Creating a Sacred Space

Sometimes it seems as if our students aren’t aware of or don’t recognize the “sacred”. To them everything from a new pair of jeans to going to a concert is “awesome”.
In reality, the word “awesome” should only be associated with God. Only God is awesome.
To introduce the students to the “sacred”, we suggest that you create a “sacred space” in your classroom.
Start with a table or area in the room – maybe in a corner. Add a table covered with a white tablecloth. On top of this, place a runner (a rectangular piece of material) in the same color as the liturgical color of the day (purple, white, green, red or rose). On the table should be a standing crucifix, a Bible enthroned on a stand, and a candle. (Please use a battery operated candle for safety.) You could also have a picture of the patron saint of the classroom or of the school
or parish.
Additional items can be placed in the “sacred space” appropriate to the liturgical season or feast day, or connected with the truths being taught in the lesson. For example, an Advent wreath can be place on the table during Advent, or a nativity scene can be added during the Christmas season. A statue of Mary can be added when teaching about her or the rosary or if teaching the Sacrament of Baptism, a crystal bowl holding holy water can be added. Icons and sacred art can be used to illustrate the particular Bible passage to be read in the lesson.
Ideally the students should be able to gather in the sacred space for prayer but we all know that the ideal isn’t always the most practical. So, when leading the opening and closing prayer, you should move to the “sacred space” indicating to the students that it is time for prayer. As the lesson refers to a specific Bible passage to be read, move to the “sacred space” take up the enthroned Bible and read from it. This again, will indicate to the students the sacredness and awesomeness of the Word of God.
I know that those of you who teach in a Parish Religion Program and share a classroom with the Parish school, are wondering how you can do this. A dear friend of mine, who has been a nun for 50 years, suggested a solution. Using a small suitcase on wheels, place everything you want in the “sacred space” in the suitcase. If a table is not available in the classroom you are using, use a desk, or after emptying the suitcase, lay it on its back on and use it as your “table”. You can have the students who arrives first place the items in the “sacred space”. She claims that by mid-year all the students were arriving on time for class!

If you have any suggestions or comments regarding the “sacred space” please share them with us.


Another Year Starts

Welcome back to all of you who, like me, took a break in July. Before you know it, we will be starting another school year with new challenges.
One of the things I like to do before starting the year is to review in my mind the classroom rules I used in the past. How did they work? What are some new rules that I need to add to the list. We want to provide an orderly, respectful environment which promotes learning and growth in their relationship with God.

To provide this kind of environment there has to be some organization – rules. I start by explaining this idea to the students – we can’t learn in chaos.  If everyone talks at the same time no one can be heard or understood. So, our first rule is “Only one person talks at a time. Raise your hand if you have something to say”.

The next idea is respect. None of us likes to be laughed at or have our comments dismissed. So, the next rule is “There are no dumb questions. If you really don’t understand a point, ask a question.”

I think that praying together establishes a bond that is different from all others.  Pray with your students and for your students. Praying the formal prayers of the Church is a good way to help the students learn these prayers and thus be able to pray together.  In addition to the formal prayers, leave time to pray for specific needs – a good year, students to pass a test, illness in students families, etc. A very good friend of mine, prays for her students before every class by sitting in each desk and praying for the student that sits there.

I asked my granddaughter who is going into seventh grade about her class. She said they are “like a family”. They are not all best friends, in fact, sometimes they are not friends at all but they all know one another and care about one another.  They know who has learning issues and help each other.  Her response made me smile. Her teachers have done a great job establishing a respectful and charitable environment. That is what we are all aiming for – a caring compassionate environment.

Please let me know your “rules” and how you establish an orderly, respectful environment for your students.  Good luck this year and God bless you and your class.



Living the Lesson – Applying the lesson to students lives

In the past three posts we have been discussing the Ecclesial Methodology. We have discussed Preparation, Proclamation and Lesson Explanation. The last two steps, Application and Celebration will finish our discussion.

Application is simply, or maybe not so simply, applying the lesson to the students daily lives.  In other words, how does a fifth grader live the Beatitudes, etc.  We can teach the students all the truths of our Faith but if we don’t teach them how to live those truths, we have only completed part of the job.

In the Image of God series, most lessons of all grade levels have an Application or Living the Lesson section.  The idea of living the lesson covers issues such as how does a second grader follow the sixth commandment (You shall not commit adultery);  how does a fourth grader follow the Corporal Works of Mercy and as we mentioned above, how does a fifth grader live the Beatitudes. As examples of how to help our students apply the lesson to their daily lives, we will look at these three examples.

So how does a second grader follow the sixth Commandment? If we look at CCC 2331 – 400, we will see that this Commandment speaks to the seriousness of the promise that husbands and wives make to each other.  Second graders know about promises. This commandment also speaks to modesty. This is a chance to discuss modesty in dress and actions with second graders.

Teaching fourth graders to follow the Corporal Works of Mercy is a little more obvious. Feed the hungry and Give drink to the thirsty. There are many service projects available that illustrate feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty. Get your students involved!  Cloth the naked. Have the students collect new hats, gloves, or socks to give to a charity. Talk about taking care of the clothes we have and not making fun of other’s clothing. Visit those who are in prison. While we don’t necessarily want fourth graders visiting prisons, there are many homebound people who are imprisoned in their homes. Usually a parish has a list of homebound parishioners, have the students write letters or send cards to these people. Shelter the homeless, This also can be lived through service projects.  It also provides a great opportunity to speak about gratitude for our homes and helping around the house. Visit the sick. If there is a nursing home nearby, have the students visit, play games, and entertain the elderly and the sick.  Bury the dead. Most students have experienced the lost of someone in their families. Have the students make cards for the families who have recently lost a love one.

How do those fifth graders live the Beatitudes? We teach them that “poor in spirit” means that material things should not be as important to us as people; that when we are “mourning or suffering” w can turn to Jesus to help us; that we should “hunger and thirst” to be holy to do the right thing; we teach them to forgive others; we teach them to be “pure of heart” that is, modest and careful of the movies that we see or music we listen to; we teach them to try to being peace to tense situations and we teach them that when we live the Beatitudes, we may not be the most popular but we are living as we are made, in the image of God.

As you can see it takes a little thought and planning to really help our students truly live their faith. We do a great disservice to our students if we only teach them the truths of the Faith but not how to live those trusts.

The last step of the Ecclesial Methodology is Celebration. It is usually in the form of prayer – prayer services, formal prayers of the Church, spontaneous prayer, etc.  This step allows the students to celebrate and praise God for the wonderful things He has done and revealed to us. All lessons should begin and end with prayer.

This concludes the explanation of the Ecclesial Methodology. I would enjoy any comments or questions you might have regarding this method.  I will be taking a break from writing for the month of July. When the blog begins again in August I will be discussing classroom management, giving some activities for the classroom, and how to add saints to your lessons, just to mention a few topics.  If you have any suggestions on topics please let me know.  Have a great summer!


Teaching the lesson – Lesson Explanation

In the past couple of blogs I have been explaining the Ecclesial Methodology found in the Image of God series.  The steps of this catechetical methodology are effective ways of presenting a lesson  no matter which series you are using.

We are now at the step which is the heart of any lesson – the lesson explanation.  To stimulate the children and to appeal to the “visual” learner, try to have a prop which reinforces the lesson. For example, if teaching a lesson on the Trinity to primary age students cut out a large triangle or clover leaf to show the idea of three in one (these examples do not come close to explaining the Trinity but it does offer us a small comparison to use in teaching).  With older students, show a picture of the Trinity such as Albrecht Durer’s Adoration of the Trinity (a “search” on the internet will provide a copy).

Active participation on the part of the students is particularly important. Participation is encouraged by the use of storytelling, questions and answers, role-playing, art, music, etc.  Anything that the students can respond to and be engaged by. The story of a saint whose life corresponds to the lesson is always a to engage the students. The Vision Book Series, offered through Ignatius Press, are perfect for stories on the lives of the saints.  My Catholic Family DVD series offers animated lives of the saints for younger students (also available through Ignatius Press).  Talk to the students about the topic, stir their interest with music, art, and stories.  As Msgr. Francis D. Kelly said, “The power of image, story, and symbol to help the Word have its fullest impact on the believer [our students] must never be underestimated. Jesus’ own example in His rich use of parable and story should be the inspiration for the catechist in designing creative explanations of the Word.” (The Mystery We Proclaim, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 1993)

The Lesson Explanation should also include a definition of any words in the lesson which are not familiar to the students.  For example, covet, prodigal, absolution, reverence, consecration, etc. should all be defined for the students. Vocabulary words are common in most of the other subjects the students study.  Becoming familiar with a “religion vocabulary” is important so the students can better understand and increase their retention of the lesson. The Image of God series has a list of vocabulary words and definitions in all lessons of the primary grade levels.

One last thing about the Lesson Explanation step. The use of memorization should not be overlooked. In St. John Paul II’s Catechesi Tradendae, he tells us: “A certain memorization of the words of Jesus, of important Bible passages, of the Ten Commandments, of the formulas of profession of faith, of the liturgical texts, of the essential prayers, of key doctrinal ideas, etc., far from being opposed to the dignity of your Christians, or constituting an obstacle to personal dialogue with the Lord, is a real need.” (CT, no. 55)

I am sure you are getting the idea – don’t just read from the teacher manual. Teach from your heart and from your love of the Faith.

Proclamation? What’s that?

We have been reviewing the steps of the ecclesial method used in the Image of God series. The next step of the ecclesial method is the Proclamation.  I think this step is the most misunderstood and the most often skipped  Let me explain what a Proclamation is. It is a statement of the heart of the lesson. For example, if the lesson is on the Trinity, the Proclamation could be “There are three Persons in one God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit”.

A Proclamation should be short, concise, and easy to remember.  Most importantly, it is not read but joyfully announced from the heart with confidence by the teacher. It should be visually present before the students on the board, on handouts, etc. It should be constantly reinforced throughout the lesson.

In the Image of God series, sample proclamations are given in each lesson, but you can certainly create your own.  Proclamations can be taken from the lesson.  Choose a sentence (or two) that contains the essence of the lesson.  Proclamations can be taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church or from the YOUCAT. Look up the topic in the index and choose a sentence from the paragraph(s) suggested.  Proclamation can also come from Scripture.  Choose a sentence from the Scripture reading suggested in the lesson.

To help the Proclamation come alive and help the students remember it, have them copy the Proclamation from the board. Younger students can practice their printing skills and older students their cursive writing skills.  Have the students decorate the paper.  Have the students do this for each lesson Proclamation. Collect the papers after each lesson and keep them on file for the students. At the end of the year, have students make a cover and staple all the papers together in lesson order.  This gives the students a great reminder of all they have learned about their Faith.

In Sacred Scripture there are many instances where we are instructed “to proclaim” God’s Word, the kingdom of God, etc.   Colossians 1:28 tells us, “Him we proclaim, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man mature in Christ.” This Proclamation step gives us the opportunity to proclaim the Good News and to teach our students that they may mature in their knowledge of the Faith.

Have you ever had an activity in a lesson go very wrong?  Have you ever lost the attention of the class while you looked for a Bible reference?  Have you ever had difficulty settling down a class so you could begin a lesson?   I think these situations and others like it have happened to all of us.

In my previous blog, I mentioned the five steps in Ecclesial Methodology. (See the archives if you missed it) The five steps are Preparation, Proclamation, Explanation, Application, and Celebration.  As you might have guessed, I would like to talk about the first step – Preparation.

I like to think of this step as having two parts – one for the teacher (catechist or parent) and the other for the students.  For those presenting the lesson, this step is crucial.  One can never be over prepared!  The first action I suggest is to read the ENTIRE lesson – teacher manual and student text.  Know what is coming.  Is there a Bible or Catechism reference suggested?  Find it and mark it so you can open the book at the reference to eliminate fumbling and page turning.  Is there an activity suggested in the student text? Complete it yourself.  Will it need further explanations? I am sure you get the idea. The more prepared you are, that is, the better you know the lesson, the smoother the presentation.

The second part to the Preparation step involves the students.  How do we help them transition from previous activities to an openness to the Holy Spirit and a receptivity to the truth of God’s Word?  Music can be an important part of this transition. Softly play a recording of an appropriate hymn, chanting, or a favorite children’s song in order to create a feeling of peace and calm.

In addition to the music, activity sheets can be used to help introduce  the students to  the  topic of the lesson. In the younger grade these could be coloring sheets with pictures  that have something to do with the lesson. With older students, worksheets with vocabulary from the lesson or with a topic referred to in the lesson. Whatever the type of activity sheet you choose, it should be distributed and waiting on the students desks to avoid the busyness that handing out paper can create.

The Preparation step can help us be a more confident and organized catechist.  After all, isn’t it our goal to create an atmosphere where our students can be open and receptive to God’s Word?

Welcome to the Image of God blog

If you teach the faith in any setting – home, parish religion program, or Catholic school – I hope to provide you with some helpful ideas.  I will start by looking at some of the new features of the second edition of the Image of God series. Though these ideas can be used no matter what series you are currently using.

The Image of God series uses the Ecclesial Methodology as a way of presenting the lesson material.  The term “Ecclesial Methodology” may not be familiar to you, but the idea is not new.  If you have a chance to read “The Mystery We Proclaim, Catechesis at the Third Millennium” written by Msgr. Francis D. Kelly, do so. This book is available on It is a short and easy to read book that “emphasizes the role and importance of catechesis as being essential to the Church and the continuation of the life of faith”. In the book, Msgr. Kelly sets out the Ecclesial Methodology.

This methodology breaks the lesson into five steps: Preparation, Proclamation, Explanation, Application, and Celebration. For the next five weeks I will present one of these steps and discuss how it can be used to enhance your lesson.  Even if you are not currently using the Image of God series, you will find these steps easy to add to your lesson plans.

I invite you to follow my blog, contribute your ideas, ask your questions, and become a part of the Image of God family.