Teaching Children the Books of the Bible

Sunday School children need to learn how to look up bible references for themselves. A key step towards achieving this is to memorise the names of all the books in the correct order. Therefore in our Sunday School curriculum we ensure that we cover this at least once every three years. We learn the books of the New Testament over a period of about four weeks, followed a few months later by the books of the Old Testament. Even when we are not learning the books, we include occasional items in our programme to try to ensure that the names of the books remain sharp in the memory of each child.


Strategy

We believe it is important to have a co-ordinated strategy which involves all the following elements:-

1. an effective teaching method.

2. incentives to encourage the children to learn.

3. regular practice, in various forms, to reinforce and consolidate, and also to introduce some "fun" elements.

Given below are some thoughts on each of the above three points, based on our own experience.


Teaching Method

We use a professionally produced flannelgraph visual aid (see photo below), although a similar one can be made very easily by anybody with a computer and colour printer (a .pdf file is available from us on request). Each of the book names is printed on an individual piece of thin card about 7 inches by 1.5 inches. The design is such that each piece looks like the spine of a book. Different colours are used to indicate the different categories of books (Historical, Epistles, Prophecy), and also to make it visually more interesting.

We usually spread the teaching out over 4 weeks for the New Testament, and 6 Weeks for the Old Testament. Here's how we would split the teaching for the New Testament books:-

Week 1: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians.

Week 2: Galatians, Ephesians, Phillipians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians

Week 3: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James,

Week 4: 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation

Just as in teaching texts, the secret is repetition - but at the same time trying to maintain variety, so that it doesn't become boring. Start by putting only the first four books on the board, and saying "Matthew Mark Luke John" over and over again (using a pointer to point to the books as you say them). Then ask for one or two children to come out to the front and say them without looking (small reward for getting it right). Avoid silence - if you have to wait a few seconds for a child to come out to the front, use those few seconds for another practice. Say something like "Let's say them once more while David is coming out to the front"

Then add Acts and Romans to the board and say "Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans" about three or four times (don't forget to point). Then take away one of the first four books (say Mark) and repeat all six names about twice more (pointing to the gap when you get to Mark). Then ask one or two more children to the front to say all six (again with a small reward for getting it right). Then add the last two books (1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians). With more difficult names (e.g Corinthians, Thessalonians Philemon and Revelation) it will be necessary to stop and get everybody to say the name very slowly a few times. Practice all eight with one or two names missing from the board, then replace them all, and give a reward to anybody who can say all eight from memory.

Be firm - don't give rewards to those who haven't learned them properly - but be encouraging rather than discouraging: "Not quite right, but you're nearly there - try again at the end of Sunday School". (In our own experience children are often keen to come and have another go at the end of Sunday School - even the ones who have already said them correctly!)

For the second week, review the first six books (ask a child to come out and say them) then add Galatians Ephesians Philippians and Colossians. Children seem to have particular difficulty remembering these four books, so you need to work extra hard at them. Repeat these new books over and over again (at least seven or eight times), then ask for one or two children to come out and say them (with small reward). Then add 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians and repeat all six a few times. Then ask for one or two children to come out and say those six for a small reward. Then go right through all 14 books and repeat them three or four times, with one or two of the previously learned names removed (pointing to gaps) and again ask for children to come out and say all 14. At this stage, give any child who can say all fourteen a bookmark with all the names of the books printed on it (your local Christian Bookstore will probably have something suitable, or you can make one if you have a computer, colour printer and laminator). This will enable them to revise what they have learned, and also learn the rest of the books in advance if they want to.

Over the next two sessions carry on in the same way:- add 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus pointing out that these three books start with the same letter as the previous two (1 & 2 Thessalonians) so you have five books together all beginning with "T" add Philemon, Hebrews and James. For the fourth session add 1 Peter and 2 Peter and then add 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. (Learn these five together because when you say them one after the other, it forms quite a nice "rhythm").

Each week would follow the same basic pattern. Review what has been learned so far (small reward for a child who can do it) Then learn just the new books to be added that week (again small reward for children who can say these) Then start from the beginning and give slightly larger reward to any child who can say the whole list including the new books added that week.


Incentives

Here are some suggested incentives in addition to the bookmark given at the half way stage:-

  1. Any child who learns all 27 books gets a nicely printed certificate. (You can usually get blank ones from an office supplies store such as Staples - you just need somebody with a printer). Print on it something like this "Award of Excellence - This is to certify that (name) has learned to recite from memory the 27 books of the New Testament"
  2. In addition to the certificate, consider giving a small prize (typically we give novelty pencil cases or colourful hard-back note books)
  3. Put the names of those who learn the books on a kind of "roll of honour" on your notice board
  4. Point out that by learning the books, not only will it help them to find verses in the bible, but it will help them to do better in the quizzes and games you will be running (see below).


Practice / Fun Ideas

Its important to reinforce the teaching using games and quizzes. This gives the opportunity to introduce some "fun" elements that will encourage the children to learn. Use a variety of these in your programme, not just while you are learning the books, but for two or three weeks afterwards, and then every few weeks throughout the year.

Beat the record: Get a stopwatch, and ask somebody who has learned the books to come out and see how quickly they can say them correctly. Then ask others to come out and try to do it in a faster time. However, don't persist with this for longer than two or three minutes each week, because those who don't want to take part will get bored.

Find the missing book: Prepare a series of OHP transparencies with the books listed in order, but with one missing (don't have a gap where the missing book should be). Show a series of these (different book missing each time) and the first child to identify the missing book gets a small reward.

Regular Quiz Questions: If you are running a quiz, introduce a few questions such as "which book comes before Romans?" or "which book comes after Hebrews?" etc.

Sword Drills: For ideas on this refer to the "Sword Drills" area of our website.If you run a sword drill before you have learned all the books, make sure that the verses to find are all from books the children have learned.

Word Search: A wordsearch can help children to remember the spelling of the bible books. Refer to the wordsearch page on the main menu for an example based on the books of the New Testament.

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