One of the most boring things we do in class is go around the circle or down the row — in order — with every person reading a single verse of scripture aloud. Here are some very simple ideas you can use to keep students engaged while reading scripture passages aloud.
Randomized Scripture Reading
The following methods are ways to engage students by making assigned passages randomized.
Hey there, Delilah! (Student-directed Randomized Scripture Reading)
This is the easiest way to engage kids in scripture reading in my opinion. You’ll need something soft like a beanbag or small stuffed animal. A wadded up piece of paper could even be used in a pinch. You may need to lay out some ground rules like :
– do not aim above the shoulders
– no overhand tosses
– no repeats
After you make your reading assignment and everyone has found it, simply toss the critter to the first person. After reading his or her verse, the student tosses the toy to the person of their choosing. That person reads, tosses, and the game continues until the passage is finished.
This simple method really makes reading a lengthy passage much more exciting for the students. Everyone is engaged, they don’t know who will be picked next to read, they laugh when someone drops the critter or plucks it out of the air, no one tunes out when their part is done because they want to see what happens when Samson goes flying again, and everyone gets a turn. You’re still covering the same material, but you’ve made it engaging and fun for the students.
In our class, the students voted on names for our silicone caterpillar, Delilah. She promptly fell apart, and so our second caterpillar was named Samson. My Seminary students love, love, love this game and often ask for Samson when we read. This is one of our class’s favorite activities. I use it every few days; it never seems to get old.
Popcorn Reading (Student-directed Randomized Scripture Reading)
This is another form of student-directed randomized scripture reading. Students stand to read a verse and then call the name of someone else to stand and read the following verse. The kids are “popping” up to read.
This is also a good technique when you’re doing Everybody Writes (each student writes a a brief response to something and then reports).
Cold-calling (Teacher-directed Randomized Scripture Reading)
Teachers can randomly assign students to read randomly by calling them by name. The key is the order of the direction and the assignment. Here’s how: “Turn in your Bible to Isaiah chapter 1. [pause] Everyone look at your scriptures. We’ll be reading verses 1-15 aloud one at a time and discussing each individually. Verse one …[pause]… John?”
The important thing is to direct everyone to the verse, pause, and then make the reading assignment. This direct and pause gets everyone to look at the material and then you make the assignment. Everyone is engaged with the material, and because they don’t know who will be called on to read, they are paying attention. Now that the assignment is given, most students will follow along unconsciously because their attention has already been directed to the text.
I think this technique is best used when reading sections where you’ll be discussing each verse as you move along. It’s a little more serious and good for that kind of reading.
Some teachers are uncomfortable with cold-calling. Please know that cold-calling is not cruel or chastening or a negative teaching method. It’s a way of helping each student engage and participate. There is an EXTENSIVE discussion of this technique on pages 111-125 of Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov.
Names from a Hat
You know how this works: each student’s name is written on a piece of paper. You draw a name out and that’s the person who reads next.
I use a prayer bucket (pictured below) with sticks that have each student’s name written on it. I use it for randomly assigning prayers and keeping track of who has given prayers already. I have also used the bucket to draw names for scripture reading or sharing ideas as well.
Look Under Your Seat
Write the assigned verses or passages on a post it note. Mix up the order you will be covering the passages in, and stick an assignment under each seat in the classroom. When it comes time to read, have everyone look under their seat for their passage and read.
I usually employ this method when we have several scriptures to read from different areas of the scriptures.
A little drama can help scripture reading be more exciting and fun:
Seminary Kung Fu Theater
I learned this method at a Seminary regional training. It’s a great method that requires little or no preparation. This works best with passages that include plenty of action.
Assign one student to be the narrator. The Narrator will read a passage of scripture with FEELING. He or she should do the voices and any sound effects needed for the roles. Other students are assigned to be the actors in the Kung Fu movie. These actors will dramatize and lip sync their roles, but they don’t speak. The effect looks like bad dubbing in a kung fu movie. This is an easy way to engage students in the scriptures. Even those not acting or narrating are engaged because it’s just so funny!
A student suggested this method based on something they do in her drama class at school. A narrator reads a passage of scripture while students act out their roles. Someone (a teacher or another person) randomly chooses a character to “vote off the island”. This selection can be done by tapping an actor on the shoulder or dubbing them with a foam sword or other item. Now, the remaining characters continue to act out their roles, but they must also stand in for the missing actor. Eventually only one actor is left and he or she must play all of the roles.
Here’s an example with Adam and Eve and the snake and the tree. Actors fill all four roles while the narrator reads the story. One of the four is removed (say the snake). Now the three actors play the four roles. Another actor is removed. Now two actors play four roles. Eventually only one actor is left and he or she must play all four roles.
When using Seminary Survivor, be sure that the length of the passage corresponds with the number of actors. For example, a passage with many characters would need to be long for this to work best, and a short passage would need to have a fewer characters.
Scripture Reading Freeze Tag
—- Please note, I haven’t tried this one yet. —-
A narrator reads a passage of scripture while actors dramatize it. When the teacher yells “freeze”, the actors freeze and an actor (or actors — you choose) comes in from the sidelines. They tap an actor on the shoulder and take his or her place in the action. The teacher says “Action!” and the dramatization continues. Continue freezing the action until everyone has had a turn to act or until the passage is complete.
Scripture Summary Rhyme Time
—- Please note, I haven’t tried this one yet. It might be too difficult. —-
Instruct students they are about to make up a rhyming story from the scriptures. Have each student read a passage of scripture silently. After finishing their reading, students stand at their seats or in a circle. One student begins to summarize the story in a couplet form: “Adam was in the garden, and he was all alone”. The next person in the circle has to add in story details, but his couplet must rhyme with the previous phrase: “God felt bad, and so He took from him a bone.”
These are couplets, so the third person gets to continue the story ending with their own sound “Eve she came a runnin’, and Adam was so glad”. The fourth person rhymes with the third, and so on. Those who can’t rhyme sit out until you get a champion or champion pair.