The following article is an edited excerpt from chapter 2 of Christ in the Classroom: Lesson Planning for the Heart and Mind, which describes various ways to use meditation in class to help students make personal connections to what they are learning.
The simplest way to lead students in meditation is to invite them into an encounter with Christ through stories.
Here’s the reality about teaching: it is easier for people to remember stories than it is to remember facts.
Our brains are built to remember stories.
When we read a novel or watch a movie, we make an emotional connection with the characters. They feel real to us. We become emotionally involved in their stories.
Think objectively for a moment about how silly it is for us to shed tears during a sad (or happy) movie about people who do not exist. They are not real. Why do their stories make such an impact on us?
The reason is that we are wired to make emotional connections through stories.
Where can you find these stories?
Following is a list of sources to search for relevant stories that will help your students make personal connections to what they are learning through meditation.
The purest and most natural source of Christian meditation, of course, is sacred scripture. Through meditation on the stories in sacred scripture we go directly to the source: God himself.
The Lives of the Saints
There are so many saints in our Church’s history! Many religion textbooks include relevant stories in each chapter. If students can imagine what it was like to live as that saint lived, then they can make the connection between the topic of the chapter and their lives today.
You can also use saints’ feast days to help make these connections. Many saints have been profoundly influenced by encountering the stories of other holy men and women throughout history, so including stories of the saints in class opens up the possibility of the Holy Spirit (perhaps with a particular saint’s intercession) drawing your students into a deeper relationship with Christ.
Do not be afraid to share your own personal witness and testimony as it relates to the topic of the day. The story of how you came to believe what you teach is absolutely vital for your students to see how they can make that leap of faith as well.
If they hear about your struggles in life and how a mystery of faith led you out of that hardship, they can relate that story to their own struggles. When they hear your stories of God’s gifts of joy and gratitude, they can look for opportunities to experience those graces as well.
Consider telling stories of modern-day servants of God, such as the pope or bishops or fellow teachers and ministers. Their stories can also help your students make connections between what they are learning and their personal lives.
This is something I wish I included in the original text of Christ in the Classroom. Fiction is an obvious source for meditation for young people. Whether it is reading books and excerpts of Christian fiction like The Chronicles of Narnia or showing clips from movies, fictional stories are great entries into meditations on the truths about our faith. The key is to find an appropriate and relevant story to what you are teaching the students.
Stories are the Starting Point
Remember, these stories are only the starting point.
A good story alone does not guarantee that your students will meditate on the mysteries of our faith.
You have to encourage them to make connections between the story and their lives.
Consider some variation of these questions in your discussion of the stories:
- Who can you relate to most in the story? Why?
- What would you do if you were in the story? Why?
- When have you experienced something similar in your life?
- Why is this story important for people your age to know?
Read more about integrating meditation into the classroom in Christ in the Classroom.