Making your RE day memorable

Posted on July 15, 2010 by Lat Blaylock

Dos and don'ts – six ways to make your RE day memorable:

Beyond entertainment to being thought provoking

First, if you think and plan carefully what the children will remember from your day's work, then you have a good chance of enabling good learning too – but this doesn't happen automatically. Sometimes Christian visitors to schools are brilliant at the big entertaining set piece in which raw eggs and the Vicar's surplice are combined in a memorable retelling of the Good Samaritan. Mmm, hilarious. But the pupils only remember the raw eggs, not the Parable.

Never talk for long: break the programme into dynamic chunks

Second, you need to timetable short sessions. Don't be boring. I never speak for more than 12 minutes at a time to a group on an RE day – it's one of my most useful rules – but 6 might be even better. Interactive learning is essential, and you must trust the young people to learn through the activities you set up.

Third, remember that fun + clarity = learning.

This does mean you have to think really carefully about what you say: don't try to communicate the whole doctrine and history of the Christian tradition in your day, and don't go over the heads of the audience – it's not a theological college. But do work out what simple points you want to make, and how you'll come at them from three or four different angles, making the learning engaging.

Mix the group size, and make groups purposeful

Fourth, always mix small group work with whole group sessions and keep them literally on their toes: moving about with kinaesthetic learning is powerful. My favourites include collecting replies from each child to their choice of six from twenty prompts on the topic. They write their thoughts on post it notes, and 'paper the walls with their wisdom'. I also like Graham Norton's 'Stay standing if...' routine: he asks his audience to all stand, then stay standing if they've had an amusing experience with a vegetable (whatever). He runs round like a demented elf with a microphone, and people share their too-intimate secrets. I suggest slightly different experiences, but the strategy is amazing.

Be what you are: bold Christianity is an asset to RE

Fifth, don't be scared to be Christians: that is why you are there, so speak peace about other religions or atheism, but say what you think about Jesus as well. Be ready for the questions and answer them honestly, including 'I don't know' and 'I've been thinking about that too because...'

Imaginative and creative learning doesn't fail

Lastly, it always works to make your day creative. Whether pupils make a collaborative collage of images of heaven, speak a piece of their poetry to camera, rewrite a Bible story into 21st century Bognor or dance the body language of the Lord's Prayer, make sure that you give time and space to their creativity: If you believe this is God's gift to all humans, then use it. They will amaze you.

Your plans will go wrong. You will be disappointed that your spiritual profundity seemed to be overwhelmed by their indifference or hostility or silliness. But learn from what goes wrong, and keep at it. Ruthless self criticism will make you better next time, and it is surprising what learning happens beneath the crust of adolescent's apparent cynicism. There is no 'going wrong' that is so bad that you can't learn from it for next time. Jesus started the church of second chances. It applies to running RE days.

Lat Blaylock is an RE adviser, and a member of the reference group for Contact him: