Category Archives: Topic Lesson Plan Ideas

Good Books for Christian Teachers–The Chosen by Chaim Potok

As an English teacher, I am often called upon to select appropriate books to teach in my classes. Since I am the lead teacher in my department, selecting high school novels falls upon me, and this task I take very seriously. As a Christian teacher, I understand that my job requires sensitivity, detailed consideration and a logical rationale for each selection. Each book must be carefully read and selected with a Christian worldview in mind. However, each book must also strive to fulfill the academic requirements of my school as well, which has high expectations in mind. Students should be prepared to survive in an AP Literature and Composition course, which requires strong critical thinking skills and an ability to read discerningly.

One of my favorite picks is the novel The Chosen, by Chaim Potok. What can I say about this book? I love it! Not only does it relate to my students in Panama, it is perfect for discussing a different religion and religious tolerance. It is also excellent for use in a World Literature classroom since it provides so much opportunity for discussion of European history, especially history concerning the Jewish populations. In summary, The Chosen is a book narrated by a young Jewish boy named Reuven Malter, whose father is a professor who write articles about Jewish commentary and interpretation. At the beginning of the story, Reuven meets Danny Saunders, who is the son of an Hasidic Tzaddik rabbi. Although they meet under circumstances that should divide them concerning religion and identity, they somehow make a very unique friendship that helps them survive the coming-of-age process and coming to terms with their own roles within the Jewish faith. This book allows for critical discussion of the following topics:

–What should be the relationship between religion and the secular world?

–What are some Jewish beliefs and traditions? How are they similar/different from Christianity?

–What are the percentages of Jewish people residing in the U.S.? In Panama? In your particularly country? How did they get there and what type of Jewish religion do they practice? Are they Orthodox? Reformed?

–Why can we say that the Jewish faith is the “root” of Christianity? Knowing that, students will be able to develop a respect for Judaism.

–How can we maintain faith even when there seem to be “bad things” happening in the world? (For example, Reuven is living in NY city during the period of WWII.) What is our relationship to God, and how do we see Him?

This book is very multidisciplinary, as it allows students to look up statistics of Jewish populations and create graphs, research historical backgrounds to Zionism and WWII, learn a little bit about psychology and Freud, delve into the intricacies of a major world religion, write thoughtful journal entries and critical papers, and reflect upon a coming-of-age process that they themselves may be going through personally. If you haven’t yet read novels by Chaim Potok, check it out!


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Teaching Students How to Think, Not What to Think

Daniel, a 17-year-old blogger, was frustrated. In his post entitled, “Why I Closed the Oprah Post After 224 Comments,” he mourned the reasons for his frustration:

“I had hope for excellent dialogue. Yet i could not find a single point of entry. This discourse had taken off at a blazing speed only to find itself revolving in the circular arguments of the “Oprah will burn in hell” and “Thou shall not judge” camps,” he wrote with a virtual sigh.

Daniel is a Christian, but he is well aware of how much Christians hide behind blanket statements and blind acceptance of doctrines, sometimes without even being aware of what the Bible has to say on the subject. He gives some healthy tips for those trying to defend an argument from a Christian perspective: “

“Stating how certain you are of her damnation doesn’t defeat her argument. Unless you come to a deeper understanding of your faith and learn how to articulate it graciously… then it really seems like you just want to bring people into line with your dogma,” he explains. To the “Do Not Judge Camp,” he responds, “Unfortunately, there are many people in this world who are extremely rude and truly judgmental..sorry . Don’t retreat to Matthew 7:1 or John 8:7 in cowardice when someone has not judged you but actually debunked you.”

He then went on in his blog to model what he expected from the website dialogue, deconstructing the philosophies held by Oprah and her latest guru, Eckhart Tolle. Daniel read the guru’s book, A New Earth, for the sole purpose of “understand[ing] their side of the argument.” He challenges statements made by Eckhart that all paths lead to the same “truth’ and that there is no absolute esoteric truth by pointing out the logical flaw in the inherent philosophical argument in a quote by Tim Keller: “How could you possibly know that no religion can see the whole truth unless you yourself have the superior, comprehensive knowledge of spiritual reality you just claimed that none of the religions have?”

After I finished reading Daniel’s arguments, I was stunned at his ability to, first of all, shun the offensive, blanket statements many Christians make when they find themselves unable to articulate and create logical apologetics for their beliefs. Second of all, I loved how he was able to pinpoint the heart of the argument and get to the bottom of the logical fallacy. Finally, I found myself thinking to myself, “This is what I want my students to do!”

Lately, many Christian teachers have been discussing with me their self-doubts and confusion about how to be Christian teachers. My question is this: Are we teaching our students WHAT to think (i.e. “Evolution is bad!”) or are we teaching them HOW to think? (i.e. How do we recognize fallacies in arguments? Can we create and defend arguments against cultural relativism, nihilism, and postmodernism?) Today is a very dangerous world to live in, and if our students are to grow into maturity of faith, we really have to consider whether we are giving them the tools to do so, or whether our bottom line is that they memorize the scripture verse (preferably outside of context), and learn to parrot the basic doctrines of the faith.

Michael Essenburg, a fellow Christian teacher, recently sent me an email of the following online tutorials he was planning on offering as an alternative for Christian school students or homeschooled students.

Since Michael is a “friend of the site” and not necessarily a personal friend, I cannot recommend them based on personal experience. Yet, as I read the topics he is addressing it, and his Socratic Method approach, it becomes clear to me that he is moving in the right direction. We need to do more than just throw in a Bible verse alongside a lesson plan or use homeroom to present a devotional. We need to train our students how to think in a world that has forgotten how to think for itself.



Michael Essenburg




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Technology in the English Classroom

One of the greatest challenges that will be facing me next year is how to best utilize technology in the classroom, whether as an instructional tool, an assessment tool, or simply showing students how English and technology work together in today’s 21st century world. So far, our school is equipped with a fairly large computer lab–around 25 computers network-connected. We also will have a projector and laptop in each classroom beginning with next year. I’ve also talked the school into purchasing a few video cameras for use in creating video projects, and they have thankfully complied. This year, I used my personal portable DVD player for school DVD viewing because we have a limited supply of DVD players at the school, and some of them were missing remote controls or not working correctly.

Despite all of the increasing technology that is being made available to our school, I am facing the challenge of how to incorporate it into my classes and also with the challenge of how to coach a new middle school teacher how to incorporate it into the middle school curriculum, which is even more focused on computer literacy. They will need to be able to film, edit and upload Youtube videos, blog their own portfolios and demonstrate agility with Powerpoint and MS Word. I’m super excited about what the future holds, but I know that I will also need to teach myself how to do these things before I can begin to instruct students in their use.

So here is the challenge for you who view the Forum and want to share lesson plan ideas: Do you have any worksheets, plans or instructional guides that incorporate technology in your classroom as a student project? An assessment activity? An instructional tool? If so, pass the information along to your fellow teachers by either emailing them to me or by commenting on this site. I’m sure that there are many other teachers who are in the same boat here, and need to educate themselves or gather together resources and ideas. Remember–if you have any requests that you would like to be blogged on this site, be sure to let me know! I want this site to be helpful for you, and your needs may be different than my needs as a teacher. Also, if you saw something on this site that helped you, be sure to let me know!


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Digital Portfolios

Currently, student-created digital portfolios are the latest trend, and it just makes sense. In today’s age of technology, digital literacy is fundamental for many of us pursuing careers. We place our resumes online, email attachments to employers, create our own websites, and read online journals. Tracking student progress throughout high school has been for me a challenge as long as the paper-and-pencil method has been in force. Keeping massive quantities of binders and files, sorting them out, and allowing reflection through the years has been an exercise in organization and frustration. Our students next year will be creating their own blogs and beginning their first digital portfolios, but some of you may be wondering how they will accomplish that feat. I have attached a link to this post that may be helpful to you. If you are reading this now, chances are that you already know how easy blogging can be and how easily it can be adapted for use as a portfolio. However, you may want to explore something bigger, better or be able to explain to your employer why a whole-school initiative should be adopted. Feel free to use the information found at the link to help you accomplish this task.

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Audio Books Part 2

After communicating via email with the Recorded Books people, they explained what their company had to offer in terms of resources. So, as a follow up, I decided to post the email that was sent to me on this blog so that you could see for yourselves what Recorded Books can give you and how it will help your particular child or student to succeed in school.

From: “Jean Stephens” <>  Add Mobile Alert
To: “‘Anna Drake'” <>
CC: “‘Jennah Watters'” <>
Subject: Recorded Books for ESL
Date: Tue, 20 May 2008 12:46:52 -0400


Thanks for visiting our blog. I enjoyed your site. Stimulating ideas and a very nice look.


No, Recorded Books does not have any teacher guides oriented towards religion.


As for ESL, we think the best application of audio is the listen-and-read strategy with an unabridged audiobook that matches the print book word for word. This multisensory approach lets the narration support students with weaker reading skills, or, alternatively, the reading along in the book can help students transition from the spoken word to print text. Often the listen-and-read approach allows striving readers to access books they might not be able to handle without audio support—and that means you don’t have to “dumb down” their material and students are spared the insult of trying to learn with books that are too immature for them.


We’ve also got popular K-12 fiction recorded at slightly reduced speeds to give ESL learners a little more time to run their eyes across the print page (SteadyReaders) and we have some very slow recordings of specially written short books for older students whose English is at an early elementary level (SmartReaders.) These and some other ESL tools can be seen at our website: go to, click on Special Products, and start with the Overview at the top of the menu.


Thanks so much for mentioning us at your site. Looks like we share some of the same concerns and objectives. Look forward to hearing from you again.


Jean Stephens

School Marketing Manager

Recorded Books, LLC

1 800 638-1304, ext. 1144


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Recorded Books and Lesson Plans with Recordings

Some teachers are trying to find new ways of incorporating technology into their lesson plans in a way that is fun, inviting and reaches out to auditory learners. I happened across this blog site that contained some very interesting lesson plans using audio recordings and books. I invite you to check it out. In particular, audio books can help struggling readers learn new vocabulary, read faster at home and improve their comprehension levels. It is strongly recommended that they listen to an audio recording of the reading and follow along in their books. In terms of usage, it is not appropriate for students to just listen to an audio book recording of their text without having the words in front of them as well. However, for fun in elementary classrooms, students can have a story listening corner using audio recordings. It may also help students comprehend Shakespeare a little better in the secondary classroom. What I noticed first, however, was the lesson plan title for listening to the sounds of bees and insects. The title was “Make a Joyful Noise.” That is one way to introduce praise and worship to God as Nature also has its own ways of showing praise. 🙂  I hope that the site will be helpful to you. I will also post it in the handy links section under Teaching Methodologies as “Audio Recordings and Lesson Plans.”

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Student Entrepreneurs

In our international Christian school, we find that neighboring schools are helping their students learn about business through a student entrepreneurship program. These programs help students learn how to develop, plan and carry out their own businesses while they are still in high school. Since many of our students are bilingual or even trilingual, they are interested in international business as a major in college. For this reason, I think that this type of a program is very beneficial to my Christian school.

However, this type of a program is wonderful whether you are homeschooling, teaching at a Christian school or teaching in a public school. First of all, it provides real-life skills that are useful for students in the future. Homeschooled kids can learn how to plan, organize themselves and work independently while getting the social interaction skills that they need to be successful in life. Christian school kids can use an opportunity like this as a ministry opportunity. One Panamanian girl who attended a secular school said that from their profits, the school required them to give 40% to a charitable organization. If a secular school can use their program for community service, why can’t we? In public schools, resources are even more phenomenal, assuming that you are a Christian teacher who wants to inspire students to social change. You can then help develop this aspect in the lives of your students even though you are working in a secular environment. You can get local church groups in on it as volunteers. The possibilities are endless!

Below, I am posting a website for teachers to get involved in my links section. A training session for teachers is happening in Washington D.C. this summer. If you are able to get there, I would highly recommend it!


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