Now You Can Teach Like Pope Francis!

Have you paid close attention to Pope Francis’s homilies and speeches? He follows a consistent format that all teachers, catechists, and communicators can use.

For Pope Francis, three is a magic number.

Beginning with his first homily to the Cardinals the day after his election, he tends to focus on just three words, questions, or ideas in each of his homilies and speeches. It makes his points very easy to follow and it is hard not to come away with a memorable lesson about God and our faith.

His his address to catechists in celebration of the Year of Faith, he gave us a hint as to where this method comes from:

I am going to speak about three things: one, two, three, the way the old-fashioned Jesuits did… one, two, three!

Pope Francis, September 27, 2013

Pope Francis: Master-Teacher

Why We Should All Teach in Three’s

In Day 23 of 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator, I cite an one of my favorite books, Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, as a model to help religious educators simplify their lessons. The Heath brothers arrange their book around a simple acronym that they created based on psychological research: SUCCESs.

  • Simple 
  • Unexpected
  • Concrete
  • Credible
  • Emotional
  • Stories

At some point during his time as a teacher, priest, or bishop, Pope Francis picked up on a few of these principles, most importantly “Simple.”

I can imagine him sitting down to prepare a homily or a speech and letting the Lord place three ideas or lessons on his heart to share with the Church. I can picture him writing down three words and then expanding on each one until he creates a simple and memorable lesson.

We could all do the same with our students.

The Three Words in Lumen Fidei

So far, Pope Francis’s largest written work has been his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei. Like his homilies, we can trace three important words throughout this work. In fact, these three words are the same three words he shared with the Cardinals in his very first homily.

They are: journey, profess, build.

Here is a short video explaining the significance of these three words in Lumen Fidei:

The Lumen Fidei (Light of Faith) Study Guide

The Lumen Fidei Study Guide

Shortly after the Pope’s first encyclical came out, I wrote a study guide for Lumen Fidei with in-depth, practical commentary and reflection questions for adults. It was recently published by Ave Maria Press.

You can purchase the individual eBook version for your Kindle, Nook, or Kobo device or buy a group PDF license to print and use with others.

I’ll be updating a page here at The Religion Teacher with resources for reading, understanding, and living this encyclical at

Or visit a website that I created specifically dedicated to the encyclical at

Pope Francis’s Greatest Hits

It isn’t difficult to find speeches and homilies that Pope Francis has simplified into three words. Here are just a few I have enjoyed reading in the last few months:

Pope Francis’s First Homily to the College of Cardinals
Journeying, Building, Professing

Pentecost Sunday 2013
Newness, Harmony, Mission

Address to Catechists for the Year of Faith
Being close to Jesus; imitating him by leaving ourselves behind and going out to encounter others; not being afraid to go with him to the outskirts

World Youth Day Closing Mass
Go, Do Not Be Afraid, Serve

Homily on Guarding Against the Devil 
Three Criteria:

  1. Jesus fights the devil.
  2. He who is not with Jesus is against Jesus.
  3. Vigilance over our hearts because the devil is astute.

Pope’s Address to Youth from the Diocese of Piacenza
Beauty, Goodness, Truth

Pope’s Address to Jesuit School Students
In one of my favorite Pope Francis teaching moments, he tells the kids:

“I’ve prepared a text but it’s five pages and that’s a little long. Let’s do this: I’ll give it to the Provincial Father and Fr. Federico Lombardi [director of the Holy See Press Office] so that you all can have it written and then some of you will ask me questions and I’ll answer them. That way we can talk.”

But even his prepared comments were organized into three words: magnanimous, freedom, and service.

In it he also shares awesome, off-the-cuff advice for educators:

I would like to say something to the educators, to those who work in schools, and to parents. Educating, in educating a balance must be maintained, your steps must be well balanced, one step on the cornice of safety but the other into the zone of risk. And when the risk becomes safe, the next step must venture into another area of risk. Education cannot be confined to the safety zone. No. This would mean preventing personalities from developing; yet it is not possible to educate solely in the risk zone either: this is too dangerous. It is a balance of steps: remember it well.

Pope Francis, June 7, 2013

How to Use Three Words in Your Teaching

The biggest take-away here is that as educators, we can grasp student attention and create more memorable lessons when we organize our lesson plans around the principle of three.

Here are some very practical ways you can make this happen:

  1. Lesson Objectives: Have no more than three lesson objectives for every lesson. Ideally, these three objectives would build upon one another. In The Religion Teacher’s Guide to Lesson Planning, I suggest the three types of learning objectives you might use: retrieval, comprehension, and critical thinking. It is good to have an objective in each of these three areas.
  2. Advance Organizers: I’ve written about Advance Organizers here. When you introduce the lesson, give away those three organizing principles to give the students a context for the things you will teach them. 
  3. Lectures: This may be the most obvious take-away, but it is still a challege. If you spend time in lecture in front of your class, how many points are you trying to make? Can you simplify the presentation into just three words, questions, or ideas? If the Pope can do it, so can you!
  4. Ask Me About Handouts: I’ve made it a habit to send home a slip of paper with three questions for parents to ask their kids on the way home from school. The papers are called “Ask Me About” handouts. I stick with the magic number: three.
  5. Classroom Rules: Give the students just three classroom rules to remember and follow in class. The simpler the better!

(photo credit: Jeffrey Bruno)


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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. Margarete Schels says:

    TERRIFIC posting and resources!! My 7th and 8th graders are in the midst of composing short essays based on “Lumen Fidei”!! I work with the editor of The Catholic Herald in Madison WI and have developed contest ideas for the last ten years. I am very excited for this year’s essay/drawing contest based on this beautiful, inspiring encyclical. Your posting with resources will be used this week in my religion classes!
    God bless you for providing such wonderful support for those of us in the ministry of Catholic education!!

  2. Hi Jared, I hope you are well.
    My second graders are on their way to preparing for Reconciliation.
    We are beginning the study of the Ten Commandments. I usually have them make a booklet where they illustrate the commandment and write a reflection.
    I thought you might have something “new” I could use.
    I get tired of the same thing.
    Thanks for your time.
    I enjoy reading your e- mails.
    Many blessings,
    Aixa Whitmore
    Second Grade Teacher
    St. Gregory the Great School
    Virginia Beach,VA