How to Pair Students Effectively in Religious Education
“Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two …” (Mark 6:7)
“The Lord appointed seventy[-two] others whom he sent ahead of time in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit.” (Luke 10:1)
Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs. Why shouldn’t we do the same in our classrooms? Learning in pairs can be a very effective form of education, especially religious education. It gives the students a level of accountability that requires them to listen and learn collectively, as well as honor and respect their partner.
Educators have the opportunity to pair students that will push each other to learn. Two students that operate at different academic levels, for example, can greatly benefit from pairing up. The student who performs better academically is given the opportunity to learn by teaching, and the struggling student gets help from someone who can explain things from a student’s perspective.
In addition, students can grow in deeper levels of emotional trust with their partners, which may open up the possibility of greater trust in God. If students are given the opportunity to share about their lives, they can begin to support each other and grow through difficulties with someone there by their side.
Here are some specific ways to effectively pair students in catechetical settings:
Practice in Pairs
Giving students assignments to work on in pairs is an efficient way to organize class time. If students have questions or get stuck, they can ask their partner for help. Just make sure they are not asking their partner for the answers or copying each other’s work.
Students can also pair up and quiz each other on textbook questions or use flash cards. This is a helpful way to learn definitions and key concepts. Building in regular class time to do this receptive practice can be a great way to keep students engaged.
How do you get students to think creatively with a partner? First give them the opportunity to respond to a question individually. Then invite them to share their responses with a partner. From that point they can share with a larger group or with the entire class. Inviting students to share with the entire class at first means that only a few students who think quickly will respond. The rest will be uninterested and possibly disengaged. Pairing up gives them the opportunity to hone their ideas and encourage their partners to talk.
At times you can have your students reflect on how their lives are personally connected to what you are teaching. Activities such as journaling can encourage this kind of self-reflection. Beyond personal reflection, though, a time to share in pairs can be a great way for students to articulate those connections in new ways. It can also be reassuring for them to realize they are not alone in the way they connect their lives to what they are learning. Similar to think-pair-share, these extra two steps (personal reflection and discussion) make group sharing so much more meaningful.
One way to follow in the footsteps of Jesus as a teacher is to pair your students as long-term prayer partners. Students can check in with one another regularly and keep track of intentions to pray for. This will naturally help them to get to know one another and provide support through difficult times. Have the students write prayers privately, share one or two with their partner, and then offer them with the class during large-group petitions.
From Two to Many
Ultimately this focus on pairs can lead to a greater goal of cultivating a community of disciples. The more the pairing up leads to encouragement and support, the more likely the students are to support others in the class, too.
Think of your class as a group of disciples. They are sent out on a journey to know, love, and serve Jesus. They cannot do it alone, and they cannot do it with only your help. They need the help of their peers. Together they will resemble those 72 disciples who were sent out two by two to spread the Good News of the Lord.
JARED DEES is the creator of TheReligionTeacher.com and the author of 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator.
PHOTO: GEORGE MARTELL/BAYARD
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, March 2018.