Caring for our world
A creative lesson for juniors to explore environmental issues from the standpoint of faith and belief.
You will need child-friendly copies of the Bible's creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2, Psalm 8 and sections from Job 38-42, as appropriate for the age and ability of your class. Other faith creation stories from the past or present could also be used.
After some initial introductions about what we mean when talking about 'our world', share the classic Judaeo-Christian creation story found in the Bible at Genesis 1:1-31 and 2:1-4, but also look at texts that explore humanity's relationship with the environment - such as Psalm 8's hymn of praise to a creator God, contrasting the wonders of the universe with tiny human beings. You could also dig out some of the wilder poetical passages about real and mythical creatures towards the end of Job (38-42). Aim for material that elicits an 'emotional response'.
Set your pupils the challenge of interpreting what 'nature' means for the people who wrote these words. Create a 'thinking wall' of adjectives, adjectival phrases and abstract nouns to enrich their vocabulary, and start a response wall of interesting questions too.
Next, share the other creation story found in Genesis 2:1-15, in which the first man is placed in a garden to care for it. Use (appropriate) artwork from the Internet to show different visual ideas of Eden. Follow this with the story of the snake (Genesis 3:1-24), and the impulse that led to the first people being cast out of Eden.
You could restage this moment as a drama - in mime - with no talking but lots of gestures as follows:
Get the class into pairs and explain:
One of you is the snake, the other is Eve. Imagine the snake is like a large Indian cobra, which can sit up on its coils, as high as a human. Perhaps it even has arms, like a lizard. Decide who's going to play which part, now. If you don't want to be Eve, you can be Adam, her husband - but we'll do the story just the same.
Eve, imagine you're looking up at a fruit on the branches of a tree. You've never tasted it before, and someone has said it's bad for you. But oh... it looks so good, so juicy... so tasty... So you think about touching it, then draw back. But the snake does its work, pointing out how wonderful the fruit would be to taste, how clever it will make you. Eve, you're persuaded. You reach out, touch it, pick it off the tree and then you bite into it greedily - oh, it's so good! But the snake's looking really pleased with himself, oh yes... he's won a battle, and Eve doesn't know it. He's so pleased... but she wonders what's happened. Something terribly wrong has happened... but she doesn't know what it is.
Get the pairs to rehearse this together and then ask for some volunteers to perform for everybody, perhaps to background music.
Afterwards, give each child a piece of A4 paper, ask them to fold it in four and put their responses to the following questions on their sheet:
- What is this story saying about God?
- What is this story saying about human beings?
- What is this story saying about the world?
- Do we have any more questions?
Compare this story with the ancient Greek story of Pandora's box, which makes for a fascinating contrast. Repeat the questions above for this story. Pupil responses will help you gauge how much they can describe and show understanding of sources, practices, beliefs, ideas, feelings and experiences.
The next stage is to look at how different people of faith now respond to the challenge of caring for our planet - campaigning environmentalist faith groups such as Arocha are a good place to start. Again, your pupils can investigate, ask questions and offer answers in their response books or on the thinking wall.
Next, set the task of creating an artistic response to the same stories... using artwork, music, drama, PowerPoint or whatever takes your fancy, but keeping it manageable. Encourage them to retell the story in a way that interests them, giving them a time limit. Afterwards, ask them to talk about their responses, writing a commentary for their work, or annotating it.
Finally, get them to reflect on what they've done. The written element doesn't need to be an essay - it could be something as simple as that A4 piece of paper folded in four, with each quarter containing a different prompt - such as: '
I was puzzled by...
I want to know more about...
I believe that...
If we had more time I would also have wanted to...
Open-ended questions can also be revealing:
- What have you discovered during this topic?
- What surprised you?
Furthermore, asking pupils to suggest additional interesting questions about the topic will provide strong clues to their level of engagement and understanding.