Every year that I teach young people, I’m amazed by how little they know about the Bible. I’ll say, “turn to Luke, chapter fifteen” and wait for four or five minutes for students to find the right page. It doesn’t matter what age group it is. High school juniors seem to take just as long as sixth graders to find a book, chapter, and verse. You would think that learning the books of the Bible wouldn’t be so difficult after so many years of religious education!
“What page is it on?” someone will inevitably ask.
“Page? What do you mean page? This is the Bible! There are chapters and verses, not pages! Besides half of you have different printings of the Bible anyway!” Sometimes I say this out loud (in a nicer way) and at other times I just let it brood inside of me.
How can we get our students familiar enough with the Bible to be able to quickly find the book and chapter that we want to teach?
The following activities can be integrated into your Old Testament or New Testament lesson plans. Try one of these Bible activities to help your students learn the books of the Bible:
1. Visually Represent the Books of the Bible
The Old Testament and New Testaments are organized in sections with different types of books. Most bibles will categorize the books in the way the diagrams show below in their tables of contents. Knowing the types of books and the order of these sections are important because it provides young people with a context for recognizing specific books of the Bible.
Start with the categories. Make sure your students know that the Old Testament is in the front of the Bible and the New Testament is towards the back. Then, start to organize the many books of the Bible into groups of books. Even if the students aren’t required to memorize the books in their specific order, at least have them know the different types of books that are in the Bible. It becomes much easier to find the book of Isaiah if you know that it is towards the end of the Old Testament as one of the Prophetic Books.
Feel free to download a PDF of these diagrams and print them out so students can place them in their folders or Bibles. Or consider creating a blank books of the Bible worksheet for students to complete based on these sections.
2. Teach Students the Books of the Bible with a Song or Chant
In the video “What are the names of the four Gospels of the Bible?” I suggest a little song to help memorize the four Gospels:
This little tune can also be used to learn and recite the entire New Testament. Use this tune or another familiar song like “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” or the birthday song to memorize the books of the Bible in order.
3. Teach Students to Use the Table of Contents
This may seem obvious, but it’s not. Show students where to find the Table of Contents in their bibles. In student bibles this can be surprisingly hard to find especially with all the extra front matter that publishers often add into the books. Have them bookmark the page for future reference as soon as possible.
If there are marks on the fore edge of the book, teach students to use them to find the right book in the Bible. You might very well be the first person ever to show these young people that those marks even have a purpose!
4. Get the Students Out of their Seats!
This activity appeals to the bodily-kinesthetic learners in your group.
- Assign a book of the New Testament to each student at random. Do not assign the books in the order in which they appear in the Bible. Give them some time to make signs for their book on blank sheets of paper.
- Next, tell them they have twenty seconds (or some other time limit) to line up in front of the room in the correct order in which they appear in the New Testament. They must do this without talking. (On your mark. Get set. GO!)
- When the thirty seconds are up, tell the students to stop. Give them a minute to look around at the results. Ask if any of the students sees an error in the order. If there is an error, have that student move to the correct spot.
If there are more books in the New Testament than students in your class, ask them where the remaining books should go. If you’ve taught them the different types of books in the Bible, ask them to self-identify as Gospel, St. Paul’s letter, Catholic letters, Acts, or Apocalyptic writing.
There are certainly a number of other ways for students to learn the books of the Bible. In what ways have you introduced your students to the Bible? How did you personally learn the books?