Advent: The Waiting Game

Help students learn to wait with these fun and easy strategies

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It’s a rainy day, and I’ve popped in a DVD. My students watch the screen expectantly as 20 seconds go by. Nothing happens. Someone sighs loudly. A girl drums her fingers on her desk. After 30 seconds, the screen is still blank and my students begin to fidget. In the back of the room, someone is making plopping noises with their lips.

“Settle down,” I chirp patiently, as a logo appears on the screen. The plopping noises get louder. I push the fast-forward button, but it goes too far and I have to rewind. My students giggle as the movie flashes across the screen in reverse. Finally, I reach the beginning. Success! I take a deep breath and settle in to watch the DVD with my students.

Somewhere in the back, someone is still making plopping noises.

No matter how meticulously we plan, some classroom waiting is inevitable. Students wait while we take attendance. They wait while we work with small groups. They wait in line, and they wait for others to settle down. In a few minutes of waiting for their turn, fidgety students with nothing to do can find plenty of things we’d rather they didn’t. Students, as well as teachers, experience some form of waiting every day.

During Advent, the season of waiting, we talk about anticipation and the virtue of patience. But for those everyday moments of waiting, it’s a good idea to keep a mental file cabinet full of ideas to help students wait patiently. Here are a few to try.

Mary and Joseph are going to Bethlehem

If you have a minute or two, you can play this variation of “We’re going on a picnic…” In this version, kids take turns saying things Mary and Joseph will see in Bethlehem in ABC order: Angels, Baby, Camels, Donkey, etc. This one is great for Advent, but you can play it with other themes: “Moses is walking through the desert,” for example. 

Remember what you see in church

Rehearsals, lessons, choir practice—there are lots of reasons for classes to gather in church during the week. Help keep everyone calm with this activity that requires paper and pencils. Have the kids stare at an area of the church (like the altar) for thirty seconds. Then have them turn around and write down (or draw) everything they saw. Of course, you’ll need to remind them to be reverent, but the added benefit of this observation exercise is that it can spark students’ curiosity, so be ready to answer questions about anything they see. 

Line ’em up

Waiting in line isn’t easy. With little ones, you can sing songs together. For older students, try mouthing a short prayer or a vocabulary word that you’re studying, and see who can tell what you’re saying. Storytelling is another great way to keep minds focused. Sometimes I’ll tell a very short Bible or saint story, followed by a made up story. I ask kids to tell me which one they think is real and which is made up.

Textbook treasure hunt

The first few minutes of class time can sometimes be filled up with maintenance items. While students are waiting, they can go on a treasure hunt without ever leaving their desks. Before class begins, think of a few items that are pictured in your religion book. Write them on the board and give kids time to find them in their books. Or, for older students, look ahead at the chapter you’re studying, give them some key words, and see who can find them in the chapter.

Waiting room 

Certain places in your classroom are inevitable places where lines form: the sink, if you have one; your main door; activity stations, a holy water font. Keep a variety of short prayers, song lyrics, or bible verses posted in those areas for students to memorize while they’re waiting. If you want, have students put stickers next to their names when they’ve memorized the verses. 

The Amen wave

This one works with all ages, but it can get a little loud. Say a short prayer together. At the end, each person says “Amen” separately, but quickly in turn, like a wave at a ball park. You may have to try it a few times to get it right, and it sometimes helps to motion with your arms around the classroom to indicate who will say Amen next. I sometimes pretend I’m an orchestra conductor, silently indicating loud or soft Amens, stopping quickly, or changing direction. Students love this activity and sometimes forget that they’re actually paying attention.

Of course, not every student is going to wait perfectly all the time, no matter how many engaging activities we plan. At those times I have to work on my own patience as I remember the words of the Psalmist: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and I hope for his word.”


Connie Clark‘s latest book is Celebrating Your Child’s Confirmation from Twenty-Third Publications. Her website is

This article was originally published in RTJ’s Creative Catechist November/December 2013.


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