4 Ways to Help Students Learn the Books of the Bible

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

What is the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament? What kinds of books are there in the Old Testament? What kinds of books are in the New Testament?

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.

Old Testament Books of the Bible

New Testament Books of the Bible

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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!)
  3. 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?

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About Jared Dees

Jared Dees is the creator of The Religion Teacher and has worked in catechetical ministry for over ten years. He is the Digital Publishing Specialist at Ave Maria Press and the author of 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator.

Comments

  1. Kathy Brasseur says:

    Although technically I don’t teach old or new testament, I do use the bible quite frequently with my freshmen students. I can really use this information. I too have felt the same way you do at times when they take “forever” to find the book or chapter or verse. Thanks for the help. God bless.

    • Glad this was helpful! I think it is those of us who DON’T teach the New Testament and Old Testament that could implement these activities with the biggest impact. These students need the practice!

  2. Denise says:

    I teach them the books of the Bible songs, but I don’t have a Catholic version of the Old Testament. Any suggestions?

    • I assume you mean you have a recording of a song that doesn’t include all the books in the Catholic version of the Old Testament? In that case, what a wonderful lesson opportunity. My first thought is to teach them the song you know or have resources to teach, then once they’ve learned it, have them adapt it to include the other books. Check back in and let me know how it goes.

    • Sherry says:

      I have used a books of the OT song to the tune of “Did you ever see a Lassie” that is a catholic adaptation of one I learned as a (protestant) child. It goes:
      Let us sing books of the pentateuch, the pentateuch, the pentateuch
      Let us sing books of the pentateuch in the Old Testament:
      There’s Genesis, and Exodus, and Leviticus, and Numbers, and Deutoronomy in the Old Testament.
      Let us sing the books of history… of wisdom…of prophecy, etc. and continue to list the books in each section. It takes a little tweaking to get the syllables to sound right, but it will work!

  3. I bought a “Books of the Bible” bulletin board package at our Christian bookstore. Each book of the Bible is printed on a cut-out that looks like the spine of a book. Since they didn’t include the deuterocanonical books I created matching ones out of construction paper. Then I laminated all of them and put magnets on the back. It is a display on one of my chalkboards that I refer to often, plus we play games with them (ex. – put them in order as quickly as you can etc.) Very visual and lots of fun!

  4. We teach the Letters of St. Paul in a song…( which I learned from someone else)

    Ro Co Co
    Ga E P Co
    Thes Thes Tim Tim Ti
    Phileeeoooo

  5. Good stuff, Jared! Thanks!

    Not trying to throw a shameless plug here, but I got fed up trying to always locate books of the Bible years ago and made a song and later added actions to help me learn it. I’ve had GREAT results teaching it to 7th and 8th grade students my last couple of years in the classroom, though I’ve also taught it to 5th and 6th graders and a buddy of mine used it for freshman and juniors in high school (after which he said, “They weren’t too cool for it! They actually LOVED it!”). I call it “The Bible Ditty”. For anyone interested, you can check out the video, lyrics, etc. here: http://catholicreligionteacher.com/the-bible/

    I have some links to different online Sporcle challenges that my students have really enjoyed playing as well. Everyone reading, I dare ya to test yourself and see if you can list all the books of the Bible – in order!

    *NOTE: Jared, I promise I wasn’t trying to steal your thunder when I made the name for this website! I got fed up with my school’s sloth-like web server and decided to create something new and a little fancier for myself and my students. I went with the generic name (CatholicReligionTeacher.com) hoping that it might show up when other Catholic religion teachers googled for some resources. And then, of course, I discovered your website. Ha!

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