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Sample chapter from
Children's Ministry Guide to
Dealing with Disruptive Children

by Andy Back

Published by Children's Ministry, 2002
You can buy this book by clicking here


Chapter 6 Poor teaching style

You know, self-doubt aside, we really ought to allow for the possibility that we are poor teachers, or dull communicators, or boring people, or lacking in skill or training.

Not us, obviously (neither you nor me). But if not us, then maybe others. The mistakes they make can err on the side of over-preparation or lack of it. Perhaps they exercise heavy-handed crowd control or ineffective attempts to ask for attention; or maybe they are afflicted with an unhelpful voice (squeaky, thin, metallic). It might be their selection of attire (dangerously unfashionable or ludicrously trendy mutton dressed up as lamb). Are they relying on chalk and talk (or even just talk) or content-light style-heavy soundbites of video clips, drama, interviews, songs, ice-breaker games etc. Look carefully at the spaces between the lines, dear reader, and you may meet me and my manifold mistakes; some are behind me, some probably still lurk in ambush.

But we are foolish to assume that 100% of the responsibility for disruptiveness or bad behaviour must be laid at the feet of the children or young people. Captivate their interest or emotions or imagination or thinking and the session may not run smoothly or predictably, but it has a much better chance of staying on topic. Put succinctly: bored kids muck about.

I have been in many a children's and young people's meeting (as an adult, and as a child myself) where the speaker stood silently, waiting for the hubbub to cease and for the excited youngsters to give their attention to the front. I cannot help myself thinking that this is a technique which may have worked in the past, but which is really an arrogant expectation that the authority of the speaker is sufficient to subdue.

Ask yourself, do the children go quiet in hushed reverence and respect when you enter the room? I hope not! I hope some rush to you to tell you about an adventure or scrape they've got into, or to be the first to tell you last time's memory verse, or to introduce their friend who is attending for the first time or (best of all) to offer you chocolate.

Please don't stand at the front and wait for quiet. It may never happen! Instead, be fascinating. Do conjouring tricks. Tell a funny story. Draw pictures on the overhead projector. Play a video. Remove your jumper (careful now!). In other words, make it worth their while to stop their conversation. Provide something better for them to do.

My teaching style depends on this technique, but I have also learned that grabbing attention isn't the same as keeping attention. You can't spend the whole time doing exciting things like eating daffodils, demonstrating your skills at keepy-uppy or drinking a yard of Irn-Bru. Rather, you have to maintain attention in easy stages by making sure you are worth listening to throughout the message. The harsh reality is that it takes a fresh effort of the will every 3.5 seconds to keep concentration! So in your ten minute presentation, are you rewarding the 170 efforts that the children or young people are making? I am not suggesting that you need to grab attention 170 times (phew!), but the truth is that if you set yourself the target of rewarding at least half of the efforts of the will, you need to be worth attention 85 times.

How can you be that interesting? Consider using the action clip of the video, rather than the talking heads clip. Provide lots of visuals to go with the CD track you want to play. Dramatise the Bible story. Ask three young people to read the scripture aloud (either three sections of the passage or a short passage three times) and award prizes for the best reading, according to an audience clapometer. Teach the memory verse through the talk, not just at the end. Ask questions, and invite interactivity. Don't just wave your arms about; have a meaning for each gesture and make it count. Avoid getting trapped behind a table or (worse) a lecturn. Walk about. Maintain eye contact with individuals for a lot longer than you do at the moment. Don't scan the audience or speak to the back wall. Look at people. Smile a lot more than you do at the moment. Laugh if possible.

Sounds impossible? Probably. But how dare we take the message of life and present it in a dull way! What foolishness to treat the gospel in a way that communicates that we agree with our audience that it is tedious and unimportant!

Enough! Sorry to rant, but without grasping this point, we speak and speak and no one listens and the word of God is trampled underfoot and treated the same way that you treated those bad lessons you had at school where the clock dragged and the bell refused to ring.

God’s word is 'living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword', so let's keep our Bible talks lively, active, short and sharp.

To Consider

1 Try to recall the main points of the teaching given at last week's children's meeting. Draw conclusions according to your accuracy / success in this consideration.

2 Try to apportion the percentage of responsibility for poor behaviour you should accept from your last children's event. Don't be too hard on yourself, but how could you have improved your teaching style to engage the particular children who caused the greatest disruption?

© 2002 Children's Ministry