The Book of Psalms is one of the greatest gifts in the Old Testament. The book is sometimes called the “school of prayer” because reading and reciting the psalms in prayer helps us to learn how to pray. Introduce the Book of Psalms to your students using this lesson plan and collection of activities.
This lesson will help students learn:
- What does the word “psalm” mean?
- What is the Book of Psalms about?
- What kinds of psalms are there in the Book of Psalms?
- Who wrote the Book of Psalms?
- As a Christian, what is the best way to read the Book of Psalms?
Psalms Lesson Objectives
- Students will be able to define “psalm” and summarize the Book of Psalms.
- Students will be able read a psalm and make personal connections to it in prayer.
- Students will feel interested in reading and praying with the Book of Psalms.
Psalms Lesson Activities
I. The Meaning of the “Psalm” & a Short Summary of the Book of Psalms
What is a psalm and what does the title mean?
The Book of Psalms is a collection of songs praising God in the Old Testament.
The original Hebrew title for the book is Tehillim, which means “praises.”
The Greek word for the book (psalmoi) means “instrumental music.”
Watch this video for a more in-depth explanation of the word “psalm” and details about the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament:
II. Praising God with Poems: A Psalm Activity
Knowing that the psalms were written in poetic form, challenge the students to write their own poems of praise to God.
Depending on the age level of your students, you can recommend different types of poems, such as blank verse, rhymed poetry, haiku, sonnet, limerick, cinquain, etc.
A cinquain, for example, uses this structure of words:
3 -ing Words
(You could have the students call it a “Psinquain”! Funny, right?)
Or, give them this famous love poem and have the students replace the words to become a prayer in praise to God:
Roses are red,
violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet,
And so are you.
Students could write:
God is __________,
Jesus is __________,
___________ is __________.
And so are/is __________.
III. Praying with the Psalms Activity
The Psalms were written to be sung and prayed. Priests and religious pray with the Psalms every single day. Have students take some time to pray with the Book of Psalms at random or all together.
Have students select a Psalm randomly from the Book of Psalms or read a single Psalm together. Explain the meaning of difficult words along the way.
You might want to look ahead to the next Sunday’s liturgy and use the Sunday’s Psalm or use the Psalm from the readings of the day.
Here are a few Praying with the Psalms Activity options:
- Sing the Psalm: Find the sheet music for the Psalm and sing it with your class.
- Recite the Psalm: Using the lectionary version of the Psalm, read it with the students reciting the repetitive response.
- Choir Recitation of the Psalm: Divide the class into two sides. Have each side alternate in reciting each paragraph of the Psalm as you would do in the Liturgy of the Hours.
- Select One Verse to Pray: Have students select a verse (or assign one to them) to recite repeatedly (5-10 times). Have them do this very slowly.
I particularly like the idea of the last activity. Give the students some time to read and reflect on the meaning of the phrase. Have them pray the psalm in a personal way with memories and thoughts and experiences that are unique to them, but similar to the expression of prayer in their psalm verse.
Psalm Lesson Assessment
If you want the students to be able to show they understand the best way to read the Book of Psalms, give them a chapter and ask them to explain how it could help them pray.
- Print out a copy of Psalm 23 (read here).
- In the margins have students draw pictures of times in their lives when people could read and pray with Psalm 23.
- On the back of the paper, have students write a prayer in their own words that is similar to Psalm 23.