What do kids do best? Talk and move! Yet what do teachers often want them to do? Be quiet and sit still. What’s wrong with this picture?
A study by educator Dr. Ned Flanders indicates that talk by teachers in classrooms comprises 70-90 percent of classroom interaction. Perhaps in a typical Sunday school class the percentages are a little better, but it’s likely still true that children generally feel discouraged from talking to you or to each other.
What’s the value of kids talking? Learning is a social process—it involves checking out your own understanding against what others perceive. Learning is also an active process that involves conversation, questions, rephrasing for clarification, discussion, and argument. Talking things through helps children identify gaps in their own knowledge and acquire new information.
Growth and change occur when children actively participate in the learning process. And that means talking—lots of it. When a teacher does all the talking, the only things that may be growing are the teacher’s ego and the kids’ apathy.
A Chinese proverb says, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Psychologists say that’s true. We only retain up to 10 percent of what we hear; adding visual aids may boost our retention to 50 percent. But add doing to the mix (talking, discussions, role-playing) and the retention rate rises to 90 percent! Says Christian educator Howard Hendricks, “Unfortunately the bulk of Christian education is hearing oriented. That’s why it’s often so inefficient.”
Your room provides kids with a perfect setting for talking things through with you, their teacher. You can encourage children to ask questions, voice any confusion, and express their doubts and fears. (Check out the next chapter, “Listen Up!” for ways to respond.)
It’s important to keep everyone focused and talking about the right things. Dwell includes a variety of activities that appeal to multiple intelligences and that direct children to explore the meaning of the story each week. You’ll find ideas like the following throughout the material:
Dwelling: Helping Kids Find a Place in God’s Story
- Pair and share: Ask a question and then have kids discuss it in pairs.
- Introduce a talking circle/talking stick: Gather children in a circle, sitting on the floor. Ask a question and pass a “talking stick” to someone who wants to contribute. Whoever has the talking stick gets to speak. The talking stick goes around and across the circle as children volunteer to contribute their ideas.
- Involve the group in brainstorming.
- Have kids retell the Bible story to the whole group or in small groups.
- Invite kids to answer each other’s questions.
- Set up debates.
- Invite children to share stories about their week and make prayer requests.
- Have kids respond to wondering questions.
- Have a child teach part of a session (or lead the singing, pray, read the Bible story).
- Invite children to interview each other, or you, or a special guest.
Your classroom may be noisier when children are encouraged to talk, but noise is often the sound of increased involvement, learning, and the joy of discovery. “Where did we get the idea that God loves ‘shhh’ and ‘drab’ and ‘anything will do’?” asks poet and Presbyterian elder Ann Weems. “I think it’s blasphemy not to bring our joy into his church.” (from Balloons Belong in Church by Ann Weems, quoted by Marlene D. LeFever in Creative Teaching Methods, Cook Ministry Resources, 1985.)