Focus the Time and Content

Religious Education in a Virtual World 4

There is still a great deal of uncertainty about what parish life will look like this fall because of the pandemic. As you plan your on-line religious education sessions, you will have to review and rethink your usual lesson plans. Here’s a fourth installment with some ideas.

Focus the Time and Content

When I was a Sunday school student, our class sessions were close to one hour long. After the prayer (no snacks back then), we read the Gospel lesson and did a short review of its contents. Sometimes we heard about the saint or feast day closest to that class session. Then we would open our books and do the lesson of the day. Maybe we would learn a hymn, or complete an art or craft project. If there were extra time, maybe there’d be a game. We’d close in prayer.

We still like to accomplish a lot in a Sunday school class, even when there is just thirty minutes. In the virtual religious education classroom that we will have this fall, we will have to use our time well and keep it focused.

Keep it Short and Sweet (or Simple)

We all have heard this phrase and its variations. In the virtual religious education class, the principle of short and simple or short and sweet becomes important. Students may not be able to stay focused for too long, especially younger students.

As you begin to prepare for your online classes, you will have to review the materials that you typically have used for in-person class time. An on-line class session cannot replicate an in-person class session.

What’s essential for this session and the future sessions? What are essential elements? (a helpful document from our office is Much of educational planning is discerning our priorities and values and then balancing that with how much time and energy can we devote to the topic. For example, what events in the history of the Orthodox Church are essential for a young person to know something about? Educators debate this kind of question all the time, but ultimately they have to select something. So, in this unusual time that we find ourselves, focusing on essentials is critical. Work through those questions with other teachers and the parish priest. If appropriate, ask the students.

How do you sequence topics? While this is always an important factor in lesson planning, online it becomes even more important. A Sunday school textbook has done most of that work for you, so you may only need to adjust that content to fit your time limitations.

Nice idea but it can wait. There are plenty of these in our class sessions. They enrich the time, giving it variety and adding richness to a curriculum. We want our students to know hymns and prayers. We want them to paint an icon or make prosphoro. Perhaps these activities can wait for other youth group gatherings, even on-line events. Work with the youth group leaders on that. Some ideas may be best handled in the occasional in-person gatherings, if you are holding them.


Using Time Wisely

When the class is together on-line, make the time as interactive as possible. Ask the students to read the material just before going on-line and be prepared with a question or two for them to answer as they join the call. With younger students, you may have to read to them. But, the on-line time should be dedicated to the question and answers, the discussions based on what was read. Your questions could point to elements of the reading material.

When there’s a handout or worksheet, let the students complete them off-line, then return to share them on-line. You could even break the class up into smaller online groups to work together. This gives them a break from the large group screen time.

A suggestion I heard recently was about how to keep everyone engaged. Turn a question and answer into a “game,” with students holding a red card for No, a green card for Yes, and a Yellow for “I’m not sure.” They can use blank cards to write answers and hold them for all to see on screen.




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