It’s August, and time for teachers to start writing their back to school to do lists. One of my goals for this year is to post at least two awesome religion class ideas per month, and hopefully line up my posts a little bit better so that the subject area is easy to implement in time for the season. For example, I want all my Advent ideas posted by the end of November, and Holy Week ideas at the beginning of Lent. This way if there is something you really want to try, there is plenty of time to do so.
So one of my favorite religion class ideas, and a great one to implement at the beginning of the year, is the use of prayer journals. Because this is something I had done for some time in class, a few years ago I asked the 6th grade teacher if she would also be interested in using prayer journals in class. So now students start their prayer journal in sixth grade and it travels with them through middle school and they take it with them at the end of the 8th grade retreat right before graduation. It’s a beautiful tradition, and students really enjoy having a record of their spiritual journey through middle school.
So here are some practicals and 10 ideas how to use prayer journals in your class this year.
First of all, have students use a notebook they can’t tear pages out of. I require a composition book for storage purposes, but any journal type book with binding would work. Make sure students clearly label their journals with their names. I also have them write their names on the top of the notebook for ease of turning in/ handing out.
Be clear with your expectations with prayer journals. My students know that I will be checking their participation during prayer activities, but I have made it a rule never to read their journals. Other teachers I know feel strongly that they SHOULD read the journals, but I feel that my students’ prayers are between them and God. Whichever route you decide to go, just be very clear with students so there aren’t any unpleasant surprises.
Have students date each entry in their prayer journal. I’ve learned from my own personal spiritual journaling that having dates can really help you see patterns in your life when looking back. It also helps to see where God was at work in your life when maybe you couldn’t see it so clearly at the time of the writing.
Model prayer journaling. Each prayer activity the students do I complete in my own school prayer journal, which is stored with theirs. Many times seeing you praying is the impetus your students need to use the allotted time for prayer.
Once you’ve gotten the basics taken care of, here are 10 ideas for how to use your prayer journal in class.
- To record a daily examen. Saint Ignatius Loyola had the Jesuits do a daily examen of consciousness (not an examination of conscience) to see where God had been at work in their day. While the examen is often done as a simple meditation, writing the responses to each of the steps can be helpful for beginners or also to look back later at where God has been in your life. More information on the steps of the examen can be found here.
- To keep lists of prayers and answered prayers. Often I have students use a page at the back of the prayer journal to keep track of the people and situations they are praying for and then also to record prayers that have been answered by God.
- To respond to guided meditations. My 8th grade class this last year really loved to do guided meditations. At the end of our meditation time (I would lead them in the meditation prayer itself) they would respond to a few questions in their journal. Example questions: How did I feel during this meditation? Was there anything I think God was trying to say to me? Etc.
- To thank God. This is exactly as easy as it sounds. Last November we filled our prayer journals with lists of things we were thankful for. Some of the more artistic students used this as an opportunity to create word art or drawings of things they were thankful for. You could do this at any time of year of course, but it seemed to work well when we did it.
- To write scripture. The sixth grade religion class does this in their prayer journals a lot. The teacher will select seasonally appropriate scriptures and the students will write them as beautifully as possible in their journals. You could also let students choose the verses, but especially if they are not familiar with the Bible, it might be nice to pick for them a few times.
- To keep track of traditional prayers. This is another idea I have stolen from the sixth grade class. More and more I am finding that students are unfamiliar with some of the prayers I take for granted that they will know: grace before meals, the Hail Mary, the Our Father, etc. The 6th graders write these right in the front of their prayer journals. To keep it interesting for students who already know the prayers, she also has them write them in Latin. I am thinking of having them add Spanish when they get to my class. You could add any prayers you want, like the Saint Michael prayer or the Memorare.
- To pray imaginatively. Another one of my favorite St. Ignatius ideas is to read a bible story slowly and prayerfully and put yourself in the scene. What are you seeing? Smelling? Tasting? Hearing? Saying? What I will do to incorporate prayer journals is read the story to the students, allowing them to close their eyes and just listen. Then we take 10-15 minutes for them to do one of 3 things: draw the scene from their perspective, reflect on the experience, or write the story from the point of view they experienced in prayer. This year during October I want to do this with mysteries of the Rosary and during Lent with the Stations of the Cross.
- To reflect on mass. Sometimes after mass I will give students a few questions based on the homily, readings etc. to help them connect that morning’s mass to their own lives.
- To prepare for the sacrament of confession. Have students write their responses to an examination of conscience. (This I would definitely not read and would let students staple or glue shut.)
- To keep track of saints and role models. This is a new idea that I am going to try this year. Each month we focus on a specific saint, but this year I am going to have students glue a picture of that saint into the prayer journal along with 5 reasons the saint inspires them and a prayer for the saint’s intercession. I plan on using icons as the pictures to fit with our 7th grade art curriculum. You can read more about the icon project here.
I spoke a few years ago at our diocesan catechetical congress about using prayer journals and the response was overwhelming- everyone wanted to get started and wanted ideas for how to use them in religious ed classrooms and Catholic schools. If you have any questions, feedback or more ideas for using prayer journals please let me know!