The glazed looks. The distant stares. When you're teaching kids at church, it can be hard to know if anything is really sinking in! In her book Authentic Youth Ministry: Straight Talk about Working with Kids, Teens, and In-Betweens, Cassie Moore shares personal stories of her experience in youth ministry. Below are some of her tried-and-true strategies to help you work more confidently with your students and embrace the privilege of seeing them grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.
Draw inspiration from a muse.
In art, a muse is the source of inspiration for an artist. Though it seems a little odd, find your own muse in your group and let that person inspire how you fashion lessons.
My muse of many years was a kid named Josh—bright, goofy, and always running around, playing with everything in sight. I carefully considered Josh every time I planned an event. Whether retreat or small-group study, if I thought an activity could grip and keep his attention, I went for it.
Having a specific person in mind as a target for learning experiences became vastly helpful.
Plan elements for all learning styles.
Make sure you intentionally include a wide variety of activities within each lesson you teach. This is a surefire way to keep people interested in your topic. Include elements such as movie clips, games, songs, debates, object lessons, art projects, movement, singing, discussion, hands-on activities, solo thinking time, and prayer.
By hitting on multiple learning styles in creative ways, you keep the attention of the entire group.
Know your lesson well.
One of the biggest rookie mistakes I see people make is not knowing their lessons well enough to actually engage with kids. Stuck reading their notes, leaders quickly lose kids’ attention. Make sure you adequately prepare for teaching. Read through your materials a few times to get a solid idea of order and content.
Remember, a lesson is merely a guide, not a script. I recommend memorizing your first few points to ease you into the flow of leading. Make sure you always look ahead to know your next question, point, or activity before you get to it. Some leaders write brief outlines or list short phrases to remind themselves what to do next.
The last thing you want to do is pause to find your place again. Thirty seconds of dead time will cost you several minutes in refocusing the group.
Carefully consider room arrangement.
Never underestimate the power of how people function in a setting! Plan your room carefully. Do you need space for games? Do you want kids to sit and take notes from the board? Do you want people to open up and enjoy stimulating dialogue with one another?
To encourage discussion for kids of any age, the most practical tip I can offer is to ditch the formal desks. Instead, gather people on the floor in a circle. This simple act with more casual posture lowers inhibitions. Eye-to-eye interaction makes a big difference in helping people open up to one another. If your group can’t handle the freedom of sitting on the floor, try sitting in a circle of chairs.
Use simple, repetitive language and themes.
Use simple, repeating language and themes throughout your lessons to best make your point. This becomes especially important when you work with young children. They love to learn through repetitive songs, games, phrases, and rhymes.
Pick a central theme and expand it with no more than a few key teaching points.
Accept the “fleeting aha!”
Don’t give in to the temptation of thinking you always get to see lessons connect powerfully with students. Sometimes all you get is a slight pause, an agape mouth, a change in body language, or a flash of interest in someone’s eyes. I call this the “fleeting aha.” Although a lesson or spiritual truth makes a big impact on someone, that moment in which you tangibly see the impact made never lasts long, as kids quickly rebound from emotional moments. Just because teens don’t spend hours quietly contemplating your lesson doesn’t discount the profound effect that the lesson may have in their lives.
We hope you enjoyed these six practical suggestions for teaching kids and youth! To find even more suggestions like these, check out Cassie Moore's book Authentic Youth Ministry: Straight Talk about Working with Kids, Teens, and In-Betweens.
This blog post is adapted from pages 91–93 of Authentic Youth Ministry: Straight Talk about Working with Kids, Teens, and In-Betweens, © 2016 Cassie Moore. Published by Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.