Tips For Writing A Sunday School Curriculum

How to design a Sunday school curriculum with this step-by-step guide to turning religious learning activity ideas into curriculum.

Designing effective Sunday school curriculum is no different than designing any other type of curriculum. The writer needs to choose the subject matter and set overall goals for the learners. Each goal must be broken down into manageable objectives and appropriate learning activities must be designed. Good curriculum addresses the needs and circumstances of the students and accommodates an array of learning styles and ability levels. Careful planning in the beginning of the process will save time, energy, and aggravation later.

Begin designing curriculum by choosing the subject matter and setting goals for the learners. The foundation for these decisions will be formed by the overall goal of your education program. What is its purpose? Many religious education programs' goals are to guide students to a deeper relationship with God, to impart knowledge about the Scriptures, history and other important references, to develop conceptual understandings, and to align day-to-day behavior with ideals. What knowledge, concepts, skills, or behaviors do you want the students to acquire?

Once you have clearly articulated the overall purpose of the program, it's time to set goals for the students. A sound set of goals will focus the curriculum and allow you to evaluate its effectiveness. The goals lead directly back to the overall purpose. They support it and clarify it. A well-written goal will state an end result that students will gain by participating in the experiences included in the program. Goals may be written in terms of improvement in understanding of connections and concepts, such as "The students will understand that Christ died for our sins," or in terms of mastery of a skill, like "The students will memorize Bible verses." Goals may be stated in terms of displayed behavior, such as "The students will act appropriately during group prayer times," or they may refer to concrete changes in day-to-day habits, like "The students will refrain from using the Lord's name in vain."

The number of goals that you choose to address in your program is directly related to the scope of the project. A curriculum designed for a brief summer program of four sessions should have fewer goals than a curriculum written to extend through an entire school year. The number does need to be manageable, though, and each goal should have a clear cut means of evaluation. How will you know if the goal has been met? There is a practical way to include this in your program: write objectives to support each goal.

Objectives are the small steps that, if taken, will lead to accomplishment of the overall goal. The objectives support and clarify the goal in much the same way that the goals support and clarify the overall purpose of the program. Good objectives are specific, objective, observable, and manageable. They provide a road map that leads to an accomplished goal. Objectives should be written with action verbs that can be seen when the students are doing them. "Learn" is not a good verb for an objective, because it's very difficult to observe. "Recite" is a better verb, because everyone present can tell if it is happening or not.

A good objective also includes specific criteria for success. Each objective should clearly name the behavior, how often it needs to occur, when and where it will happen, and what constitutes success. Vague objectives are poor objectives. For example, "The student will learn Bible verses," is rather vague. How many Bible verses? How will the student demonstrate this knowledge? Which Bible verses? A better version of the same objective would be, "Each student will recite or write two Bible verses related to Christ's resurrection, including the text and citation of the biblical reference."

The activities of the Sunday school curriculum are the experiences that teachers provide for students that will guide students toward accomplishment of the objectives. When planning activities, several key factors need to be taken into account. The activities must be developmentally appropriate. They should be appropriate for the space, group size, room arrangement, and other constraints. The activities should tap into different learning styles, and they should accommodate students with various levels of ability that are likely to participate in the program.

Developmentally appropriate activities take into account the students' present level of academic ability, such as their reading level and their ability to work with reasoning or other thinking skills. Very young children should not be expected to make symbolic connections, because their thinking skills have not yet developed to that level. Older youths, on the other hand, can think in more abstract ways, and can benefit from, say, debates where a student must make arguments that he or she does not fundamentally agree with. Developmentally appropriate activities also take emotional maturity and attention span into account. Young children need increased large motor activities, while older students can sit for longer periods for class discussions. Younger children may need shorter activities that change dramatically every few minutes, while older ones will want to have time to explore and develop ideas in greater depth.

Consider the physical circumstances of the group who will be using the curriculum, as well. Plan quiet table games for smaller spaces, and active games for larger areas. Skits work well for larger groups, while dramatic readings or choral readings are generally better for smaller groups. If the activities are taking place near worship areas, be careful to manage the possible noise level so that the children do not disturb nearby activities.

Activities for your program should be varied. Children learn through several different channels, and different children learn best through different channels. Some learn best by seeing, and visual activities such as flannel boards, posters, and pictures will bring the ideas home to them. Others learn better by hearing information. These children will respond well to music, oral stories, or discussions. There are students who learn best by doing things. They will benefit most from hands-on activities or movement-based ideas. By offering a wide array of types of activities, you are more likely to create a meaningful experience for all of the children in the program.

Finally, it's important to create activities that can be easily modified to change the level of difficulty. Not all children in a given age level can function at the same skill level. You may have students in the group who cannot read as well as their peers, or you may have students whose knowledge and concepts are far ahead of everyone else's. If you wanted to include a reading of the story in the lesson, for example, you can suggest a number of options to the group leaders. The story could be read by a volunteer or set up as a skit to be performed by a group of actors. Ensure group involvement by assigning actions to specific characters or words that are common in the story, like asking everyone to touch their crown whenever the king is mentioned. Choral reading is also an option, where groups each read a small portion of the story in unison. Repetitive group responses can be written into the story every few lines to involve nonreaders. Each of these methods will accomplish the goal of getting the story across to the group, yet each requires different skills and abilities.

The activities that you choose to include in your curriculum should lead directly back to the objectives. If a student participates in the activity, he or she will have an opportunity to complete an objective. The song, for example, may be a musical version of the Bible verse that is to be memorized and recited. Be sure that each activity you incorporate into the curriculum has a purpose and can be directly tied to an objective. Each objective will, of course, be directly tied to a curriculum goal, and the curriculum goals will lead back to the overall goals of the program. Each part is directly connected to the steps before and after it.

Now it is time to build a small, hypothetical Sunday school program. This is just a small piece of a larger whole, but it will provide novice curriculum writers with a concrete example of how the whole process works. Starting at the top, one overall goal of this imaginary Sunday school program is to increase the Bible knowledge of its students. The curriculum is designed to teach young elementary students about the history of the Hebrew people from the beginning of the Old Testament. The main concept that children who have completed the program should gain is that "God protected His Chosen People."

One curriculum goal for this imaginary program is that students will become familiar with the story of Abraham and Sarah. It's important to note that Abraham and Abram refer to the same Biblical character; the name changes from Abram to Abraham partway through the story.

Objectives for this section and activities to support them include:

1. The students will state that Abraham is the father of the Hebrew people.

Activity 1:

Share the story of Abram's call from Genesis 12:1-9. Choose children to act out the parts of God and Abram. The rest of the group will be Abram's family. As you read the story, have God and Abram meet and pretend to talk. Encourage gestures! Have Abram lead the group on a winding path from one corner of the room to the opposite corner as Abram travels to the land of Canaan.

Activity 2:

Write this sentence on a dry erase board: God said to Abram: I will make you into a great nation! Read it several times while the students read along. Have the group close their eyes while you erase a single word. Challenge the group to read the sentence again, filling in the missing word. Continue erasing one word in secret and rereading until the children are "reading" from the empty board.

Activity 3:

Play a trivia game. Seat the children in chairs in a line where each child faces the back of the next child. Ask a question about the story of the student at the back of the line. If he or she answers correctly, have that child move their chair to the front of the line. Repeat, allowing each child to answer several questions. You can adjust the difficulty of each question to suit the child who will be answering. The line of chairs will move across the room to the destination you choose.

2. The students will arrange events in Abraham's life on a timeline.

Activity 1:

Review the main stories discussed earlier about Abram's life, including his call (Genesis 12:1-9), God's promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:1-6), the visit from the angels (Genesis 18:1-15), the birth of Isaac (Genesis 21:1-7), and Abraham's test (Genesis 22:1-18). Divide the group into teams and allow each group to answer questions about the stories.

Activity 2:

Make a picture to illustrate each of the five events. Stretch a piece of string horizontally along a wall or bulletin board. Put five Velcro tabs on the string and one on each picture. Challenge the students to arrange the pictures in the correct order on the string. This can be done individually or in groups.

Activity 3:

Provide each child with small copies of the five pictures used in activity two and with a long, narrow piece of construction paper. Have each student glue the pictures in place on the long paper to show the events of Abraham's life. You can choose whether to allow use of the wall display to help students complete this project.

You can see how each activity allows the students to learn about the skill in the objective. Each objective is related to the curriculum goal, and that goal supports the program's overarching main intent. The activities actively involve the young students, do not require excessive reading, and incorporate a lot of movement. Many of the activities include suggestions for changing the level of difficulty, as well.

This sample of a small Sunday school curriculum project is intended for a group of young elementary students, but the process remains the same regardless of the level you are writing for. Whether you are designing for preschoolers, elementary students, high school youth, or adults, the steps in the process are the same. The writer first needs to state an overall purpose for the program, then needs to outline goals and objectives for each lesson. Activities are chosen with the developmental needs of the students in mind and are arranged so that they make a logical progression towards accomplishing the objectives, goals and overall purpose.

Writing Sunday school curriculum needn't be a difficult task! Each level of planning supports the next. If you begin with the overall intentions, then work your way down to the specifics, your curriculum will be effective and organized. You will be able to address the needs of your group, accommodate their circumstances, and create curriculum that supports your church's unique and individual goals. You'll even be able to observe the outcome of your efforts, evaluate your success, and refine your work each time you create a new tool to meet your church's needs.

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