Faith that Works

Teaching middle schoolers how to live and practice their faith

After writing about helping students choose their Lenten practices, which you can read here, I scoured the internet for the type of graphic organizer that I wanted to use the help students make a meaningful plan. I couldn’t find what I was looking for, so I made my own! I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, as I am still pretty new to the “make your handouts look fancy” party.

So here it is: my Lent Brainstorming Sheet! I hope that it helps you and your students this Lenten Season.

So a few days ago, I had a brilliant idea. If you count Sundays as part of Lent, there are 46 days before the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. So you could feasibly read one chapter of every book in the Old Testament, like I wrote about in my post about helping students choose a Lenten practice. But when looking for reading plans, nothing really spoke to me, so I decided to make my own. Here it is as a PDF, or you can use the image above. I didn’t date it (on the actual handout) on purpose so that it is usable from year to year.

I am still new to designing these types of things, but I am really happy with the results. I want to make more reading/prayer plans in the future. What would you like to see? Let me know!

I’ve always loved a good feast day. I remember the year our son was born, I was sooooo excited to take him to mass on his feast day. We were going to bring his icon of Saint Maximilian and his icon of Saint Jude, along with some medals and rosaries to be blessed. I dressed him in his cutest panda onesie and we were out the door and on to noon mass. It wasn’t until the end of mass, when Father pointed out that it was Max’s feast day that I realized the entire back of his onesie was black and white striped. If you are familiar with the story of Maximilian Kolbe, you can see why I was suddenly horrified that the entire church was now looking at my baby, who appeared to be dressed as a prisoner. (Maximilian Kolbe heroically died in the place of another prisoner at Auschwitz.) After mass Father told me he had in fact thought that I dressed Max as his patron saint, and we laughed about it before he blessed our various religious icons and medals.

Celebrating feast days is another way to connect students to the joy of faith. Often times in religious education we get so focused on what we want students to know that we forget who we want them to know. Our end goal should be a personal relationship with Jesus. While prayers and facts can certainly help strengthen that relationship and even help begin the process of forming the relationship, the experiences of joyfully lived faith are going to last a lot longer in our students’ memories than the exact wording of Exodus 20 and the 10 Commandments.

Faith is a family. In a family you celebrate birthdays, achievements, and anniversaries, both happy and sad. Feast days are a great way to introduce your students to their family of faith.

If you’re new to the feast day game, here are some ideas to help you get started. First, start with your school’s patron saint. Our school is Saint Joseph’s, and luckily, this was a feast my family celebrated in style growing up. Because I grew up in North Jersey with an Italian godmother, I learned to celebrate this feast the way the Italian American community does: with lots of food. For Saint Joseph’s day you have spaghetti and meatballs, homemade bread, and zeppole for dessert. Last year our school had a marvelous procession in honor of our patron saint, which you can read about here, and I brought zeppole in for my students, even though I had to get up at 4 am to fry them all. So if your school has a patron, research their feast day. Maybe there are fun foods and traditions for your saint.

If your school doesn’t have a specific saint of obvious feast day, you could pick a feast that is special for the Church. Any of the Holy Days of Obligation would be an easy and obvious choice. For Immaculate Conception you could have a Mary crowning or do a special mass or living rosary. I’ve written a lot about All Saints Day on the blog because it’s my favorite, and the internet is full of great ideas for how to celebrate All Saints with students.

I think the formula I would use to start a feast day is this: prayer + food + fun. Students will remember the food and fun, which will hopefully bring them back to the prayer and the meaning of the feast day.

Wish us luck- for this year’s celebration of our feast day, my students are already scheming about how to get donuts out to the whole school. If you have a favorite feast day celebration or food, I’d love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments!

I know I’ve been writing a lot about Lent recently, but in teaching, this is the time to start planning out how you want to help your class to live Lent intentionally. In some years I felt bad about how much class time we spent away from the “content” during Lent, but at a Diocesan inservice a few years ago, another amazing teacher who I respect a lot said something that made me entirely rethink the way that I teach religion. She said, “More than anything, I just want them to know Christ.” That’s the real goal here. And sometimes it means stepping away from “the content” and just focusing on the person of Christ. Lent is a great time to do that. Here are some sites to help you get started.

Best Lent Ever is a free program available at Dynamiccatholic.com that my friend Corinne has used with her sixth grade students in past years. When you sign up for Best Lent Ever, you get daily email reflections with short videos and ideas that you can put into action during that day and throughout the rest of Lent. The videos go over well with students and provide a great entry task for a religion class.

CRS Rice Bowl has a whole set of resources at CRSricebowl.org. For each week of Lent following Ash Wednesday they focus on a different person who has been impacted by CRS programs in their country. I love these lessons for many reasons. One, it introduces students to places they know very little about. To add to the cross curricular aspects of the videos and reflections, I have students keep a map throughout the season of Lent and we color in the countries we learn about through the videos. There are free teaching resources and each lesson in tied to a special theme of Catholic Social teaching, which I love.

The Pray More Lenten Retreat is a resource available at Praymoreretreat.org. The couple that put this resource together also runs a website called praymorenovenas, which sends you email reminders for each day of a novena, which is not surprisingly, super helpful. Both resources are free, but the couple does accept donations to help them continue their ministry. When you sign up for the retreat, you have access to all the materials, so you can self pace your retreat and do it in a time and place that works for you. For me, this is a little bit of a drawback because I’m not always the best with open-ended commitments. Many of these talks and articles work best for an adult audience, but could definitely be used in class if you had a group that can handle more difficult reading. It would also be great for staff development and retreats.

Loyola Press has a lot of great resources in the Lent section of their website. If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know that Loyola Press is often a starting point for me in planning my religion class. They have activities and reflections for a variety of ages and also lots of great books. While the books are for sale, many of the resources on the site are free, including some online retreats. I am going to see if any of these would work for my 8th graders this year.

Do you have any favorite free resources for Lent? If so, please share with us!

The other day I experienced a first. The weather was so bad that our bishop displeased the Sunday obligation for everyone in our entire diocese, asking us to pray at home, especially the luminous mysteries in honor of world marriage day. As I stayed inside for yet another day with a toddler who desperately wants to play in the snow except for the actual touching the snow part, I was thinking of ways families can use snow days to increase their faith and come together as a family. Here are some fun and easy ideas for a faith filled snow day.

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1. Build LEGO Bible scenes. For Holy Week the last few years, my friend Kelly has posted pictures on facebook of the events of the last week of Jesus’s life as her sons imagine them in legos. I love seeing their creativity, and I love the way God can work through our talents. While we are strictly a Duplo family currently, I think it would be lot of fun to read the mass readings for the day and then try to build the scene from Legos. There’s also a really fun Catechism of the Seven Sacraments book available on Amazon that could provide some other ideas for what to build while also teaching really important faith concepts.

2. Do a color and pray rosary. In my earlier post about ways to pray the rosary, I mentioned that this is one I have used with my class and their third grade peace partners. We’ve also used stickers before too, which students really enjoyed. Because my old copy of the coloring sheet is getting a little ratty looking, I may use my next snow day to create my own. With littler children, you could break up the rosary throughout the day and pray one decade at a time.

3. Listen to religious podcasts for kids. I really enjoy Shining Light Dolls new podcast “Saint Stories for Kids” which is available on many podcast platforms. Shining Light Dolls also has some beautiful picture books and toys for Catholic kids.  You can see their full line of products at  Shining Light Dolls on Amazon.

4. This one might make your neighbors look at you a little funny, but I think it could be hilarious and fun. Make a saint snow person! Make a bunch! It would be so much fun to talk about common symbols for certain saints while figuring out how to portray that in snow- like flowers for Saint Therese, or animals for Saint Francis. One of my favorite parts of the classic Calvin and Hobbes comic strips was the scenes Calvin would create out of snow. You can channel your inner Catholic Calvin!

One of my favorite ways to pray has always been to sing or listen to music. I think it must be in part because I grew up with a professional musician father and many talented siblings. I also love to use music in class, and changing playlists with the seasons is a great way to teach the Liturgical year in a way students can understand and appreciate.

Here are some song suggestions for an amazing Lenten playlist or for use in praise worship.

This post contains affiliate links. Each song is linked to where you can buy it on Amazon. If you click through and purchase the song, I receive a small commission at no cost to you. It will also help me maintain my affiliate status 🙂

  1. Sweetly Broken by Jeremy Riddle.  Favorite lyrics: I am lost for words/ so lost in love/ sweetly broken, holy surrender.
  2. Love Song by Third Day.  Told from the point of view of the Good Thief, this song pairs really well with a lot of my Lenten projects where students have to imagine that they are really present on Good Friday.
  3. Liquid by Jars of Clay.  I know this is an old one- but I promise it’s great.  I love the mix of Gregorian Chant and Contemporary Christian at the beginning.
  4. Jesus, Friend Of Sinners by Casting Crowns.  My class led the school in a really cool reconciliation prayer service based on this song a few years back.  You can read more about it here.
  5. East To West, also by Casting Crowns.  This is a great song about love and forgiveness. It’s also a great one to use when having students look up the scripture references in songs.
  6. Hymnus: Pange Lingua.  This beautiful Eucharistic hymn is traditionally sung at the close of mass on Holy Thursday.  The simple and beautiful chant is one of my favorites.
  7. Lead Me To The Cross by Hillsong United.  There are many beautiful recordings of this song, but I find this one the easiest for students to sing along to.
  8. Redemption Songs is an entire album by Jars of Clay.  It features fun re-imaginings of old school hymns, mostly about the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is go-to classroom music in my classes during Lent.
  9. Lord, I Need You by Matt Maher has been an incredibly important song in my own spiritual journey, but it is also the song chosen by one of my eighth grade classes as our go to worship song.  Favorite lyrics: Where sin runs deep/ your grace is more/ where grace is found/ is where you are.
  10. Jesus, Only Jesus by Phillips, Craig and Dean is one of those powerful songs you just have to sing along with.  I love the instrumentation and the voices.

Are there any songs I should add to my playlist?  This is not the complete list, but definitely some of my favorites.  Let me know what your favorite Lenten hymn or song is.

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