Welcome to today’s edition of Teaching Tip Thursday!
Today’s Tip: Use Visual Aids
It was a real mustard seed, small and insignificant. I peered curiously into the glass vial with amazement before passing it to my friend. Mrs. Fike had brought the little seed to our Bible class to help us grasp Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed. Mrs. Fike watched us pass around the vial and said, “Jesus taught: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.’” This little seed becomes a tree? Wow! Even as a little second grader, it was an indelible illustration.
Visual aids are valuable teaching tools, but we must choose and use them wisely.
#1: Don’t fear the map.
Are you studying Paul’s missionary journey’s? Have a map at the ready! Is your class learning about the Exodus? Grab a map! If you are working with elementary-aged children (or older) give them a map and ask them to draw journey lines or label towns and countries. Draw their attention to the present-day country in it’s place. Not only does this activity require them to re-read the passage, but it actively demonstrates to them that historical events (not myths) are being covered in Bible class.
The Rose Book of Bible Charts, Maps, and Timelines is an excellent source for maps (and more).
#2: Archeological examples
There’s nothing like seeing pictures of archeological sites and objects to bring home the reality of Biblical peoples.
My daughter has a book called The Children’s Illustrated Bible.
I’m not always a fan of scriptural retellings, but this particular book has nice illustrations along with modern-day images, related archeological finds and some maps as well. She loves looking through it and it brings the Bible closer to reality. There are some archeology study bibles available. Adults can also use Halley’s Bible Handbook. It includes archeological finds and cultural settings.
#3: Embrace the timeline.
Older students (and younger) will benefit from a visual sequence of events. It can be made up of pictures (for young children), or shown as a side-by-side with History. This is especially helpful when studying the prophets and kings. Which prophet was contemporary with which king (or which exile)? Use a timeline! Who was the emperor of Rome during Jesus’ life? Use a timeline!
#4: Beware of Power Point
Power Point is a mixed bag. If you teach a class using power point, I strongly advise you not to put the entire text of your class on each slide. For those of us who speed read, we know what point is coming before you make it, and we tune out. It’s not intentional, it’s just the way we learn. By the time the teacher is “reading” the next point, my mind is elsewhere. I had a professor in college who basically read off of his slides and I had to rely heavily on caffeine to keep from passing out during class. Use your Power Point for a few minimal bullet points, maps, pictures etcetera and leave it at that. Turn it off when you’re done so it’s not a distraction. If you’re going to use it, proceed with care.
#5: Physical demonstration
When I was in High School, the kindergarten Bible class teacher asked our teacher if she could borrow all of us for about 5 minutes during her Bible class so her kids could act out the story of Gideon vs the Midianites. We were the Midianites, “asleep” on the floor of the classroom. The kids crept in quietly and then shouted, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!” We jerked ‘awake’ and started bumping into each other and falling all over the place in mock confusion until we “ran” out of the room back to our own class. I’m confident those little kids will never forget that particular bible account and I don’t think we will either. Note: Don’t overuse these, because you run the risk of dulling the impact of such demonstrations, but it can be a good reinforcing (and stimulating) activity from time to time.
The mustard seed I mentioned at the beginning was another physical aid that enriched the point Jesus was making in our lesson.
Here’s one last example of illustrating spiritual truths: A big six-foot tall man was asked to stand on a chair and lift up a petite five-foot tall woman. It took a lot of effort, but he took hold of her wrists and hoisted her an inch or two off the ground. After she was back on the ground, she gave a good yank on his arm and he fell heavily off the chair. The lesson: It requires less effort to bring someone down than to pull someone up. Choose your companions with care and don’t place too much confidence in your own moral strength. It was unforgettable.
Why do you think Jesus taught in parables? He was creating a picture in the minds of his listeners!
Using visual aids is an excellent way to lift the Bible accounts and lessons off the page and fix them in your mind. As with any tool, exercise caution and moderation. The idea is to enhance, not detract.