How To Teach Sunday School So Kids Will Want To Listen

Let’s just say it.

The hardest part about being a Sunday School teacher is that half the kids already know the story before you start.

Jonah and the Whale? Already know that one.

Noah and the Ark? Yup, they know that one too.

So what’s a teacher to do? When the kids already know ‘the punch line’ the story isn’t that interesting.

In fact, I have had 4 year-olds tell me the end of my story before I started it. It can be very frustrating for a teacher who desperately wants to be interesting to find a way to make the story interesting.


We certainly can’t go making up new stories, and we can’t rework Scripture to fit our needs.

So how tell a Bible story the kids already know, while keeping them interested?

I have a few ideas.

Bring your emotion to the story

Most stories in the Bible don’t offer a ton of emotive words. We don’t get words like scared, happy, or angry in the Bible verses that give us the details of the story.

Many of the stories in the Bible move from fact to fact. “Joseph went here. Joseph said this. Joseph did that.” The text from the Bible can read like information on a page, and not a real human story with real human emotion.

But it’s not that hard to look below the surface. Just take a moment to consider some of the most popular stories…

What must Noah have felt when God told him it was going to rain? He had never seen rain in his entire life and God promises so much of it that the earth will completely flood.

What must Moses have felt walking into a smoking and burning mountain to go talk to God?

What must Jonah have been feeling when he heard God’s direction and decided to go the opposite way?

What must Joseph have been feeling when his brothers show up in Egypt begging for food from him?

If we stop just long enough to imagine these scenarios we discover a bit of emotion. Joseph was probably shocked, I mean, he of all people didn’t expect to see them ever again. Jonah was literally living inside a fish. To us it’s a Bible story, to Jonah it was fish guts 24/7. If we aren’t careful we tell the story of Jonah like getting swallowed by a whale is something that happened all the time in the Bible.

[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”]If we aren’t careful we tell the story of Jonah like getting swallowed by a whale is something that happened all the time in the Bible.[/pullquote]

If you take a few minutes to read between the lines of theses familiar stories you’ll begin to understand what the characters might have felt.

We tend to take the amazing stories we find in the Bible for granted. The scenarios are CRAZY (in the belly of a fish!) but we make them ordinary because we’ve heard them before and because they are in the BIBLE!

That’s ridiculous. These were real people living real lives. Jonah had no idea what was going to happen to him. Jonah didn’t know the end of his story. Jonah didn’t know he was living a “Bible story”.

So the next time you tell a story from Scripture bring your emotion to the story. Imagine what the key characters must have been FEELING. When you do that, all of a sudden, Jonah becomes a real person!

[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”]Imagine what the key characters must have been FEELING. When you do that, all of a sudden, Jonah becomes a real person![/pullquote]

And that captures a kid’s attention.

If you are anything like me, as you talk about a certain emotion your whole body helps to communicate what you are saying. As you talk about fear it’s almost natural to talk a little softer and bend over a bit. Your whole body naturally begins to communicate the idea of fear.

When you are communicating excitement you are loud and you use big gestures. It’s just natural. God created your body to naturally aid you in storytelling!

[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”]God created your body to naturally aid you in storytelling![/pullquote]

So the next time you prepare a lesson for your class find an emotion or two in the story and draw that out for the kids. Explain to them why you think the character felt that way and how even today we can feel those same emotions.

All of a sudden a familiar story takes on a whole new meaning.

Relate the lesson to your life

If you know anything about speaking and communicating, one of the most powerful ways to communicate is to tell a story.

Stories are magic.


Nothing makes you more relatable and a lesson more interesting than when you tell a good story. Especially a personal one.

I remember one week I told a story about my son. I described how, as a 2 year-old he was frustrated that he couldn’t play in the road by our house. My 2 year-old didn’t understand why this big open space, the road, was off-limits.

Of course, all adults understand why, but to a little boy, it doesn’t make sense.

That story sets up the idea that rules are often there to keep us safe. Even when we don’t realize it.

That all makes sense to us, right? But if you just say “rules are there to keep us safe” everyone nods and yawns. Yeah, more facts! (that was tongue-in-cheek)

I suggest you tell stories. Especially personal stories. I didn’t have to read or memorize one detail of the story about my son. I could tell my class the story from memory very easily. So I had fun acting out my son wanting to run in the road and then asking the kids if a good parent would let their kid play in the street.

I wasn’t an exceptional teacher in that moment. I was just telling a story of my life.

[pullquote cite=”Robert Brown” type=”left, right”]Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.[/pullquote]

But since it directly communicated what I wanted to say it hit a nerve in the classroom and I had everyone’s attention.

That story happened to introduce a lesson I did on the Ten Commandments. We all know a lot about Exodus 20, but I was able to draw the kids in to this familiar story by starting, not with a verse, but with a story.

Draw them in with your story. The more personal the better.

Bounce back every 7-10 minutes.

We all want to better listeners. We all want our kids to be better listeners. But the fact still remains, they aren’t.

Kids, on average, have an attention span of their age, in minutes. So a 7 year-old has about a 7 minute attention span.

This is valuable information because we’ve all seen kids start to get ‘ancy. Elementary kids just aren’t trained to sit still for 20 minutes listening to someone talk. Their biology, the God who created them, designed their attention span to grow gradually as they got older.

So plan for that. Don’t expect kids to have the attention span you do.

You would never say out loud, “I expect kids to have my attention span”. But you teach like they do. You lay out facts and details and principles ad nauseum. The poor kids have listened to you for 10 minutes straight and are DYING to do something else.

[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”]The poor kids have listened to you for 10 minutes straight and are DYING to do something else.[/pullquote]

The answer isn’t to max your lesson out at 7 minutes for 7 year-olds.

The idea is to plan for a bounce back point near the edge of their attention span. Find a place in your lesson to recapture everyone’s attention. Use a funny story, an object lesson, or illustration.

Plan in your lesson where the kids will start to lose attention and mix it up. Have a ‘pop quiz’, play a short game, ask for a volunteer, tell a funny story.

Find a way to break the rhythm of your talking, and the rhythm of your lesson, to recapture their attention.

If you’re like me, you are totally into your story and could talk about it for 30 minutes straight, no problem. What we have to remember is that our kids aren’t having as much fun listening as we are having talking.

So find a natural place in your lesson to allow them to bounce back to you. Find a place to ‘reset’ their attention in the middle of your lesson. That way they’ll be with you at the end when you drive your main point home.

Instead of scolding them for attention use laughter, object lessons, and illustrations strategically to refocus kids and become a better teacher.

Everyone is a visual learner

We’ve been told that kids learn different ways.

Some kids learn through experience. Some through instruction, and others through pictures.

Here’s a different idea. Everyone likes visuals and we all don’t “have different learning styles.” (scientific proof)

[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”]We don’t all “have different learning styles.” (gasp!)[/pullquote]

Everyone learns best when the same ideas are repeated multiple times through different ‘modalities’. When we hear a piece of information that is good. When we hear AND see information that’s better. When we hear, see, and touch that is even better still.

The more senses we incorporate into our teaching the more reinforcements our brain gets of the information and the more we learn.

But every week we can’t have our kids ‘touch’ the information we are talking about.

So use visuals regularly. When visuals are used the students learn more and they retain the information longer and are able to retrieve it much quicker from their memory later on.

We are visual creatures. Why do you think Instagram and Pinterest are so popular. We are visual beings and we learn when we see it in front of us.

So if you want your lesson to be driven deep into your kids hearts and minds incorporate visuals into your lesson. The science proves it, we are all visual learners.

No one ever complained about leaving early

When you are done communicating, stop talking.

There will be weeks your lesson doesn’t go as long as you thought it would go. It happens to everyone. Accept this fact. It happens to everyone…that’s right, it will happen to YOU.

And it’s totally ok. Heck, the kids will probably be thankful to get done early!

The problem is, some teachers keep talking. Even after the lesson is over they make up 5 or even 10 minutes of lesson to fill the allotted time.

[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”]The problem is, some teachers keep talking. Even after the lesson is over they make up 5 or even 10 minutes of lesson to fill the allotted time.[/pullquote]

What a disaster. What a needless waste of time and energy.

Not only are you not that interested in what you’re saying…the kids are definitely not with you. They might not be able to articulate it, but the kids know when you are done with the interesting stuff. They know when you are just talking to fill time.

Everyone knows when the lesson is over. So stop pretending to keep it going after you’ve run out of prepared material.

No one ever complained about a teacher letting class out early.

Deliver your lesson with purpose. And then, when it’s done…STOP.

Your purpose as a teacher is not to fill time.

Let me say that again. Your purpose as a teacher is not to fill time.

Your job is to communicate an important Bible truth. Don’t muddy the truth up with words that don’t need to be there.

In this case “more” is not always better.

I hope a few of these ideas might be helpful to you as you continue to prepare to teach kids God’s Word.

There is nothing more exciting than explaining the Word of God in a way kids love!a

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