Thinking skills and RE - part 3

This is the third and final article in a series about 'thinking skills and RE'. Margaret Cooling, well known for her writing, speaking and training, particularly in the area of RE, encourages us to use 'thinking skills' to examine religious stories.

Thinking through religious stories

Using stories in RE is a long-established practice. Stories can help pupils understand the way in which beliefs motivate people and their importance in people's lives. They can enable pupils to think through and express their own beliefs and aid pupils' moral development. Stories can also develop thinking, questioning and reasoning skills. In RE, background information often needs supplying or the actions of people can be misunderstood.

Telling RE stories to make pupils think

  1. Ask questions before and after reading a story. Ask pupils to deduce things, using clues such as the book cover, illustrations and the title.
  2. Use faces that convey simple expressions to explore feelings of characters in religious stories. For example, hold up a face and ask questions such as: Who in the story feels like this? Why? Have you ever felt like this? (Pupils do not have to share answers to this question.)
  3. Stop and ask questions such as: What will happen next?
  4. Create a discussion plan to use with the story (see opposite page). This is a useful literacy exercise.

The Story: "The call of Matthew"

As Jesus was walking along, he saw Matthew sitting at the tax collectors' office. "Follow me," he said and Matthew just got up and followed him. He left behind the money he had collected. He left behind his good job and just followed Jesus. People stared after him in amazement - what had come over Matthew?

Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to dinner. While they were eating, some of Matthew's friends joined them. Matthew and his friends stuck together, they all invited each other to meals because they knew that no one else would invite them. To other people they were just 'sinners', 'scum' because of the job they did. When the religious leaders saw Jesus eating with Matthew and his friends they were shocked and said, "Why does Jesus eat with such people? They are tax collectors and sinners!"

Jesus overheard what they had said and replied, "It's not the healthy who need a doctor, but people who are ill. Go away and learn what this means: 'I want mercy, not your precious gifts.' I have come to call sinners to repent, not good people."

(This story is taken from Matthew 9 v 9-13 in the New Testament section of the Bible.)

Background information: The story of the call of Matthew

  • If someone is granted mercy, it means s/he is forgiven and accepted rather than condemned and punished. By granting mercy, wrong is not ignored. Jesus expected people to change.
  • Repentance - being sorry and changing.
  • This event took place after Jesus had healed a man who had been unable to walk. The whole town must have heard about it, so Jesus was not unknown to Matthew.
  • Being a tax collector (in those days) meant that Matthew collected money for the Romans - the hated enemy. Tax collectors were also allowed to collect extra for themselves. Some collected a lot extra!
  • Sharing a meal with people was a sign of acceptance.
  • The religious leaders condemned Matthew, but Jesus accepted and forgave him. Jesus' attitude reflects the teaching of the Bible: What does God ask you to do? To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6 v 8) God did not send his Son to condemn the world but to save it. (John 3 v 17)

Discussion Plan

Opening questions

  1. What is interesting/puzzling/surprising about the story?
  2. How does it make you think/feel?

Questions about events

  1. How do people in the story react to what is happening?
  2. Is it an old story or a modern one?
  3. Can old stories be relevant today?

Questions of meaning

  1. What is the message/moral of the story?
  2. How does this story relate to daily life?
  3. What do these lines mean? "It's not the healthy that need a doctor, but those who are ill. Go away and learn what this means: 'I want mercy, not your precious gifts.'"
  4. If a younger pupil said they did not understand this story, how would you explain it to them?
  5. What question would you like to ask the writer?
  6. What question is asked in the story? Is it answered? Can you answer it?

Questions based on characters

  1. What did Jesus do? Why?
  2. What do you think the religious leaders would say if you asked them about their behaviour?

Questions about the theme

  1. What would happen if no one were merciful?
  2. Have you ever seen or experienced mercy?
  3. Give an example of mercy.
  4. Do people want mercy? Why/why not?
  5. Is it always right to be merciful?
  6. Does being merciful raise any difficult questions?
  7. What is the opposite of mercy? What is similar to it?

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.