Thinking skills and RE - part 2

This is the second in a series of three articles about 'thinking skills'. In this article, Margaret Cooling, well known for her expertise in RE and as a writer, speaker and trainer, introduces us to the possibility of using a variety of religious stimuli for 'thinking'.

Religious material can be used as stimulus material for thinking. The material can take the form of a religious poem, picture, story, question or dilemma.

Choose religious material that:

  • Contains some ambiguity or puzzling aspects to allow for discussion, use of the imagination and to evoke a response
  • Raises religious/moral issues that cannot be solved just by looking at the text or referring to what is already known
  • Has lots of dialogue (if it is a story) as dialogue shows reasoning; it can be acted out by pupils or illustrated using puppets or dolls
  • Varies in style and culture, and avoids crude stereotypes
  • Engages pupils

1. Example of a suitable religious poem

Certainty by Emily Dickinson

Click here (and scroll down to number 1052) to view the poem to which the following notes refer.

This poem leaves enough ambiguity for discussion and raises several issues. Can we know what we have not seen? Is there another type of certainty? The words with initial upper case letters (e.g., Moor, Sea, etc.) may need explaining. Explore why they might be emphasised in this way.

2. Example of a suitable religious story
'Jesus and the children' (Mark 10 v 13-16) looks like a very simple story but it shows Jesus' anger and raises a question about whether anger is ever justified. It also raises the issue of status: would the disciples have turned away a group of religious leaders? (Children had low status at the time.) This story also raises other questions: what is 'the Kingdom of God' and what did Jesus mean by 'becoming like a little child'? The story can be rewritten as a play with pupils supplying the missing dialogue.

3. Example of a suitable religious question
Characters in the Bible often raise questions. Look through the story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17). Locate some of the questions raised in and by the story. Some can be easily answered. Others (e.g., in verses 26 and 43) raise issues such as:

  • Will might always triumph?
  • Was David right not to fear Goliath?
  • David only took a sling and stones but did he have a different type of strength?

The questions can then be used to spark discussion.

4. Example of a suitable religious dilemma
(This can be told as a story or presented as a role-play.) A child (we shall call her Claire) is pressurised to shoplift by her friends. Ask pupils to think through what could help Claire to decide what she will do. What could Claire do (the possible)? What should she do (the moral)? What would she do (the actual/likely)? The Bible says 'Do not steal'. Would this influence Claire? What factors would cause the Bible to have an influence on her?

5. Example of a religious picture
This picture, Silent Prayer by András Simon, can be used with a series of teacher-prepared questions, or pupils can write their own.

This picture is suitable because there are several ways of looking at it.

The following questions and suggestions may help explore the picture and make pupils think.

  • Discuss with pupils what they can see in the picture.
  • Are all the things connected? How are they connected in the picture?
  • Are they connected in life?
  • Which symbols/images are present in the picture? Are they significant?
  • Can pupils read the body language/gestures in the picture? What message is being communicated?
  • How does the picture relate to the title?
  • Does the picture relate to the Bible in any way? Look up the following texts:
    Romans 8 v 15 - The spirit works to assure us that we are God's children and encourages us to call God 'Daddy'. (Paraphrased)
    Numbers 6 v 24 - May God bless you, keep you and be kind to you. May God turn his face towards you and give you peace. (Paraphrased)
  • Ask a Christian about their reactions to the picture.

© Silent Prayer by András Simon. Reproduced with permission.

If this article has whetted your appetite to discover more about using thinking skills in RE, check out the new service for RE teachers, the REthinking Network. Click here for more details. There is also a list of useful websites available by clicking here.