For Fourth-Graders Learning the Ten Commandments

Posted by Webster
I was nervous returning to my fourth-grade religious ed class this afternoon after two weeks off for the Christmas holidays. I was afraid I might have lost my connection with the kids, and like other teachers, I did find them more restless than they had been before the break.

As usual, I entered the class with a bare-bones mission: Spend the next two or even three weeks going over the Ten Commandments. These children know so little about their Faith, their Church and its history, I consider it a minor miracle when they can all recite the Hail Mary.

So I hatched a plan. An unauthorized plan neither provided for in our study guide nor sanctioned by the Vatican. But I thought it might be fun. At the beginning of class, I handed out paper and pencil and asked the class to imagine that the twelve of us (five kids were absent) had been stranded on a desert island. “Oh, Mr. Bull! You mean like Lost?!” “Exactly, J. Like Lost.”

Then I asked them to imagine that they had to come up with rules for living together, so that no one would get hurt and everyone would be happy. I asked each child to begin one rule with the word Always and a second rule with the word Never. Then I collected the papers and chose from their answers our class’s very own Ten Commandments:

  1. Always be nice.
  2. Never leave the group.
  3. Always sleep until at least nine o’clock.
  4. Never chew gum.
  5. Never steel [sic] from one another.
  6. Never pick your nose.
  7. Never kill anybody.
  8. Always take a shower with clothes on.
  9. Never go anywhere without a partner.
  10. Never eat the tiny fish.

Say what you will of my method, I had their attention, at least for a few minutes. We talked about how we had come up with these ten laws. We moved to the way our Congress and President create laws. Finally, we moved to God and Moses on the mountain.

We ended with a simple point. The real Ten C’s begin with three rules about God and one rule about our parents. I pointed out that none of the children’s rules mentioned God, mother, or father. Next week, we’ll see what they make of bearing false witness and coveting.

I love teaching this class.

  • Anonymous

    You are a genius, Mr Webster.;-)Moses

  • Warren Jewell

    (Okay, Frank, Webster, I use Firefox generally, but you guys I still take to Internet Explorer. Thanks, for the info.)I would be surprised if their parents could recite a Hail Mary without prompting through their halting attempts. When I was six (6! by the Lord's blessing), I knew the Apostles Creed, and could (and, more, knew why to) recite the Rosary. The Church has really dropped the catechetical ball. Of course, part of that showed up in me, when the praying and the reasons to pray were not reinforced and I thought to find better things to do – must be about mammon's business, you know. (Sigh) Long story . . .Nowadays, 'the family that prays together . . .' is getting rarer all the time. That the second part of that expression is '. . . stays together' has witness in divorce courts, now.I beg of you to take, for instance, 'You shall not steal' to the greater conclusion of 'be charitable, and give of yourself to who needs of you'. Don't just avoid enviously 'coveting your neighbor's goods' but 'celebrate your neighbor's good fortune'. It is that dimension of the Decalogue, that God does will doing good even more than avoiding sin, as does the Fourth Commandment on parents and God-given authorities, that gets lost in the lessons.Eh, I'm preaching, and to a group of pew dwellers who could give great homilies themselves, given the chance.God be with you all, as He seems to enjoy being with me. (Go figure!)

  • Webster Bull

    Preach all you want, Warren. It's one of the pleasures of my day, reading your comments. And don't know about Frank but I use Firefox.

  • EPG

    You should love teaching that class, Webster. Teaching anything is a great gift. The few times I have done it, I have found that I have learned at least as much as those I was supposedly teaching. Not just from the feedback (although that was valuable too), but mostly from the preparation, from examining the material, and figuring out the best way to get it across, and to engage others in it. Some years ago William Zinnzser (sp?) wrote a great book called "Writing to Learn." In it, he argued that the best way to learn something is to learn it well enough to write intelligently about it — we have to master the material in order to explain it to others in an effective way. The same concept applies to teaching in any forum, including a class such as yours.Enjoy it.

  • Webster Bull

    Zinsser's comment applies to a Catholic blog, too. As I'm sure Frank will agree, having to "turn out" stuff for this space on a pretty much daily basis makes me a more attentive student of all things Catholic.I will look for the Zinsser book, as I have a much-underlined copy of his "On Writing Well" on my shelf here in the office.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02243579752950295851 Daily Grace

    Your fourth graders are lucky to have you as their teacher! Good way to connect! I love the 6. Commandment "Never pick your nose"..I'm choking on my coffee!God Bless~DG

  • Webster Bull

    Yes, DG, and what the heck are the "tiny fish"? Is that a "Lost" reference? If so, it's lost on me.

  • Maria

    I am really struck by how little I know of the Catechism, how woefully ignorant I am. Have you ever taken a look at the Vatican website? It is gargantuan. I try to educate myself. But this is a ridiculous endeavour. It cannot be done. I so wish that,as adults,there existed a mechanism in the church for ongoing catechesis. I cannot believe that I am the only one feeling so at bay. How can we proclaim the good news if we don't know it?

  • Webster Bull

    P82, Thanks. When I was in RCIA we were given two texts: the 830-page CCC (still haven't finished that) and Peter Kreeft's "Catholic Christianity" (Cliff Notes to the CCC). Kreeft is really worth a look, as it follows the enter chapter-by-chapter scheme of the CCC and is readable, much shorter, well done.

  • Maria

    Great suggestion, Webster. Off to Kreeft I go.

  • James

    I have to respectfully disagree on WJ's assertion that the Church has dropped the ball on CCD. In my experience, the texts provided are well written and offer good presentation covering the salient points of the material being taught. CCD students are in public schools and not immersed daily in our Catholic culture as are their fortunate parochial school counterparts. The exposure to Church teaching in CCD is limited to 6 hours of classroom instruction per month with a modicum of homework. This,of course, is in addition to whatever reinforcement is offered at home. Catholicism is not a spectator sport and for these kids parental influence is a crucial component of their religious education. In my opinion the parishes (relying on volunteers) are providing the best opportunity possible for children to learn the Faith. If anyone has dropped the ball it is us – the Church community and not the Magesterium, the Dioceses or the respective parishes.

  • Webster Bull

    Thanks, James. We volunteers are "teaching up a storm," while most of our Catholic culture, centered in the individual family, is becalmed.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Our diocese is in the second year of the three year "Why Catholic" program with materials published by Renew International. Adult catechesis done in a group setting. See the materials here:http://www.renewintl.org/RENEW/home.nsf/vLaunch/Home?OpenDocument&MainLink;=/RENEW/home.nsf/vPages/WhyCathOV?OpenDocument

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    This link has links to all the archdiocese and diocese who are participating in this education program. Take a look…http://www.renewintl.org/RENEW/home.nsf/vLaunch/Home?OpenDocument&MainLink;=/RENEW/home.nsf/vPages/WhyCathOV?OpenDocument

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08295107557917392662 Tess

    I like your idea. I, too, teach 4th grade PSR. I thought of a way to sing the 10 Commandments to the tune of the 12 Days of Christmas. Instead of "counting down" we build up. We sing the refrain then sing the 1st Commandment, then the refrain, then the 1st Commandment and the 2nd Commandment, then the refrain …. The kids especially have fun on the 4th one. They get down on 1 knee and waive their hands and sing Honor thy father and mother using the melody for 5 Golden Rings.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08295107557917392662 Tess

    The 10 Commandments Scramble: I bought the colored plastic play yard balls and wrote 1 Commandment on each ball. I had 1 set of Commandments for each of my 2 teams. I took styrofoam boards and formed each into "tablets" using an electric carving knife. Then I used a special primer spray painted them grey. Using a cup and a lot of muscle to make it solid, I formed dimples for each ball and wrote I through X. I used a construction cone & put a sign on top. One side said Mt. Sinai on 1 side and Mt. Horeb on the other. I bought orange soccer field markers and placed 20 all around my mountain cone. I mixed up all the balls & put 1 ball undereach little cone. One person from each team had to go find the ball showing the 1st Commandment and run it back to show it to me. If it was correct, they would place it on the tablet in the right spot and tag their next team member to go to the mountain to find the ball with the 2nd Commandment. If they were wrong, they could show it to their team for advice on which 1 to look for. When they had the right ball they put it on the tablet & tagged the next person. It was very competitive, quite loud and lots of fun! Oh, and of course, educational :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15450566777821486695 Sue

    Tess,What an awesome knisthetic activity. I currently teach in a Catholic High school and even here it is often necessary to get the students out of their desks to help them retain.Sue Bates

  • mary bowler

    WOW!!! So many great ideas. I teach fourth grade at a small catholic school in southgate, ca and it’s wonderful to be able to communicate with other teachers. One teacher I know, had the students rewrite the commandments using positive language. Then the children in groups illustrated the commandment they worked on.


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