Lexicon Link-Up

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.

hoops and notecards

To play Lexicon Link-Up all you need are embroidery hoops and notecards.


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.


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Parable Journals

We are currently studying the Parables of Jesus in our third and fourth grade class. Every year the children have wonderful comments and ideas to share. This year I thought it would be nice if we could record a few more of their thoughts in an organized format. The Parable Journal was born.

After our verbal discussion of the story the children are invited to write or draw in their individual Parable Journals. It started off slowly. The first week many of the children only were able to write the date and the title of the parable down while they thought about where to start. Each week I modeled journal writing for them and we made a journal anchor chart together. Now, they get to writing or drawing right away and fill up a page with their thoughts.

I was a bit hesitant to try journal writing because our class is mainly third-graders this year and I noticed that some of them seem to avoid writing as a choice for various reasons. With this in mind I tried to create a space where they could choose different approaches to journal writing. In fact, I gave them the choice to not write at all but instead draw their ideas in the journal. However, instead of writing less the children write more than they ever have in class! They draw a picture and then annotate it, add thought bubbles or powerful words from the scriptures. The children also have the choice of writing out a portion of the parable directly from the text. This has allowed us to help the children go back to the original scripture, read it several times and then find the essential elements.

After we wrote three entries I introduced Partner Journal Sharing time, first thing, before the weekly story. The children paired up and chose one of their entries to share with their partner. The first partner shared an entry; the second partner then asked a question or gave a compliment about the entry. While I circulated around the room I heard some wonderful, sincere conversations. I also noticed that when journal time came around that day the children seemed extra motivated to get their thoughts down. We will be having partner sharing time again after a few more entries.

The journals have also been a nice reference tool. When we did a partner brainstorm of powerful parable words several of the children consulted their own journals to help them remember the story and to look for key words.

I’m glad that we decided to take a chance on journal writing. It has been a wonderful addition to our reflection time. The children keep wanting to take their journals home each week because they are very excited to share their ideas with their parents. The church needs thoughtful, articulate writers and writing gives children another way to develop their spiritual gifts. If you’ve ever thought about journaling in your Sunday School class I’d encourage you to give it a try!

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Making our own Mustard

mustard making

Mustard making station

As part of our activities surrounding the Parable of the Mustard Seed we made our very own recipes of mustard. Mustard is an ancient food condiment, and mustard seeds and greens were used long before mustard appeared on the scene, as far as I could research. I decided to bring out this special project of mustard-making because it enabled the children to work with mustard seeds firsthand and appreciate the power of such a small seed. They loved making their own recipes!

As the rest of the class worked on art reflections of the parable I invited two children to come back to the mustard-making station. Each child crushed whole yellow and black mustard seeds using a mortar and pestle. This was the first time many of them had ever used such a tool and we got to talk about how ancient cultures used it in food preparation and how we might use it today. After a sufficiently course mustard powder was obtained the children decided which ingredients to add. They could choose from plain water, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, brown sugar, and sea salt. They mixed the ingredients together in a paper cup and then transferred the mixture into a take-home container for taste-testing at home. Yes, it was hard to wait!

Reports of the tastiness of their recipes were quite positive the following Sunday. The good part about mustard is that the ingredients are shelf-safe, the finished mustard doesn’t spoil easily, and it mellows over time. It is not always easy to incorporate food-based projects into the Sunday School classroom because of time and equipment constraints, but children love cooking and experimenting. This is one project I can heartily recommend!

As with all food items and projects be sure you check for any known food allergies and plan for careful food handling before adding this to your classroom.

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Changing the curriculum: adding parables

Lately our class has been following our usual pathway of parables that lead us up to special Thanksgiving and Christmas reflections. We study the parables of Jesus in the late summer and autumn because they provide such a wonderful foundation for connecting with God’s Word and relating to the more narrative character studies we do later in the year. Over the past few years we’ve established a series of parables that we follow, but because the scriptures are so full of parables it is easy adapt the series to reflect the needs of the children. I’m wondering right now whether to extend our parable study with an additional parable or two. Which parables do you find particularly engaging to your class?


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A little update

Children as storytellers

This blog has been lonely for a little while, but a lot has happened in Fourth Grade Sunday School Land. Our Sunday School year ends in May and the children move on to the next grade level. Our final project of the year found the children in the position of the storyteller. Small groups and pairs of children chose a parable, read it from the scriptures, wrote questions for the story, created the materials over a couple of Sundays, presented the parable and then led the reflection time. It was a wonderful experience to see how they interpreted the parables and brought out the points they found most meaningful. Their questions were open-ended and thought-provoking, the materials lovingly made. They took their jobs seriously. We had lovely conversations about the meaning of the house built on the rock, and the joy of finding Jesus or the Kingdom of God in the parable of the hidden treasure. On the last day of class I told the children that they could keep the parable materials if they wished but everyone decided to put them on the shelf so the “new” students could use them. Indeed they shall.

Until then, may God bless you in your teaching.

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If the seed dies…

pottedwheatgrassThis year for our Easter season reflections we began by pondering John 12:24 as a class.

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

The children made some nice connections between this verse and some of the other “seed” parables like the mustard seed and the sower. One girl thought that Jesus was telling us that we need to “die to ourselves” in order to become better disciples. We had a couple children say that it reminded them of Jesus dying and then being resurrected. One child related it to baptism by immersion.

After our discussion we planted some “mystery” seeds, each child putting a few into a small pot. Then I watered them. We talked about whether the seeds were good seeds, what plants they might become and if the soil was good. Each child then was free to choose to make his own potting or use our art materials for reflection. Everybody chose to plant some seeds. We made a little popsicle stick and paper sign with John 12:24 written on it for each pot.

We took the class pot home with us so we could water it throughout the week. The following Sunday we brought back the transformed seeds to show the class. Some of the children had forgotten about their own seeds during the week and this seemed to give them encouragement to go home and water them. Last week, Easter Sunday, one boy brought his wheat grass to show the class. Most of the class had been tending their seeds this time! We had a wonderful discussion about how everyone’s plants were doing. One girl had even re-potted hers in a larger container with MiracleGrow in hopes of growing some real grain.

This simple project has given us three weeks of rich discussions about Christ, the miracle of life and discipleship. I think this project helps the children experience the Resurrection in a gentle and yet exciting way that reflects the hope inherent in the event itself.

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Making a Sower’s Field

The Parable of the Sower has been one of the children’s favorite stories and materials to use. It is very simple to make using inexpensive materials. This material has held up well over the past two years.

Sower's field

To make this material I used the following:

  • A small bamboo silverware tray with four  compartments for the soil and one compartment for holding the props (cost about $10)
  • Dirt from my backyard packed down (for the wayside)
  • River rocks (for the stony soil)
  • Thorns from a bush (yes I did warn the children about the sharpness)
  • Organic potting soil (for the good soil)
  • Lentils (for the seed)
  • Squares of cloth and hemp cord (for the bags)
  • Miniature birds
  • Clothespin doll and stand
  • Woven miniature hat
  • Scraps of cloth for sower’s clothing
  • Round bead/spice container for holding the lentils
  • Small 4×6″ bag for holding the birds, seed container (when not in use)

The tray ends up being a bit heavy with all of the dirt and rocks, but the children are very careful when they take it off the shelf. Since we have limited shelf space I’ve rotated this story to the closet temporarily, but Spring seems like a good time to bring it back. I think I’ll put it out tomorrow and see if any children return to it.


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