From Passive Listening to Active Learning

Teach the WordIn her article last month, Dr. Sue Holtz shared two techniques for involving a Bible study class in active learning. That elicited a question from one of our readers. If our Bible study participants are accustomed to listening passively, a dramatic change in teaching methods could put the learners well beyond their comfort level. What steps can we take to help our classes learn to be (and appreciate being) active learners? In our feature article this month, Rev. Dan Schroeder lays out a 12-week plan for moving the class from passive listening to active learning.

Weeks 1-2
Give the participants 30 seconds to write down their thoughts on a question you pose. Example: “Take 30 seconds and write down as many reasons as you can why it’s important that we have a seminary for training our pastors.” After 30 seconds, ask for volunteers to share what they wrote. After hearing a couple responses, ask if there are any new thoughts that haven’t been shared. This is a great activity for those who are introverts. It allows them to think and process.

Weeks 3-4
After they have had 30 seconds to record their thoughts about a question you pose, have the participants share with a person next to them. This is Think-Pair-Share. Give them about a minute so that both people can share their thoughts with each other. Then ask for volunteers to share with the larger group.  After hearing several responses, ask if there are any new thoughts that haven’t been said yet. If you think it would be helpful, you could first ask a question, following the pattern you used in weeks 1-2 then ask a second question using Think-Pair-Share.

Weeks 5-6
After giving 30 seconds for the participants to record their responses to your question, have them share with a person next to them. Then have the pair choose the answer they think is most important. Ask for volunteers to share their most important answer with the larger group.  Again, if you think it would be helpful, you could first ask a question, following the pattern of weeks 1-2 or 3-4.

Weeks 7-8
Ask the class members to take 30 seconds to write down their thoughts about a question you pose. Have them share their thoughts with a person next to them. Then have them join with another pair and ask the four of them to decide on what they think are the top two most important responses to the question. For the sake of variety, mix up the questions by using the formats you used in weeks 1-6.

Weeks 9-10
Have them form groups of three-to five people. (You may have to assign people. Don’t have more than five people in a group). Give them an activity to do together. Pick someone to be the spokesperson (e.g. the person with the longest hair or the most jewelry, or the person with the birthday closest to (a particular date). If the person isn’t comfortable being the spokesperson, allow that person to designate someone else. Give the groups a set amount of time for the activity (e.g. 2 minutes). Let them discuss. Then ask for a sampling from the groups. (Not every group needs to be heard from.)

Weeks 11-12
Have them form groups of three to five people. As in weeks 9-10, give a certain amount of time to discuss a learning activity. When the time is up, have each of the groups get together with another group to share with their partner group what they discovered. After designating a spokesperson/reporter, have the combined groups decide on their top three choices to share with the larger group.

I would recommend having the group follow the format of weeks 9-10 and 11-12 for a few weeks after this. Then you could try the jigsaw method that Sue Holtz mentioned in her article. You’ll have to gauge how your class is adapting to each level before deciding to move on, but it is my impression that many people want to discuss and dialogue with their fellow participants more than we pastors might think they do. I have generally found that once they have the opportunity to learn through dialogue and get used to discussion as a part of your Bible study, the conversation level increases and people look forward to the classes.


Rev. Dan Schroeder served as the Adult Bible Study Editor for Northwestern Publishing House. He was instrumental in the development of the Teach the Word e-mail newsletter, in partnership with the WELS Commission on Adult Discipleship and the Education Department at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. We have learned to look forward to Teach the Word as a source of information about adult education and as a source of ideas for enhancing our Bible study offerings. We thank Dan for his faithful service and pray that God bless his work as the new pastor at St. Peter in Modesto, California. Teach The Word will continue to serve those who teach God’s precious truths to God’s people.