Applying learning styles to small groups part 3

This is the third and last installment of the short series on applying learning styles to small groups. The first post was a brief discussion of two learning style models, Kolb’s and Fleming’s VARK-model. Yesterday we showed some practical applications for the Kolb model and today we’ll do the same for the VARK-model.

Determine preferred learning style

When we want to apply the VARK learning styles to our small group members, first we need to find out the preferred learning style of your small group students. In the case of the VARK-model, that’s easy to determine. Neil Fleming who developed it, has also created a questionnaire especially for teens and students that you can use. The answer sheet is on the last page. So let your small group members fill this out and see what you got!

Some of your students may have a preferred auditory learning style. What does that mean for how you teach?

OK, so now you know that of the ten teens in your small group four are visual, two are auditory, one is read/write and three are kinesthetic. Now what? The key is to start using different teaching styles, methods and materials that each speak to a certain learning style. You can change teaching methods per session, but it would be even better if you incorporated something for each learning style in one session. That way, they will all take away something form that lesson. Here’s some input per learning style:

Visual learners

These are the students who love information presented in a visual way, in the form of charts, diagrams, maps, etc. Keep in mind that this does not include movies (that’s for the kinesthetic learners) or Powerpoint, as this is not so much visual, as more word-related (and hence loved by the read/write learners). Usually, small group curriculums aren’t very oriented towards visual learners, so you may have to come up with some creative solutions yourself. Here’s what you can do for visual learners:

  • Show maps, for instance of Paul’s travel or a site map of the Tabernacle
  • Use charts when possible, for instance of historic events
  • Make visual representations of info. Draw a scheme of where the tribes of Israel were encamped around the Tabernacle
  • When explaining the gospel, draw the ‘bridge illustration’
  • Use appropriate gestures when you talk
  • When you describe something (for instance when explaining the setting of a Bible story), try to come up with ‘picturesque’ language. Paint the picture so to speak
  • Use pictures or posters, eg of paintings. We once had a great group discussion looking at Picasso’s ‘Guernica’
  • When you visualize info or make handouts, use colors, symbols and Font styles (underline, Italics, bold)
  • Translate the birth registers into a family tree
  • Give them a stack of magazines and ask them to create a collage of thankfulness to God (or a collage on any other subject)

Auditory learners

Auditory learners love the spoken word and learn by listening and by talking, verbalizing their own thoughts. Most small group formats and curriculums are paradise for auditory learners. Here’s some more you could do:

  • Give (somewhat) longer lectures or sermons
  • Let them read Bible verses out loud
  • Use group discussions
  • Pair the students up and let them discuss specific issues in two’s
  • Let students give a ‘presentation’ on a subject in small group
  • Use cell phones (for ideas, see this post on using technology in small groups)
  • Ask someone to summarize the last small group meeting to someone who wasn’t there
  • Use a song as a discussion starter or listen to some classical music (I’ve used a song out of Bach’s Matthaüs Passion for instance)
  • Focus on sounds, we’ve used the background sounds of The Passion of the Christ for instance to make students realize what Jesus must have heard when he was walking towards the cross
  • Sing songs together
  • Memorize Bible verses together by reading them to them and repeating them together a few times
  • Group prayer: give each student the opportunity to pray out loud

Read/write learners

You’ll find that these are often the academics. They love to read and write and that’s how they learn. Here’s how you can accommodate them:

  • Give them articles to read
  • Let them read Bible verses by themselves
  • Have them write out their testimony, or the gospel as they would tell it
  • Pair the students up and give them a ‘research assignment’, for instance finding out what they can about the church in Rome in Paul’s time
  • Pair the students up and let them study a shot Bible book or chapter by themselves, using questions you prepared
  • Let them write a summary of a chapter or a couple of verses
  • Make handouts with the most important info on it and don’t forget to create space to take notes, because they’ll love that
  • Pick a ‘difficult’ couple of verses and have the students look up all words they don’t know in a dictionary or thesaurus and then translate the part into their own words
  • Have them prepare a Powerpoint presentation of a topic and show this in small group
  • Make index cards with Bible verses they can memorize to take home
  • Use tests or quizzes
  • Write down key aspects of the study or the discussion on a whiteboard
  • Let your teens write out a prayer to God

Kinesthetic learners

You’ll make this type of learners happy by showing them examples and by letting them experience things, practicing. Here’s where you can use movies and YouTube stuff as much as you want, they’ll love it (provided it’s good of course). Here’s how you could apply that to your small group:

  • Practice certain skills, like giving your testimony, starting a conversation with someone about God or sharing the Gospel
  • Show movie clips, YouTube videos etc and discuss these. The variations here are endless, just make sure they are appropriate
  • Use all senses when possible, when you describe something tell what you see, hear, taste, smell and feel. For instance: how does blood taste in your mouth? That’s what Jesus must have tasted when they beat Him
  • Whenever possible, let them experience things themselves with one or preferably more of their senses. We’ve let students hammer giant nails into a cross for instance. Other ideas: let them try and count the number of sand grains in a few pounds of sand. Then show God’s promise to Abraham.
  • Give your testimony or show someone else’s
  • Use examples and personal stories when teaching
  • Use games to get a message across, eg letting yourself fall backwards into the hands of your group members as an example of trusting God
  • Use drama, for instant short skits or show something on video
  • Show what things were like. How big was Goliath and how big would David have been? Don’t just give the measurements, but draw lines on a wall so they can see
  • Go outside and have a small group session in the woods, the mountains or at the beach
  • Do a service project, like cooking meals for homeless or cleaning up the neighborhood
  • Take a field trip to a Biblical museum or a museum related to a topic you’re discussing

I hope you have some ideas now on how you can apply these four learning styles to the teaching in your small group. Do you have questions or more ideas? Leave ‘em in the comments!

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