"Try a different classroom configuration, or use a different space. Act things out. It’s OK to take risks."
Crafting Lessons to Engage Teens
Engagement: we know it when we see it. The lesson that sparks interest and passion, drawing students into participation and discussion. On the other hand, we definitely know when teenagers are not engaged. No matter what lesson or curriculum you use, certain methods and practices can increase engagement, especially with teens. Here are some suggestions, based on our methodology at Confirm not Conform, on ways to create a lesson that engages as well as informs.
1. Identify the one big thing
If you want them to leave class and know just one thing, what would it be? Focus on what is essential. Do they really need to know the name of the person who wrote the hymn in the council where the preacher had a moment of grace that forever shaped worship? Or is the key point “Music shapes us and not just words”?
2. Make sure your presentation matches your message
If the message you want to convey is at odds with the way you are presenting the message, it’s not likely to be received. For example, if your key point is “Music shapes us and not just words,” it doesn’t make sense to use a lecture. Pay attention not just to what you are saying, but to how it’s being said.
3. Involve the students physically
If you use a lecture/talk, illustrate your point with a follow-up activity that echoes the point you are making. For example, if you’re talking about music in church, play “Musical Pews.”
4. Say it a couple of different ways
Make your point in a talk, and/or an activity, and/or a discussion. Your point is more likely to stick if it is conveyed in at least two ways.
5. Be creative
This is an obvious corollary to the points made above. Use different media (video, music, etc.). Try a different classroom configuration, or use a different space. Act things out. It’s OK to take risks.
6. Failure is possible, but not fatal
Of course you want what you teach to get your point across. But if you try an exercise that clearly fails, it’s not the end of the world. That’s the beauty of doing it in a few ways; if one doesn’t work, maybe another will. Remember that you can scrap an exercise that bombs even while you’re using it. Don’t let fear of failure keep you from trying something creative and fun.
I also highly recommend the book Made to Stick by Dan Heath and Chip Heath. It's all about communicating effectively so that ideas "stick." I know how much creativity is out there in churches. All the best as you continue the work of engaging people in spiritual formation.
The Reverend Laura Darling is an Episcopal priest and the managing director of Confirm not Conform, now celebrating its 10th anniversary providing confirmation curricula for youth and adults. She is also the Director of Spiritual Care for Episcopal Senior Communities.