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Stories and the Classical Model, Part 2: Storytelling in Bible Quest

Part 1 of this series explored the literary device of story and why it works so well as a tool for classical educators. Part 2 will explore the nuts and bolts of selecting Biblical narratives for the classroom and then present effective and engaging methods to maximize the use of story in teaching.

Choosing Biblical Narratives

In the third edition of Bible Quest, the upper right part of the first page of any week's lesson includes relevant passages of Scripture. These references include large portions of the Bible (sometimes even whole books!), so presenting them would take far too long for wiggly youngsters to appreciate! Thus, it's worth exploring which passages to choose in order to maximize your teaching.

First, choose narratives from the Scripture that exhibit story rather than simply relate a fact of significance, especially for younger students. For example, the account of David and Goliath includes characters, conflict, climax, and resolution whereas factual lists of people, such as the listing of pre-Flood patriarchs in Genesis 5 that tell us how old Methuselah was when he died, don't include those elements.

Second, as much as possible, it is best practice to choose narratives that correlate with the facts from the WHO? statements given in each lesson in Bible Quest. The source of the WHO? statements can be found in the Keyword References in the lower section of that box (see illustration). By selecting passages that include these verses, the teacher can maximize the context for their students from the facts that they are memorizing.

Storytelling Methods

Storytelling in Bible Quest simply involves telling Biblical Narratives in engaging ways. The simplest method for storytelling is to read the Biblical narratives directly from the Bible, and this is a perfectly legitimate practice, dealt with in this article: The Power of Reading Narratives in the Bible. However, it is also possible (and more fun!) to increase student engagement through creative audio or visual presentation and interactivity.

First, find a way to make your storytelling visually appealing. While Bible-teaching videos appear to be an easy option for visual presentation, it's best to limit this option since there is little interactivity for students while they are watching movies. Younger children in particular can be just as interested by colorful puppets or backdrops. A host of puppet resources exist online. If you have access to it, a flannelgraph set (Betty Lukens developed the quintessential sets that I've always been around) is a fantastic tool for presenting Biblical narratives. Older students enjoy skits, particularly ones that are funny, and costumes (and wigs!) only add to the fun. If you get creative and put some effort into your visual presentation, students will be more interested in what's going on in the Biblical narrative.

Then, get interactive! If kids are invited to be a part of what's going on, they are instantly more invested in the lesson. Asking for responses, having students repeat what you say, giving students specific things to do - all of these are inherently interactive. And, if you can inject drama and a little bonus humor into what whatever method you're using, you'll notice even more engagement.

Several Bible Quest Explorations (in the Empower Phase) are designed with storytelling in mind. The Biblical Character Interaction (page 136 in the Bible Quest book) is a fun way to make an engaging narrative for your students. First, tell the narrative to the students, either directly from the Scripture or in a summary form. Then, have an adult (or advanced student!) dress up like a Biblical character from the week's narrative and have them tell the students their perspective on the story. Allow students to ask questions of your guest. I personally love pretending to be Pharaoh (before the end of the Ten Plagues) when we talk about the Exodus in week 12 of the Old Testament. Since we already studied who the Pharaohs are the week before in week 11, the students have a context for my presence, and I dress up and pretend to be super grumpy (to a humorous degree) about the fact that God isn't letting me have my way. "Those Hebrews won't do what I want them to do, and I don't want to let them go!" The kids think that it's super funny and super fun.

As an intriguing twist, you might decide to allow a Biblical character to remain an unnamed "mystery guest" throughout the lesson then ask the students to identify which Biblical character the guest represents at the conclusion of the class through questions of them and observations of their costume and their reactions. Whatever you do, be sure that whoever plays the character knows enough about who they are playing to be able to answer anything that students may ask them!

The most common storytelling methods I use come from the Hands-on Story Experience (page 140) list in the Empower Phase section of the Bible Quest book.

I love to do Reactive Art, and particularly reactive drawing. Ideally, I will provide paper, hard surfaces and crayons for all of the participants so that students can draw the specific things that I tell them to draw while I'm telling the narrative (or while someone else that I designate relates it). I find that younger kids LOVE to do step-by-step drawing lessons, so by showing them step-by-step how to draw something (such as an angel wing) in the midst of a lesson, their attention can be won.

Sometimes, when I've not had easy access to the materials I use for the student-centered version of this activity, I've changed things up a bit and done the interactive illustration from the book. This is where I simply do the drawing up front, usually on a dry-erase marker board, and occasionally I might have a student come up and draw in a face or add an element to my artwork. Please be aware that dry erase markers permanently stain clothes, so be particularly cautious if you're using this method with other people's children! Chalk, markers, finger paint - all of these could be effective. Other visual representation resources can also help, such as flannelgraph, mentioned earlier. Make it an interactive illustration by inviting students to come up and place new flannel pieces on the board when the narrative calls for it, but be prepared for pieces to be placed in silly locations by fun-loving students! I've also used Legos® as an alternative and once I even cut out simple "flannel graphs" so that each child had their own to put together during a class on Job. This took forever, but the kids loved it. Whatever art or visual medium you choose, it's best to practice your storytelling with it before the lesson.

It can be a lot of fun to have students act out the narrative, particularly if they are older students. Be advised that preteens are particularly adept at this, and are also particularly interested in making it as silly as possible. If you are having students act out the narrative in front of a class, it's best to have them practice first with an adult to help coach in order to help to manage the goofiness.

Story tracing is a low-intensity interactive method in which students trace the action of a narrative on a map, either individually or as a group. It also contributes to geographic knowledge for kids. Students can be instructed to either use their fingers or a marker of some sort to indicate the current location of the story on a map. If small representative objects (pyramids, for example) can be provided for the students to position at certain points in the narrative, it adds to the interest of the activity.

Do you have any creative ideas to maximize storytelling engagement in your classroom? We'd love to hear about them in the comments!

Storytelling as a Bible Quest Exploration

All students benefit from learning Biblical narratives, but it is both easy and rewarding to use stories as a low-level Exploration for your older Equip-phase students or your first-time Empower-phase students. As detailed in our last article on storytelling, story includes characters and setting, a plot, and a climax and resolution.

First, I recommend memorizing (or starting to memorize) the answers to the Equip Phase questions before reading the associated Biblical Narrative. This allows a teacher to intentionally leverage the power of context that can be brought into a reading when some of the key content is already committed to memory. Could you do the opposite and read first, then memorize later? Sure. This isn't a matter of "right" or "wrong" teaching methods, but students benefit greatly from already having a context. Some parts of the Bible aren't in narrative form, and the power of pre-memorized content when reading those is even more palpable. See the article An Unexpected Blessing of Memorization for more about the benefits of pre-memorized content when reading God's Word.

Second, go through the passage using an engaging storytelling method, either from the list above or another one that you've discovered (please share in the comments section!). I prefer using the Bible text itself, but for some narratives it may be necessary to either skip around a bit or else give a summary of certain points in the plot line.

Third, discuss the narrative by drawing out the story elements. If the main characters aren't easily or readily apparent in a Biblical narrative, it may be helpful to stop reading for a moment and ask students, "Who is this story about? Who needs or wants something in this story?" If the conflict isn't easily or readily apparent in a Biblical narrative, it may be helpful to stop reading for a moment and ask students, "What do the characters want or need?" and "How do they try to solve their problem?" Narrative resolutions are sometimes given in the Bible without specific commentary since they simply relate historical events one after another. This is an opportunity that the parent has to engage in conversation with their child. This is the moment for an Exploration.

Finally, have your students retell the narrative back to you. Not only does this allow for a review of the material (and for the teacher to ask clarifying questions), but it is a good way to gauge how well the child internalized the story. For students that are new to retelling, tell them, "Could you tell me what happened again?" Then, literally lead them through the retelling with specific questions, "Where did this story take place? Who was this story about? What problem did they have? How did they try to solve the problem? How did the story end? What can we learn from this?" If there is confusion at any point, simply ask leading questions, even if they include the answer inside it, "Was it the first man and woman? Was it Adam and Eve? Were they in a beautiful garden? Was it called Eden?" and so on. Allow children to answer when they know the information, but remember that telling back stories is a skill, so give them as much help as they need as they are learning. Besides, even if your questions only remind them of the facts in a story framework, reviewing factual information only helps solidify that information and even a little familiarity with story framework only helps students grow more accustomed to eventually using it on their own.

Finally, feel free to continue discussion using the Exploration questions for Biblical narratives listed on page 143 in either the Old Testament or New Testament Bible Quest book. If you choose to use a Biblical film, see page 138 in the Bible Quest book for information on running an Exploration for that.

A Note on Non-narrative Passages

There are multiple kinds of literature in the Bible, including law, epistles, and wisdom literature, among others, but these non-narrative portions of Scripture don't work for storytelling in the same way that narratives do. In order to use storytelling with non-narrative passages, it is necessary to use another composition that includes story to talk about them, such as a skit of two people talking about some of the Law, for example. While many resources for this sort of storytelling exist, they are beyond the scope of this article.

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