It’s that time again – many of us are plugging away in dusty classrooms, measuring paper for bulletin boards and wondering where the summer went.  I’ve been poring over my pinterest boards, old plan books and memories of back to school as a child to come up with some great back to school activities, and here are 5 of my favorites, tailored to a religion class setting.

1: Have students tell you a little about their personal faith story.  At my school, while many of my students are Catholic, not everyone is.  Also, among Catholics, there are many students whose only experience of their faith happens during school, while others celebrate their faith often with their families.  I have students fill out a quick survey in the first few days of school so that I know where everyone is coming from and don’t make faulty assumptions about what students know or don’t know. Here is the religion survey I use in my classroom each fall.

2: If possible, take a tour of the church.  Our school has Mass every Friday, which is a great blessing.  The students who have been at our school for a few years have spent a lot of time in the Church, but often have a lot of questions that they don’t get to ask during the liturgy or forget to ask during class.  I try to take students on a tour of the church before our first mass- this gives them a chance to practice procedures like genuflecting and using holy water (or a chance to learn them for new students), but also gives them a chance to really look around and explore.  Churches often tell beautiful stories in art, stained glass, statues and more, and it is a great chance for students to learn those stories in a way they won’t at Mass.  It’s an added bonus if you can get one of the priests to give the tour.

3: Do a Bible scavenger hunt.  This is a good way to assess students’ familiarity with the Bible while having some fun.  I have students work in teams to complete this Bible Scavenger Hunt and have prizes for the first groups to finish with all correct answers.  This also gives me a chance to watch how students work together and also to see where we need more practice/familiarity with the Bible.

4: Start the year with a retreat.  This is my first year trying this one, but the Catholic school I attended growing up always had a day at the beginning of the year that was orientation/retreat for the high school students.  This year we are trying our first back to school retreat with our middle school students.  We are basing the day on the life of Mother Teresa, with talks and prayer in the morning and then service projects done in classes in the afternoon.  I am really excited to see what happens when we start the year this way!

5. Find out how students want to pray.  I’ve shared about this before, but for too many years, most of my classroom prayers were intercessory.  Students would share intentions and we would drone “Lord hear our prayer” after each one.  It turns out that my students found this exercise just as boring as I did.  At the beginning of the year last year, I asked my homeroom students two questions: What is the best way you’ve ever prayed at school/camp/home etc?  and What is the way you least enjoy praying?  Now, it’s not uncommon for intentions and the rosary to be the ways students least enjoy praying, and it’s not like I never use those prayers in class, but finding out what students want to do goes a long way towards keeping them engaged.  For example, one month students took turns choosing a song for us to listen to or sing as our prayer.  Each student really enjoyed getting to be the one to choose the prayer song that day.

I hope you have a blessed start to the school year!  Please comment with any other great activities you use at the start of the year.