Practicing Penance: A First Reconciliation Activity

One of my biggest goals this year for my second grade students was to encourage them to feel comfortable going to confession and communion for the first time. Even seasoned veterans have a hard time remembering what to do during the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I wanted to come up with a a fun First Reconciliation activity that would really get them prepared.

So, to prepare for Penace . . . we practiced!

I simplified the Sacrament of Reconciliation into four steps:

  1. Examination of Conscience
  2. Confession
  3. Absolution
  4. Penance

(Bonus resource: If you want to teach the step-by-step process for going to confession, check out this “How to Go to Confession” video here.”) I explained each step and the prayers that go along with it pointing them to places where they could find the prayers now and where they will be able to find them when they go to their actual First Reconciliation.

Examination of Conscience Box Activity

Materials Needed:

  • Cardboard Box (a bag will do)
  • Scissors
  • Marker(s)
  • Wrapping Paper (optional)

To introduce the idea of “examination of conscience” I created an “examination of conscience box.”

First Reconciliation Activity: Examination of Conscience Box

The “Examination of Conscience Box”

I took a small cardboard box that I had lying around the office and cut a square hole in the side. On the top, I wrote in Sharpie marker “Examination of Conscience Box.” (I’m not a very artsy person. I’m sure you can create a much better looking box! If I could do it again, I would use wrapping paper to make it stand out.) In the box I placed fifteen slips of paper with commons second grade sins. (Download this printable here.)

First Reconciliation Activity Worksheet

Printable: First Reconciliation Sins List


Practicing for First Reconciliation

First, I ran through the Reconciliation process in detail again. I explained the prayers and gave them cheat sheets to use (from the back of their textbooks). I told them not to worry–that I make mistakes on the prayers when I go to confession too. I called up each student one-by-one to come to the front of the room.

  1. They put their hands in the Examination of Conscience box and pulled out a sin.
  2. I played the part of the priest and they practiced being the penitent. We made the sign of the cross.
  3. They said, “Bless me Father for I have sinned, it has been ___ since my last confession.” (Funny thing though: I didn’t know what second graders were supposed to say during their First Reconciliation since they had never been to confession before!)
  4. They said their sins (reading from the slip of paper).
  5. I gave them a (pretend) penance.
  6. They read the Act of Contrition.
  7. I read the Prayer of Absolution.

. . . and they were done! Practice makes perfect!

The Results:

After their First Reconciliations they said they felt very prepared. There were no surprises and things went well! :)

Bonus: How to Go to Confession Video

I created a short video tutorial for kids on how to go to confession. It is available for premium members of The Religion Teacher, but you can access it here by entering your email. Watch the “How to Go to Confession” video here.




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About Jared Dees

Jared Dees is the creator of The Religion Teacher. He is the Content Marketing Manager at Ave Maria Press and the author of 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator, To Heal, Proclaim, and Teach, and Praying the Angelus.


  1. Thanks for sharing this. Great idea!

  2. This is first class in every way. If I ever do 2nd grade I will use this.

  3. Is there a book available on teaching a second grade first communion class. I have the Harry Wong book, it seems to relate mostly to older students. Any suggestions?
    I’d like more discipline tips for younger students and being an effective teacher.
    I also have your 31 days to becoming a better teacher and one other. I trying to learn as much as I can.

    • Hi Annie! I’m a big fan of the Harry Wong book. Even if this suggestions seem like they are for older grades, the idea of setting up procedures and systems really frees up your time and energy to make a big impact on the kids. Section three of my 31 Days book should help too. Thanks for asking!

  4. vilma cosico says:

    Good day! I am a volunteer catechist in San Pablo City, Laguna, Phil. I will surely use this activity for my classes. Thanks a lot.God Bless!

  5. I just finished my very first year as a Catholic school teacher. My sister bought me the Harry Wong book, First Day of School. I’ve had so much time to reflect on this next year and how important is that first day.
    I wrote about this on my own blog, recently.

  6. Jeanne says:

    We practice, too. We put another spin on it: the children are the priest, I am the penitent! We also pair up, one child as priest, one as penitent. I circulate around the room as they engage in this activity. It’s a hoot! We also give outlandish penances, 600 Hail Mary’s, 2000 Our Father’s, etc. It helps keep things light. Just a thought on penances, maybe you have had this experience but maybe not. One year I was explaining penance, the priest may ask you to pray 3 Hail Mary’s, etc. One child asked, Mrs. Van Heule, I know the first Hail Mary but not the second and third. What an honest and completely sensible question! So I always explain now that 3 Hail Mary’s means to say that prayer 3 times. :)

  7. Great stuff as usual Jared! This is going to be perfect for my 7 year-old who is prepping for reconciliation and first communion right now. Very creative and a great way to get her ready and most of all excited!

  8. Marie says:

    Thank you so very much for All the resources that you share. I sincerely appreciate it. God Bless You.

  9. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for sharing. It is such a great activity. I’ll try it with my First Communion class. For first timers going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation they usually say “…this is my first confession.” May God bless you.

  10. Jared:
    What a great idea. The sins are so concrete speaks to the experience of children at this age level. Last year, a week prior to first reconciliation, the fifth grade class worked in small groups with the kids getting them ready for Reconciliation. This year, I’m going to add this activity. Many blessings.

  11. Karla Melgar says:

    Thanks, a lot for this idea. I will use it with my students this year!

  12. Cynthia Coleman says:

    How did I miss this post of yours before? I also teach 2nd grade and preparation for First Reconciliation. The kids already did receive the sacrament in January, but they will be celebrating again with all the other classes in our program in 2 weeks — so I certainly will be using your ideas in my lesson next week. I love that in this parish not only do they receive the sacrament, but then they go again in just a few months.

  13. Laurel says:

    This is exactly what I was looking for – a great list of practice sins!!