excitement in the air? Sense the anticipation?
training is just about over, so review your strategies and summon your
enthusiasm. It’s time to kick off this year’s catechetical season.
education teachers, meeting a new group of children provides a fresh and
exciting opportunity to lay a solid foundation for the year ahead. The way in
which your students experience you for the first time can make a powerful and
lasting impact that will lead them enthusiastically forward into the months
To guarantee that the first impression you make on your class is a
positive one, you will want to do more than call the roll and share a few pages
of text. You will want to present yourself and the lesson in ways that will
convince students that they are receiving important and exciting information
from a competent and caring faith leader in an atmosphere of mutual respect and
Your task during those precious first sessions will be to assure the children
of a safe and secure haven where together you can share and give reverence to
the Good News of Jesus Christ. So your task before those sessions is to
find the words and approaches that will allow you to provide an inspiring first
connection with your students and a successful kickoff for the year ahead.
though you may not know a single child in your new class, you can assume this
about any group of students: They expect a standard teaching routine but they
this, an introductory lesson like the one that follows accomplishes familiar
and necessary tasks and uses an unexpected and interactive approach to achieve those
each student’s name at the top of an index card. Band the cards together and
set them aside.
sheets of copy paper into quarters and on each quarter sheet, write “Student
name” followed by a blank line, and “Teacher name” followed by a blank line. Then
list group behaviors that will serve as the Class Code of Conduct, which might
look like this:
Our Class Code of Conduct
1. I will love
God and neighbor.
2. I will show
my love by treating everyone with kindness.
3. I will raise my
hand when I wish to speak.
4. I will bring
this book with me to each class session.
one of these sheets to the inside cover of each textbook.
each child’s name on a small slip of paper and place the slips in a bag.
a prayer table with a seasonal covering, a Bible, textbooks, pencils, the stack
of index cards bearing the students’ names, the bag containing the students’
names, and an unlit candle.
students arrive, give each one his or her name card from the prepared stack.
Invite them to take any seat they wish and to place their name card name
side down on the desk. When all students have arrived, share a general welcome,
noting that some students may already know one another but others may not. Invite
students to share in the following opening activity that encourages everyone to
speak, move, and learn the name of at least one other classmate.
Draw a slip from the bag of names and read aloud the student’s name. This
student will serve as the “first player.” Ask that student to come to the front
of the room, bringing his or her name card. Explain that he or she is about to receive
a new seat.
Have the “first player” draw another slip from the bag and read aloud the
student’s name. That person, the “second player,” comes to the front of the
room, bringing his or her own name card.
The “first player” goes to the “second player’s” seat and sits down, placing
his name card name side up on the new
The “second player” then draws another slip from the bag, reads aloud the
student’s name, and the process is repeated. Continue until all names have been
read. The last participant named can claim any empty seat.
the opening prayer by collecting student name cards and reading names aloud as
you move from desk to desk. Band cards and replace them on the prayer table
next to the textbooks. Establish a prayerful quiet, light the candle, and
center your opening prayer on the class community, its tools, and its learning
that you expect everyone to work together during the year to know God better
and to serve him more faithfully.
the books on the table (textbooks and Bible) as important tools to be used in
that effort throughout the year.
Pray: “Almighty Father, help us to work together with respect for one another.
Help us to make good use of our books and class time, as we learn to love and
serve you and our neighbor in all we say and do.”
Invite students to say, “Amen.”
Code of Conduct and
out the textbooks and pencils. Instruct students to open books to the inside
cover and to fill in their names and your name (spell your name on the board)
in the appropriate blanks on the attached sheet. Against the background of your
opening prayer—about loving God and neighbor—discuss the Class Code of Conduct attached
to the inside cover of the text.
that what you expect of them in the weeks to come—no matter what the lesson,
the activity, or the situation—is summed up in the simple command to love God
Review program and building rules like location and use of restrooms, dismissal
time, safety rules, fire drill routes, etc.
reviewed your Class Code of Conduct, surprise and challenge students by asking them to work in small groups to list what
they expect from you as their religious education teacher. Discuss their
expectations as time allows and include them in your Class Code of Conduct.
Getting It Done
You should be
pleasantly surprised to discover that while completing the activities above
yourself and all members of the class to one another
attendance (undistributed name cards represent absentees)
* shared prayer
time as a class
basic behavior guidelines
* stressed love
of God and neighbor
children opportunities to move about and talk
interest in and respect for student opinions
* provided for
direct interaction among students, and most likely…
* made a
positive first impression on your students
introductory session with a prayer that celebrates what you can accomplish working
together in this setting, something like, “Almighty Father, thank you for
bringing us together with old friends and new ones. Help us to show kindness,
patience, and respect for one another, especially here in this sacred space.
Continue to bless us all with the desire to know, love, and serve you now and
forever.” Invite students to say, “Amen.”
(If you are
expected to present a lesson from your textbook during this first session, trim
these activities accordingly and refer to the lesson-plan discussion that
The Second Class
Moving on to the
second class session means preparing a textbook lesson that is welcoming,
interesting, and meaningful. By confidently delivering an engaging lesson, you
can affirm the successful kickoff of the new teaching year.
Standing by to help
make that happen are your parish DRE and a teacher’s text or guide. Both will
promptly and correctly explain that using a lesson plan is an essential first
step to successful teaching.
plans are included in most teacher guides to help you navigate your way
productively through each lesson, and seldom are they as complex as they might
appear. Like a good story, most lesson plans are made up of three parts:
beginning, middle, and end. While the authors of the guides may use their own particular
names for these parts, they generally follow this pattern:
Beginning (or Introduction, Welcome, or
Preparation): This includes an opening prayer and a brief overview or focusing
Middle (or Core, Teaching, or Content): This develops
and explores central lesson concepts through shared reading, discussion, and
End (or Conclusion, Summary, or Review): Through
games, activities, and prayer, this condenses lesson experiences into easy-to-retain
phrases or images.
Sample Lesson Plan for the Second Class
A lesson plan
for the second class session can be divided in this same way.
Beginning: Repeat the welcoming activity used during
the first session. When everyone is re-seated, alter the activity by using variations
of your own creation or one of the two suggestions presented here.
* Collect all
the student name cards and then challenge student volunteers to name every
student in the class or just the boys or just the girls. Or work against the
* Instead of
collecting the name cards, ask students to use available space on the card to
answer three defining questions about themselves: What’s your favorite color? What’s
your favorite sport? What’s your favorite food? Then collect the cards, noting that
you will use these “favorites tags” to create groups for student activities in
* Refashion the
opening prayer from the first session as seems appropriate.
Middle: No matter what grade level you teach or
the topic you are scheduled to teach during the second session (and beyond), closely
follow the lesson plan provided in your teacher guide. The plan and
accompanying activities are prepared by religious education professionals with
years of academic and practical experience. The content is approved and
authorized by Church leadership because it reliably reflects the authentic
teachings of the Church. Teamed with the on-site assistance of the DRE, the
teacher guide relieves you of the need to create your own lesson plan substance
and teaching sequence. Teacher guides invite you into the process by helping
you share the content of the text through the prism of your unique skills and
End: Fill the final 5 to 10 minutes of class
time with easy and fun exchanges that lead students to express or review their understanding
of the day’s lesson. Your teacher guide offers ideas for this activity. Here
are other suggestions:
* Write key
words from the lesson on the board and ask students to illustrate or symbolize the
meaning of any one.
* Have children work
in pairs to come up with 5 to 10 words that explain the content of the lesson.
Share similarities and differences among the lists and make a composite class
* Have children prepare
several sentences that could be used to explain the day’s lesson to an absent
child. Invite children to share their sentences.
results of these concluding efforts to your dismissal prayer allows children to
reflect once more on the heart of the lesson, giving them an opportunity to linger
over their new understanding when they leave the room.
After the Kickoff
The kickoff at a
football game is that exciting moment when all attention is focused on the
actions of a single player on the field. With practiced precision, the kicker
advances and makes powerful contact with the football. As he does, he understands
that, although the kickoff is important, it is just a simple meeting of toe
with ball, and only the beginning of a long game. So he looks intently downfield
and watches the play develop. Someone picks up the football and runs with it,
while others help clear the runner’s path as he weaves his way toward the goal.
Kicking off the
religious education season is not unlike a football kickoff. It’s a beginning,
an important one—but it’s just the beginning. When you kick off the learning
year, you will work hard to make the first sessions compelling and enjoyable.
You’ll try to make a positive impression.
Then, after your
kickoff, don’t forget to look downfield. There you’ll see your students gather
up the lesson and run with it, but they won’t be alone. They will be assisted
by their parents and their parish family who are ready, willing, and able to
offer encouragement and support as they progress in knowledge of the Catholic
strengthened by the combined talents and abilities of teachers, parents, and
parishioners, children can and will run down the field of life and reach that
all important goal—a life of loving and serving God and neighbor. A great
kickoff can help!
Lee Danesco holds a
Master of Arts degree in teaching from Brown University. She has served as a
DRE and a pastoral associate, and she is a published author. Her first book, Planning a Youth
Service Week, was published by
Twenty-Third Publications in 2001. The Confident Catechist was published by Saint Mary’s Press in 2007.