Words are Powerful
Sometimes the words children encounter at church or in scripture stories are not ones they commonly use. Words like “sacrifice” “omniscient” and “steadfast” or even “faithful” and “gospel” aren’t necessarily in a child’s working vocabulary. These words that allow us to communicate our spiritual experiences and to express the very nature of God deserve a special place in a child’s religious formation.
Recently I’ve been studying the process by which children learn to read and how they develop strong literacy skills. I came to realize that Sunday School is a wonderful place to help children think critically, to read deeply and to practice all kinds of communication related skills. Vocabulary is just one area in which we Sunday School teachers have a unique opportunity to help children expand their spiritual understanding.
With that in mind we developed a game this year that we call “Lexicon Link-Up.” The children love it! They literally beg to play it, over and over again. I got the inspiration from an article I read in a professional reading teacher magazine.
Lexicon Link-Up: A Human Concept Map
In this game children form a human “concept map” using vocabulary words taken from the Bible stories we’ve studied previously in class. A few of the children will be given category words written on a 3×5 note card. The rest of the children will get vocabulary cards that fit with a specific category. Each child with a category card holds a large embroidery hoop and the other children “link-up” by holding on to the hoop.
2-4 large embroidery hoops
3×5 note cards
Prepare before class:
Decide how you want to categorize the vocabulary. For the first few games we used the name of a parable as the main category. For other games we used contrasting characters from the same parable.
Write a card for 2-4 categories (i.e. The Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan, etc.)
Write 3-5 cards of vocabulary words for EACH category (i.e. repentance, forgiveness, compassion, etc.)
Give each child a vocabulary note card face down. Once everyone has a card invite them to turn them over.
Tell them to think about what their word means and where they may have heard it before.
Invite the children who think they have a category card to come get a hoop and stand in the open area you designated for the game.
Invite the rest of the children to link-up with the category that best works for their word.
(There will be a lot of movement and conversation so please set ground rules ahead of time.)
Once the human concept map is formed look ask the children to look around at everyone’s words. Read the words connected to each concept hoop and ask the children if they agree with the linking.
Play another round. And another…
There Should be Talking
We encourage the children to talk to each other to figure out what the vocabulary words mean and how they relate to each other. There is no race to finish first! (This is key.)
Sometimes as we form the human concept map we realize that words could fit under more than one category and then we adjust our configuration. As the children talk they often retell parts of the story to each other, coach each other in the meaning of words and offer suggestions. Best of all they really have fun doing it!
We made a bulletin board sized concept map of the words from the game so we have a record of our learning.
Leading up to the Game
In our class we prepared the children for this game with mini-lessons on categorizing and several Sundays worth of simple categorizing activities done with a partner. In one partner activity the children chose a parable and then brainstormed all of the “powerful” words that went along with that parable. Then each partner shared their two favorite “powerful” words with the rest of the group. Some of these words then went into the Lexicon Link-Up game.
Try out your own ideas
Lexicon Link-up is a fun, active game that helps children categorize and learn vocabulary words from the stories we’ve heard in class. It gives children the chance to talk with each other about key concepts from the stories and to relate them with other stories. Once the children get the basic idea of how to play the game you can expand the sophistication of the categories and the number of categories played each round. You might even have the children develop their own set of cards. I hope you’ll try your own version of this game to help children learn those special words that speak to them of God.