satan," and that they "must not be dwelt upon, but resolutely be put out of the mind," was not fairly nor honestly treated by one from whom he had a right to expect wiser guidance. He returned from the interview rebellious and bitter, and it was with much spiritual agony and sweating of blood that he fought his own way through to a solution which ought to have been made easy for him by wise enlightenment and sympathetic counsel.

Reverent seekers after truth.—Religion requires the mind at its best. There is nothing about religion that will not bear full thought and investigation. We are not asked to lay aside any part of our powers, can not lay any part of them aside, if we would attain to full religious growth and stature. Let us therefore train our children to think as they study religion. Let us lead them to ask and inquire. Let us train them to investigate and test. Let us teach them that they never need be afraid of truth, since no bit of truth ever conflicts with, or contradicts any other truth; let us rather encourage them reverently and with open hearts and minds diligently to seek the truth, and then dare to follow where it leads.


Imagination, the power of the mind that pictures and makes real, is a key to vivid and lasting impressions. Unless the imagination recreates the scenes described in the story, or vivifies the events of the lesson, they will have little meaning to the child and appeal but little to his interest.

It is imagination that enables its possessor to take the images suggested in the account of a battle and build them together into the mass of struggling soldiers, roaring cannon, whistling bullets, and bursting shells. It is imagination that makes it possible while reading the words of the poem to construct the picture which was in the mind of the author as he wrote "The Village Blacksmith," the twenty-third psalm, or "Snowbound," and thereby enables the reader himself to take part in the throbbing scenes of life and action. Without imagination one may repeat the words which describe an act or an event, may even commit them to memory or pass an examination upon them, but the living reality will forever escape him. It is imagination that will save the beautiful stories and narratives of the Bible from being so many dead words, without appeal to the child.

Imagination required in the study of religion.—In the teaching of religion we are especially dependent on the child's use of his imagination. With younger children the instruction largely takes the form of stories, which must be appropriated and understood through the imagination or not at all. The whole Bible account deals with people, places, and events distant in time and strange to the child in manner of life and customs. The Bible itself abounds in pictorial descriptions. The missionary enterprises of the church lead into strange lands and introduce strange people. The study of the lives and characters of great men and women and their deeds of service in our own land takes the child out of the range of his own immediate observation and experience. The understanding of God and of Jesus—all of these things lose in significance or are in large degree incomprehensible unless approached with a vivid and glowing imagination.

Many older persons confess that the Bible times, places, and people were all very unreal to them while in the Sunday school, and that it hardly occurred to them that these descriptions and narratives were truly about men and women like ourselves. Hence the most valuable part of their instruction was lost.

Limitations of imagination.—Since childhood is the age of imagination, we might naturally expect that it would be no trouble to secure ready response from the child's imagination. But we must not assume too much about the early power of imagination. It is true that the child's imagination is ready and active; but it is not yet ready for the more difficult and complex picturing we sometimes require of it, for imagination depends for its material on the store of images accumulated from former experience; and images are the result of past observation, of percepts, and sensory experiences. The imagination can build no mental structures without the stuff with which to build; it is limited to the material on hand. The Indians never dreamed of a heaven with streets of gold and a great white throne; for their experiences had given them no knowledge of such things. They therefore made their heaven out of the "Happy Hunting Grounds," of which they had many images.

Many Chicago school children who were asked to compare the height of a mountain with that of a tall factory chimney said that the chimney was higher, because the mountain "does not go straight up" like the chimney. These children had learned and recited that a mountain "is an elevation of land a thousand or more than a thousand feet in height," but their imagination failed to picture the mountain, since not even the smallest mountain nor a high hill had ever been actually present to their observation. Small wonder, then, that Sunday school children have some trouble, living as they do in these modern times, to picture ancient times and peoples who were so different from any with which their experience has had to deal!

Guiding principles.—The skillful teacher knows how to help the child use his imagination. The following laws or principles will aid in such training:

1. Relate the new scene or picture with something similar in the child's experience. The desert is like the sandy waste or the barren and stony hillside with which the children are acquainted. The square, flat-topped houses of eastern lands have their approximate counterpart in occasional buildings to be found in almost any modern community. The rivers and lakes of Bible lands may be compared with rivers and lakes near at hand. The manner of cooking and serving food under primitive conditions was not so different from our own method on picnics and excursion days. While the life and work of the shepherd have changed, we still have the sheep. The walls of the ancient city can be seen in miniature in stone and concrete embankments, or even the stone fences common in some sections.

The main thing is to get some starting point in actual observation from which the child can proceed. The teacher must then help the child to modify from the actual in such a way as to picture the object or place described as nearly true to reality as possible. The child who said, "A mountain is a mound of earth with brush growing on it" had been shown a hillock covered with growing brush and had been told that the mountain was like this, only bigger. The imagination had not been sufficiently stimulated to realize the significant differences and to picture the real mountain from the miniature suggestion.

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