Teaching the Bible to Emergent Readers

Teaching the Bible to Emergent Readers

by James Hargrave
Teaching the Bible to Emergent Readers
Ideas to help adapt Bible activities for non- and emergent readers.

At the beginning of the school year, some first graders are well on their way to reading with confidence and competency. Others may only recognize letters of the alphabet, a few sight words, and their name. They will become good readers, but just now they are only beginning to read. Sometimes you can plainly see the frustration on their faces and in their body language.

At the same time, most second graders are proud of their abilities to read and want activities that allow them to use their skills. The curriculum writers for first and second graders try hard to develop procedures and activities that are interesting and challenging for second graders but are also within the abilities of first graders. That task gets somewhat easier as the year goes on, but especially in the fall, teachers appreciate ideas that can help them adapt activities for use with emergent readers. It is cumbersome and space consuming to list all of these ideas in the leader guide every week, so an article similar to this one appears in the Bible Teaching for Kids Grades 1 and 2 Leader Pack each fall and on the CD-Rom each quarter. Feel free to make copies of those or of this article to use whenever you need to do so.


Help emergent readers find Bible verses by placing bookmarks in a Bible before the session begins. Emergent readers can find the bookmarks, and you can read the verses.

Key Words

You can complete many activities by using keywords that are printed on strips of paper or on cards. You may need to go over the words several times, pointing to them each time and letting the children repeat them. You may even want to use a different color for each word. When appropriate, you can also add pictures to the keywords. As you lead the activity, the children can supply the key words.

Use an Audio Cassette or Digital Recorder

Audiocassettes or digital recorders can be used in a variety of ways. These activities can be done by individuals or in groups. If they make the recordings, the children will enjoy listening to their own voices and stories. They will often want to hear their stories or responses again and again.

  • Record a Bible story or present-day application story. The children can listen to the story as a way to do research or as an extra activity.
  • Record a story and leave out the name of a key person. Let the children supply the name each time.
  • Record the beginning of a verse or story, and guide the children to complete the ending orally.
  • Record instructions for an activity.
  • Help children make their own recordings to tell a Bible story in their own words, to create a journal or diary, or to record answers to questions.

Be a Personal Resource

  • You can read instructions for the children
  • You can serve as a scribe printing their stories, words, or responses as they dictate.
  • Allow the children to spell words as they hear words, but when a child asks how to spell a word you can print the word on a separate piece of paper. The girls and boys can copy the spelling.

Allow the Children to Use Drawings and Photographs

Emergent readers can sometimes draw pictures to show answers more easily than they can form sentences and print words. Children can also use pictures from magazines or other picture collections to find images that show what they want to show or write. The girls and boys can cut out and glue pictures to accomplish many activities. As the children draw or search for images, guide the conversation. Ask the kids to tell you what they are drawing or why they chose certain pictures.

Use Colors or Symbols to Simplify Matching Activities

  • Use colors for a fill-in-the-blank activity. Place a colored dot in each blank. Place a matching dot next to the correct answer printed in a word box or on an answer card. You can also use numbers or symbols such as stars, circles, or triangles.
  • Use the same technique to help children play memory games in which they must match words.
  • Place a word of a memory verse on a separate card. At the end of the first word, print a symbol like a star. On the card with the second word, place a star before the word and a square after the word. On the card with the third word draw a square before the word and a pair of dots after the word. Continue in this fashion until all the cards are marked to match cards before and after. Even a complete non-reader can place the cards with the words in correct order by matching the symbols. Colored dots also work well for this technique.
  • Use the same technique to help emergent readers connect the first and last halves of sentences.

Choose Activities with Emergent Readers in Mind

A variety of activities are suggested in the curriculum materials. Whenever possible, choose the activities and procedures that allow the children to touch, listen, taste, see, and smell.

Use Music and Rhyme with Nonreaders

Nonreaders (as well as almost all children) will memorize facts and Bible verses more easily if the information is delivered in the form of rhyme or music. Sing memory verses to familiar tunes or make-up your own simple tunes. Use familiar tunes to create songs that tell facts and stories.

James Hargrave serves on the Family Life Committee and teaches first grade Sunday School at First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee.

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