an idea for virtues cards

UntitledOne of our new readers came to us with a question about using Virtues Cards (nifty cards featuring different spiritual qualities, created by The Virtues Project) in teaching groups of children. We just recently bought a deck of these cards ourselves, so we’re not experts by any means—but we’ve got plenty of ideas.

One of the ways we can help people understand abstract concepts is through the use of storytelling and role play. These put otherwise abstract virtues into a very tangible context that adults and children alike can more easily understand and learn from. In fact, this is why the lessons in Ruhi Book 3 always include stories, and dramatic activities in Grades 2 and up: they model different spiritual qualities and practices, and help children to think about how they might show those qualities in their lives.

So, as for how to use the virtues cards? Here’s the “experiment” we recommended to our friend. You can try it, too!

  • Pick one of the cards and read the virtue’s definition and some of the examples.
  • Ask the participants to think of a situation in which that virtue could be used; if nobody speaks up, you can suggest one based one the examples given.
  • Then, ask them to create a story based on that situation, and ask them to break into groups and tell each other the story.
  • Finally, bring them back together and ask them to create a short dramatic skit based on the story; practice it with them, and see how it goes.
  • At the end, get them to reflect on what they learned about that virtue, and have them share any insights they may have had about using that virtue in their lives.

The nice thing about this idea is that you don’t really need to buy a deck of cards to use it. You could just as easily write down the virtues yourself on sheets of paper, or blank index cards.

Have you had any experience incorporating virtues cards into your children’s classes, or any other insights about teaching children about spiritual qualities? Let us know in the comments!

making an activity portfolio

A pile of books with a smartphone on topThe lessons developed by the Ruhi Institute for use in Baha’i children’s classes are simple and well-designed, and often stand just fine on their own. Still, there are times when teachers might want to augment lessons with different activities—for instance, if a class has already studied a certain lesson before and the teacher wants to add variety to keep the children engaged. If this often happens in your class, why not make yourself an activity portfolio—a collection of various activities that you’ve successfully incorporated, or that you’d like to incorporate, into your lessons?

An activity portfolio can be paper-based or electronic, depending on your preference. A paper-based portfolio could be a set of paper folders or binders that hold copies of different activities in paper form, or it could just be a notebook in which you write down a list of activities. An electronic portfolio could be a collection of PDFs and other documents organized into folders, an Evernote notebook, or a set of boards on Pinterest. Every time you come across a new activity that you’d like to use in your class, you can add it to your portfolio. The next time you’re feeling stuck trying to plan your a lesson, you can open up your portfolio to find inspiration.

Activities can be organized according to type (songs, games, art projects, crafts…), according to general themes or topics, or even according to specific lessons you often use. It helps to note down a bit of information about each activity, if it’s not already included: duration, targeted age or grade level, preparation time, required materials, and even notes about past experience you’ve had with it. Having this kind of information at your fingertips makes it easier to tell if the activity is a good fit for your lesson plan, and what you’ll need to make it happen.

Of course, collecting activities like this is one of the goals of this website, and you can find a variety of them in the activity section. Most of the activities we’ve featured here are ones we’ve had personal experience with in our classes, so you can read about how they went for us. Our Pinterest boards are another great source to go through to find new ideas for activities, too!

a few notes from the regional gathering

We had a wonderful regional gathering for teachers of Baha’i children’s classes recently, and I thought I’d jot down a few notes before I forget. Besides teachers from Ottawa, we were joined by several teachers who are serving in smaller towns just outside the city. Also present were our local and regional coordinators for children’s classes. The focus of our discussions was very practical, starting with a very brief review of some recent guidance from the Universal House of Justice to situate us, then jumping in right away to look at what that guidance meant for each of us.

Besides the systematic training of teachers for successive grades, institutes will need to learn about the formation of classes for distinct age groups in villages and neighbourhoods; the provision of teachers for various classes; the retention of students year after year, grade after grade; and the continued progress of children from a wide variety of households and backgrounds–in short, the establishment of an expanding, sustainable system for child education that will keep pace with both the growing concern among parents for their youngsters to develop sound moral structures and the rise in human resources in the community.  The task, while immense, is relatively straightforward, and we urge institutes everywhere to give it the attention which it so clearly deserves, focusing especially on the implementation of the first three grades of the programme and remembering that the quality of the teaching-learning experience depends, to a great extent, on the capabilities of the teacher.

(The Universal House of Justice to all National Spiritual Assemblies, 12 December 2011)

Among the questions we were asked to consider:

  • What does an “expanding, sustainable system for child education” look like to us?
  • With reference to the quote “…the quality of the teaching-learning experience depends, to a great extent, on the capabilities of the teacher,” what are some of the capabilities we must develop as teachers of children’s classes?
  • How would a focus on “implementation of the first three grades of the programme” look in our neighbourhoods?

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virtues project workshop

to give and be generousThis past weekend, a bunch of us had the chance to attend a workshop on The Virtues Project. If you haven’t heard of them, they give seminars/courses and produce materials that promote virtues—spiritual values that are independent of any particular religious tradition—in all walks of life. The organizers of a local Bahá’í summer camp arranged the workshop for their camp counsellors, but opened it to the wider community too, so there was a nice mix of all kinds of people in attendance, including plenty of children’s class teachers. I took a few notes from the presentation and thought I’d present them here in point form.

Why are virtues important?

  • Virtues are the building blocks of the spirit. We are at our happiest when we are developing our virtues. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said: “Man is, in reality, a spiritual being, and only when he lives in the spirit is he truly happy.” (Paris Talks, p.72)
  • When we cultivate virtues in ourselves, we’re not the only ones who benefit. To paraphrase the Chinese philosopher Lao Tse, cultivating virtue in ourselves has an effect on our families, our villages, our nations, and the world. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá declared: “Until the moral degree of the nations is advanced and human virtues attain a lofty level, happiness for mankind is impossible.”

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now comes the real learning

The month of November has been a pretty intense one. First of all, we’ve welcomed into our lives a new soul, who’s been taking his introduction to the physical world fairly well—although not well enough to sleep through the night. Becoming a parent is already a transformative experience, one that’s sure to give us countless new insights into the work of teaching as we strive to find the gems of virtue hidden in the mines of our son’s soul.

November was intense for another reason, as well: throughout the month I’ve been participating in a certification course for TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), equivalent to a full university course. It was a great experience that brought me a lot of insight into not only working with and accommodating speakers of other languages, but teaching as a profession as well. Since we deal with speakers of English as a second (or third, or fourth) language in our current children’s class, taking this training will undoubtedly have a big impact on what we do, and allow us to explore new ways of teaching and interacting with our children and their families. Throughout the course, I was able to glean a number of really useful tips that I’ll do my best to share here in the weeks and months to come—keep an eye on the blog and on the language and literacy tips section for new tidbits.

To close out, I’d like to give a special welcome to my fellow classmates, many of whom are just finding out about this website as we start to share ESL and teaching resources online! You’ll note that this website is geared towards general teaching resources as opposed to ESL, and is aimed mainly at teachers of moral and character education classes offered by the worldwide Bahá’í community. All the same, you’ll probably find a lot of these resources useful to ESL teaching, including our vocabulary builders, ideas for activities such as arts, crafts and games, our section on teacher tips, and of course the blog, where we write down our experience with lesson plans, classroom management. Take a look around, print out and use whatever you’d like, and feel free to leave feedback!

on spiritual strengthening and preparation

Quote

Helping out at the shelter…we are delighted that so many of you are already engaged in service by conducting community-building activities, as well as by organizing, coordinating, or otherwise administering the efforts of others; in all of these endeavours you are taking an increasing level of responsibility upon your shoulders. Not surprisingly, it is your age group that is gaining the most experience at aiding junior youth, and children too, with their moral and spiritual development, fostering in them capacity for collective service and true friendship. After all, aware of the world which these young souls will need to navigate, with its pitfalls and also its opportunities, you readily appreciate the importance of spiritual strengthening and preparation. Conscious, as you are, that Bahá’u’lláh came to transform both the inner life and external conditions of humanity, you are assisting those younger than yourselves to refine their characters and prepare to assume responsibility for the well-being of their communities. As they enter adolescence, you are helping them to enhance their power of expression, as well as enabling a strong moral sensibility to take root within them. In so doing, your own sense of purpose is becoming more clearly defined as you heed Bahá’u’lláh’s injunction: “Let deeds, not words, be your adorning.”

The Universal House of Justice, 1 July 2013
to the participants in the 114 youth conferences worldwide

Photo: Helping out at the shelter, by DFID – UK Department for International Development (CC BY-NC-ND)