ICE: Making Every Minute Count

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by Kate Ristow

See the end of this article for “The Object Prayer,” a great prayer idea for intermediate and junior-high students.

In 1785, the poet Robert Burns wrote “To a Mouse,” a poem that inadvertently tells us something about the reality of being a catechist. Burns said, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” In other words, no matter how well thought-out your lesson plan is, be prepared. Expect the unexpected. Have a Plan B. Make every minute count.

Many things can happen to disrupt your carefully orchestrated lesson plan. For example, some class discussions never get off the ground. Or you and the kids finish this week’s chapter in record time—leaving you with 15 minutes to spare and nothing to do for the rest of the session. Or you discover that the activity worksheet you planned on using never got duplicated. Or you can’t watch the video you wanted to use because the DVD player broke. Stuff happens.

Every successful catechist needs an ICE (In Case of Emergency) kit—ideas and resources at your fingertips that can be adapted to almost any lesson. These are productive, “time-filling” activities that foster the children’s growth in and understanding of the Catholic faith.

The ICE activities below are geared toward Lent, in keeping with the theme of this month’s issue. But if you put your thinking cap on, you’ll find ways to adapt them for other times.

Best of all, you can assemble in advance the resources you need for these activities and store them in your catechist supply box or tote bag so you’ll always have them handy.

ICE Prayer Ideas

Classes are so jam-packed that catechists often have difficulty finding time for anything more than a quick recitation of a familiar traditional prayer at the end of the session. However, if you find yourself with time to spare and want to emphasize the importance of prayer—since prayer is one of the most important Lenten practices—try one of the following ideas:

The Alphabet Prayer: Although this format can work with kids as young as first grade, it is most effective with older students who have a broader vocabulary. Assign a letter of the alphabet to each class member. To engage the kids more fully, you may want to prepare a “deck” of alphabet cards. Shuffle the deck and have students draw their own letters for the prayer.

Recall that Lent is a time to thank God for all his gifts. Point out that expressing our gratitude to God during Lent helps us develop and deepen the habit of daily prayer.

Invite students to quiet themselves and think of something for which they are grateful to God. Explain that it must begin with the letter of the alphabet they chose. It is not necessary to limit students to one choice; you can ask them to name two or three things for which they want to give thanks. If necessary (or preferred), have students write down their responses.

Then gather students in a prayer circle. After making the Sign of the Cross together, spontaneously ask God to listen as you thank him for his many gifts. Then invite students, in alphabetical order, to name the things for which they are grateful. After each child prays, have the class respond, “We give you thanks always, Father!”

Sometimes kids get a little giggly during the alphabet prayer. It’s normal. Keep in mind that the purpose of the prayer is to help students recognize that everyone and everything is a gift from God—even pancakes and zebras!

Stations Creations: Talk with students about the Stations of the Cross. Help them understand that, through this ancient prayer, we proclaim our belief in Jesus’ Passion, suffering, and death.

When we pray the Stations (or the Way) of the Cross, we stop at every station, recall its meaning, and pray. We thank Jesus for his sacrificial love for us.

Take students to church and divide them into small groups. Give a booklet of the Stations of the Cross, pencils, and paper to each group. Assign several stations to each group—not in numerical order—so that all the stations are included in the activity.

Instruct each group to read what the booklet says about the first station the group has been assigned, and then to write a description and a prayer for the station. Emphasize to students that, although they will need to talk to complete this activity, they should speak quietly while they are in church. Encourage them to move about the church to view their assigned stations for inspiration as they work on the activity.

Keep in mind that this activity is likely to take a good amount of time, but it is more than worth it. You may want to space it out over three or four weeks, building in a 15-minute block of time each week. When groups have finished writing descriptions and prayers for each of its stations, invite parents to the next class and have students lead them in praying their original stations.

ICE Game Ideas

Take time to prepare the material you’ll need for these games and store them in your ICE kit. You’ll be ready to play whenever a few minutes allow.

Catechetical Jeopardy: If you find yourself with a few unplanned minutes, create a Jeopardy-like grid on the chalkboard (or if you have access to a computer, create the grid on a PowerPoint screen) by drawing four columns with five rows each. “Name” each column with one of the four pillars of faith from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: CREED, SACRAMENTS, MORALITY, and PRAYER. Then fill in each column with age-appropriate “answers.” For example, answers in the CREED column might be: (questions students might pose are in parentheses):

* The Creator (Who is God the Father?)

* The Word of God (What is the Bible?)

* Jesus Christ (Who is our Savior?)

* Calvary (Where was Jesus crucified?)

* The People of God (What is one name for the Church?)

Do the same for each column. Keep paper copies of several different catechetical grids in your ICE file so that you can shift quickly into this learning game. Simply draw the grid on the board or turn on your computer. You will have everyone’s instant and undivided attention.

Wheel of Faith: This is a variation of Wheel of Fortune or Hangman. Create a list of ten words or phrases taught at your grade level that you can use for several rounds of the game as time permits. Keep a running list of terms you may want to use in your ICE file. For example: almsgiving, fasting, abstinence, Ten Commandments, Sacraments of Initiation, liturgical year, catechumens, and so forth.

Draw blanks on the board representing the letters of the word or phrase and have teams alternate guessing letters. Play the game with teams of three contestants working together competing against another team. The rest of the class can act as the audience and, in the upper grades, one of the students can play the part of the host. The kids are so familiar with this classic game that it will engage them completely. The bonus is that they are reviewing important concepts in a fun way.

ICE Discussion Ideas

What you often envision as discussion can devolve into a situation in which the kids are simply rephrasing content from the lesson rather than exchanging ideas or furthering a topic. Here are two ideas to get them really talking:

What If…Questions: Let’s say your session focused on Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Have students form groups of four. Then ask, “What if you were sitting with Jesus at the table at the Last Supper? What would you say when he tells you the bread and wine are his Body and Blood? How does Jesus respond to what you say?”

Or during a lesson on the Triduum, you might ask, “What if you had been in the crowd the day Jesus carried his cross to Calvary?” or “What if you had witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion? What would you have told your neighbors about all that you had seen that day?”

You also can use what-if…questions to help kids apply learning. For example: “What if a friend asked you to summarize the Ten Commandments? How would you respond?” or “What if some friends asked you to tell them three important things about Jesus? What would you say?”

Celebrity Interviews: This discussion format allows students to use their imaginations and, at the same time, integrate what they’ve learned in a given session. The possibilities are endless: Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, St. Peter, Pope Benedict XVI, your pastor, Abraham, King David, our Blessed Mother, Moses, God the Father, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Paul are all good subjects to interview. Make the interviews seasonal by interviewing celebrities we associate with Lent and the Triduum—St. Veronica, for example, or Simon of Cyrene, St. Peter, Pilate, Judas, or the Good Thief.

Ask a volunteer to act as the celebrity and then choose a pool of reporters—three or four kids—to ask the questions. The format works best (and gives you more control) if you have the reporters and the celebrity come to the front of the room to do the interview.

Set a time limit. Five minutes is a good starting point. Afterwards, open up the discussion and invite the rest of the students to offer questions they would have asked if they were one of the reporters. You might also encourage students to suggest how they would have replied to some of the questions.

ICE Primary Grades Ideas

Dramatizing Scripture Stories: Kids in the lower grades love to act out Bible stories. This is especially effective with stories like the Birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1-20), the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matthew 18:12-14; Luke 15:3-7), Zacchaeus the Tax Collector (Luke 19:1-10), the Washing of the Disciples’ Feet (John 13:2-17), the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26-30), and the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32).

Prayer with Gestures: Little kids need to move around, and they learn best when multiple senses are engaged. As they work to master a traditional prayer or pray a psalm, invite them to think of an appropriate gesture for each phrase. Then pray the prayer together using the gestures they’ve created.

Scramble Puzzles: As you prepare your Lenten and Triduum lesson plans for primary-age kids, think of one-sentence summaries of the lesson content: the central point that you want students to remember. For example, a good primary Lenten theme might be “During Lent, we try to become more like Jesus.” An appropriate theme for Easter might be “God raised Jesus from death to new life on Easter.” Print the message in large letters on the chalkboard or a PowerPoint screen, but scramble the letters of several of the key words. Show the class the puzzle and invite them to help you unscramble the letters to discover an important message about what they are learning. When each scrambled word has been unscrambled, have students read the message aloud together several times. They’ll leave your session with the central theme of that week’s chapter firmly planted in their heads and hearts.

Kate Ristow, Contributing Editor to CATECHIST, has worked in Catholic publishing for over 25 years as a national speaker and writer, building on a wealth of experience in the religious formation of children and catechists in both parish and Catholic school programs.

The Object Prayer

This idea is adapted from a 1975 book titled Experiments in Prayer by Betsy Caprio, originally published by Ave Maria Press. The Object Prayer helps young people recognize that they can find God in almost everything if they just take the time and use their religious imaginations.

Assemble a box filled with approximately 30 to 50 small, common objects—things like a bandaid, a light bulb, a mirror, a ruler, a pair of eye glasses, a piece of candy, a cell phone, a few LegoÒ pieces, a toy car, a birthday-cake candle, an eraser, a plastic knife, a bar of soap, an emery board, a roll of transparent tape, a comb, a cross, a map, and so forth. Show the children each object and tell them they are going to use the objects to create a prayer. Lay out the objects you are going to use for this sample prayer:

Loving Jesus,

Help me to see you in everyone I meet (eyeglasses).

Wash away my sins (bar of soap).

Stick with me, Lord (tape).

Help me remember that I can always find my way to you (map).


Divide the class into small groups, give each group a piece of paper, and turn them loose! The only “rule” I insist on is that the number of objects in their prayer must equal the number of kids in their group.

After giving the groups time to compose their prayers, ask each group to come to the front of the room and pray it for the class, demonstrating each object as it is named in the prayer.

Copyright 2013, Bayard, Inc. All rights reserved. This article is protected by United States copyright and other intellectual property laws and may not be reproduced, rewritten, distributed, redisseminated, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast, directly or indirectly, in any medium without the prior written permission of Bayard, Inc.

This article was written by the Catechist Staff and appeared in Catechist magazine, May 2013. 

Image Credit: Shutter Stock 383838703

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