Joe Paprocki from the Catechist Journey shared the following 11 tips for lesson planning from his book The Catechist Toolbox. I have added my thoughts in blue. Enjoy!
Planning and preparation are key to the success of any catechist. Here are 11 tips to help you with your lesson planning:
- Long-Range Planning—The lesson you are planning is only part of a larger plan for the whole year. Make sure you get a picture of the whole calendar year and see how much time you have to carry out what you hope to accomplish. Get a good “feel” for how this lesson can build off of the previous one and lay the foundation for the next. The publisher has a scope and sequence of how the lessons are laid out so be sure to take a look at it.
- Get to Know Your Text and Your Participants—Get to know your textbook’s philosophy, strategies, approaches, strengths, and weaknesses. Get a sense of the whole book and then zero in on a set of chapters or a unit to see how each lesson fits in with the whole. At the same time, get to know the participants in your group and how capable they are of handling the text as it is written. Make adjustments as needed. It is worth talking with your DRE about how you can get the most out of your textbook. It is important to keep in mind that the textbook is only a tool – you as the catechist are the most important in regards to transmitting the faith and helping your students come to know and love Christ more.
- Examine the Teacher Notes in the Catechist Manual—A catechist manual is often a catechist’s best friend. Most catechetical texts today have excellent catechist manuals that lay out the lesson much like a blueprint and offer step-by-step instructions. The more you familiarize yourself with the teacher notes, the better you will be able to implement your lesson and still leave room for spontaneity. Be sure to look up the paragraphs to the Catechism that the catechist manual lists. The Catechism is a great reference resource and gives the heart of what we believe as Catholics.
- Visually Imagine Yourself Teaching the Lesson—Use your imagination to visualize the lesson you are about to teach. Imagine every possible scenario and how you would react. Picture how much time each segment of your lesson is going to take. Keep a notepad nearby to jot down important thoughts or ideas that can now become part of your lesson. Write down a list of materials that you will need for certain situations. Imagine problems that might arise and visualize how you may best handle them. With this visualization complete, you will feel as though you’ve already taught this lesson once and are now building upon it. These are great tips to keep in mind when planning your lesson. Consider planning a number of days before teaching it so you have some time to think about the lesson before actually teaching it.
- Make Adjustments to Fit the Needs of Your Participants—No lesson plan is ironclad and unchangeable. Once you’ve picked up the main focus of the lesson, think of your participants and their unique needs and make any necessary adjustments. You may have participants that are not very talkative, but the lesson calls for discussion. Perhaps you will need to make an adjustment and allow for some nonverbal form of expression. Whatever the case, the better you know your participants, the better you’ll be able to make adjustments so that the lesson will be as effective as possible. This does not happen all at once but as the year goes on you’ll continue to improve and become an even stronger catechist.
- Know Your Learning Outcomes (Objectives)—Know what your participants are supposed to be able to know and/or do as a result of this lesson. Don’t settle for the old “my objective is to cover chapter four” routine. Learning outcomes (sometimes referred to as “objectives”) are statements found in your lesson plan that state concretely and in measurable terms what it is that your participants should be able to know and do when the session is complete. Without these stated learning outcomes, you would never have any hope of knowing whether you’ve accomplished what you had set out to do. If your textbook has not already done this you should write out: by the end of the lesson students will be able to…
- Follow a Catechetical Process—Think of your lesson as a movement: you want to move your learners from where they are to where Jesus wants them to be. St. Ignatius of Loyola described this as entering through their door but leaving through your door. This movement, called the catechetical process, involves four steps:
- Engaging the life experience of the participant
- Exploring the concepts to be taught (Scripture and Tradition
- Reflecting and integrating the concepts with the lived experience
- Responding with a new way of living
It is important to not focus on experience at the expense of what God has revealed. I’ve seen at times that an emphasis on experience can be at the expense of what the Church teaches – just be sensitive to that. At the heart of what we as catechists are doing is helping our students to come to know what God has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church (Apostolic Tradition) so they can love and encounter Christ more fully.
- Get Your Materials Ready—Be sure that you have all the materials you will need to complete the lesson properly. There’s nothing worse than reaching a point in the lesson when you tell participants to cut pictures out of magazines only to find out that you don’t have scissors (or magazines). Visualizing the lesson ahead of time will help you to see what materials you will need that perhaps were not listed in the instructor manual. This is one of the reasons looking ahead is so important. Maybe your parish has a resource you can check out in order to prepare for next weeks lesson.
- Have Plan B Ready—By visualizing the lesson ahead of time, you may discover that what you’re hoping to accomplish may not work. Always have an option ready in case something falls flat or just isn’t working the way you had hoped. This can be challenging because you only have so much time to plan to begin with, but consider some simple plan B’s: If the skits you had planned don’t seem like they’ll work and you planned 20 minutes for them what will you do? Maybe have the students answer some questions in small groups and then report to the group at large or maybe they just need to take a little time to pray – pray a decade or two of the Rosary to go to the church for a brief period of time to pray. Consider having a question box that when things are not going great you pull a few questions out and answer them.
- Overplan—When serving dinner, it is always better to have more food than not enough. Likewise, when it comes to your lessons, it is always better to prepare more than you think you’ll need. Until you learn how to effectively gauge your time, it is quite possible that what you think will comprise an entire session will only cover half of the allotted time. When this happens, panic tends to set in. On the other hand, if you have more material than you need, you can relax and decide how to adjust your next session to make room for what you didn’t accomplish in this session. The textbook gives so many suggestions that it’s difficult to discuss all the possible details and ideas the textbook gives or your DRE shares with you. Consider what you might do if you have time. Also, see what the saint of the day is and share about that saint if you have time.
- Pray—Before you sit down to plan a lesson, take some time to pause and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. Do your planning and preparation in a prayerful environment. Light a candle. Put on some instrumental music. Place a Bible on the table next to you. Dim the lights. Ask the Holy Spirit to inspire and guide you and to give you the help you need to be focused, loving, and creative. Here is a great prayer, but simple to the Holy Spirit: “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy Faithful; and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love. Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created, and thou shalt renew the face of the earth.”