Today is day 1 of my World Religions Unit in Humanities and I am so incredibly excited!!! This is one of my most favorite units to teach because it is something the students are interested in and they really grow in their global-cultural awareness. As a public school teacher however, there are definitely some icebergs to avoid but in the three-years I have taught this I had hardly had an issue and here’s how:
- Have a serious discussion on an “intolerance on intolerance.” I do not allow any jokes, funny comments, or rude/insensitive remarks and I hold them to that strictly. I model ways to ask questions/make comments that are appropriate. Doing little lessons like that help to channel some of their questions from possibly inappropriate to welcoming.
- Focus on things besides religious belief. As a Humanities teacher I do most of my instruction on the arts of a religion, not their beliefs. I find that this helps from having arguments about who is “right or wrong.” I typically introduce a new world religion with an article that covers basic beliefs and principles so it serves as a foundation for the rest of the week’s activities.
- Keep students in small groups. Not only will this help students be more comfortable asking those “hard” questions, but it allows you to field things before they are necessarily brought to the whole class. My students are typically in groups of 4 but I switch them up a lot this unit from pairs, triads to groups of 4-5.
- Provide opportunities for personal research. I always admit when I am not an expert in a certain area and I highly encourage students to research things I cannot answer. I have a Lending Library filled with academic books to choose from but I also integrate opportunities for internet research with their blog projects. With this unit I stress getting information “straight from the source,” that is, from a scholar’s or insider’s perspective. I give the example that a conservative Christian website on Satanism may not be as good of a source as a university or the church’s website.
- Allow them to have fun! Learning about religions shouldn’t be filled with rote memorization of important people or writings; let them get their hands dirty too! For example, I always do a fun Hindu god scavenger hunt or Jewish holidays stations Anything to get them up, talking, and working as a team!