Barbara Fisher

The Four H Teaching Strategy

Daily Bible lessons in elementary and secondary classrooms may be likened to a serial story. Each Bible passage reveals a little more of the unfolding Cosmic Conflict metanarrative1 and God’s yearning for each human being to be part of His kingdom. Adventist Bible teachers have the daily privilege of sharing this message with their students.

Preparing a Bible lesson requires a different set of criteria from any other lesson in the curriculum. These lessons deal with cognitive, affective, and spiritual dimensions of life and have the potential to inspire students to change their world for the better, not for selfish reasons, but for godly inspired reasons.

The best Bible lesson plan is only words on a page unless it is brought to life by the teacher and the power of the Holy Spirit. Bill McNabb and Steven Mabry warn that “We have for far too long treated the Bible as Good Advice rather than as Good News. We need to approach Bible study as if we are about to discover together the greatest news ever heard.”2

What Is The Four H Teaching Strategy?

The Four H Teaching Strategy is an interactive, multisensory approach to teaching Bible that assists teachers to prepare engaging and transformational Bible lesson plans. It was created by the author in response to 21st-century Adventist students’ complaints about having to endure passive, seemingly irrelevant and uninteresting Bible lessons and the realization that teachers were confused about where to place the emphasis in the Bible lesson, i.e., on the knowledge section or the life-application section. The Four H Teaching Strategy (History, Head, Heart, and Hand) is designed to place equal emphasis on each of the Four H’s, thus ensuring a balance between Bible knowledge and life-application in an interactive and modality-based learning approach. It is currently used by pre-service teachers at Avondale College of Higher Education in Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia, to assist them in developing interactive, multisensory Bible lessons that encourage and cultivate reflective thought in culturally diverse classrooms.

A modality-based instructional approach was selected from a variety of learning-style approaches because the author believed that by combining modality-based instruction with (a) sensory learning; (b) reflective thinking; and (c) multiple intelligences, that best-practice, active learning for 21st-century culturally diverse classrooms could be more readily achieved. The Four H’s could therefore potentially provide every student with a variety of active learning tactics/methods that would empower them to:

  1. utilize their learning strengths via the sensory modalities of touching, tasting, smelling, listening, and talking;
  2. acknowledge their preferential way(s) of learning, e.g., visual, auditory, reading and writing, and kinesthetic3;
  3. maximize their learning potential by offering more than one way of engaging with the material;
  4. experience interactive rather than passive learning; and
  5. engage in reflective thought.

Central to every Four H’s Bible lesson is engagement with and reading from the Bible; therefore, each student needs: (1) his or her own copy of the Bible; (2) the opportunity to individually engage with and reflect upon God’s Word according to his or her cognitive stage; and (3) time to interactively engage with and read God’s Word.

Bible Lesson Preparation Using The Four H Teaching Strategy

A typical lesson plan is a written description of the academic content to be taught. It includes a detailed organizational structure of content, method for organizing the learning, the focus and desired outcomes, and supporting resources. A Bible lesson, using The Four H Teaching Strategy, includes all the above but becomes so much more because the lesson deals with eternal consequences.

Figure 1. The Four H Teaching Strategy Model

History and Head knowledge are powerless without a Heart response, and a Heart response provides the impetus for Hand(s) to demonstrate and share a personal and committed relationship to Jesus.

In a typical Bible lesson plan, the Learning Procedure (or Lesson Plan) includes three main sections: Introduction, Development, and Conclusion. The Four H Teaching Strategy can be applied in all three sections of the Learning Procedure. For example: During the Bible lesson Introduction section, History, Head, or Heart phases can be utilized to hook students, or gain their attention. The next section, the Development of the lesson, incorporates the Head and History phases to provide the setting, essential background information, and a knowledge base for studying the Bible story or passage. Once the Bible knowledge base has been established and developed, spiritual engagement and a commitment response from the Heart phase become appropriate. Finally, during the Conclusion section of the lesson, the Hand and Heart phases can help the teacher initiate discussions about applying the story to the student’s life and discovering ways to engage in personal outreach.

The Four H Teaching Strategy sample lesson plans, presented later in this article (Tables 2 and 3), demonstrate the implementation of the Four H’s for different age groups. Table 1 outlines a sample of the variety of sensory- and modality-based ideas available for teachers to utilize when planning Four H’s interactive, multisensory, and modality-based Bible lessons.

The teacher can nurture, mentor, and guide as students encounter and experience the information presented during History, Head, Heart, and Hand components of the strategy. “As we help our kids to get inside the Bible, they will discover that it challenges and confronts many of their attitudes and actions.”7

The Checklist for a Quality Bible Lesson

A lesson is only as good as the teacher who presents it. If it is meaningful for the teacher, then it will more likely be meaningful for the students. “Our job as Bible teachers is more than getting our students to understand what the Bible says about a particular issue; we must help them understand what God is saying to them personally.”8

The Checklist for a Quality Bible Lesson (Box 2) seeks to assist the teacher in planning and teaching Bible lessons that help students to “understand what God is saying to them personally.”9 Each part of a Bible lesson can be likened to a piece in a jigsaw puzzle. To see the complete picture, each piece is essential. The pieces in this Bible lesson jigsaw puzzle, and their role in the Bible lesson, are as follows:

  1. The teacher’s private devotions and prayer, a clear lesson focus, lesson outcomes, resources, and the learning context, which help to establish the spiritual direction of the Bible lesson;
  2. The teaching approach and attention to learning styles, which cater to individual student learning needs;
  3. The Learning Procedure (or Lesson Plan), which outlines the proposed teaching process and the implementation of The Four H Teaching Strategy;
  4. The storytelling outline, which provides evidence of a multisensory, modality-based, engaging, and planned instructional experience;
  5. The conclusion section, which provides a time for reflection and personal application for all students; and
  6. The teacher’s personal-evaluation section, which enables him or her to celebrate the positive aspects of the lesson while also determining the sections that need further development.

Reading a Bible story from the textbook is not the most dynamic way to engage students in the Bible lesson, so to encourage and assist teachers to become effective and engaging storytellers, the 3P Storytelling Technique13 has been included in the Checklist. Sometimes, Bible stories are told without any reference to the Bible or any indication of where the story is located. To ensure that these two important Bible concepts are not overlooked, the Checklist includes an interactive Bible reading14 and the location of each Bible passage.

“Heart” Questions and Discussion Starters

The reflective questions in Box 3 can assist students to make the Heart (loving and responding) connection between the Bible lesson and its personal relevance and application. A simple “Yes/No” question can become a reflective question when “Why/Why not” is included (e.g., see Question 4 in Box 3). Some questions in the list are designed for personal and private reflection, while others may be supported by group reflections and interactions.

Hand Questions and Discussion Starters

To assist teachers in applying the Hand phase (living and giving) of the Four H’s, each question in Box 4 includes examples that could be implemented in a supportive classroom environment. Please note: These examples cover a range of cognitive stages, so check age-appropriateness before implementation.

History and Head Evaluation Ideas

The examples listed in Figure 2 demonstrate the variety of available interactive, multisensory activities that can be used to assess the information gained from the History (listening and discovering) and Head (learning and knowing) phases of the Bible lesson.

Introduction to Sample Bible Lesson Plans20

The lesson plans in Tables 2 and 3 demonstrate how the Checklist for a Quality Bible Lesson can be applied.

A Sample Bible Lesson Plan for Ages 4 to 6

This lesson uses the parable of the lost sheep to explore with young children the concept of God’s love as represented by Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The lesson uses the analogy of the child being like the sheep in the story and Jesus as the Good Shepherd (the word Farmer is often used as well, since many shepherds were also farmers) who loves all His sheep and cares for them.

Suggestions for Planning a Lesson for This Age Group:

Because children 4 to 6 years of age are concrete thinkers and have a limited vocabulary, explain everything simply and at the concrete level using modality-based and sensory learning resources;

Keep the Bible story engaging, simple, graphic, fast-moving, and short, as this age group has a limited attention span;

Because most children don’t live in an agrarian society, the relationship between shepherd and sheep needs to be explored through multisensory experiences;

Give the children time to respond to the story, in their own way, by using multisensory resources to help them “wonder about” and retell the story;

Provide each child with an easy-to-read Bible so he or she can interactively read the story with the teacher.

A Sample Bible Lesson Plan for Students Ages 12+

The second lesson plan (see Table 3 on page 23) explores the Old Testament Book of Amos and was prepared for students age 12 and above. It employs the same concept of interactive and multimodality-based learning as in Example 1 (Table 2), but the learning level is more advanced, with greater academic and reflective requirements, an increasing complexity of tasks, and different age-appropriate learning-outcome expectations.

Tips for Planning a Lesson for Students Ages 12+:

If students are going to be able to explain why they believe what they believe and give a reason for their faith, then it is vital to include reflective thought opportunities, through the inclusion of WHY questions, at this stage of cognition and faith formation;

Small-group discussions and an understanding of the relevance of Bible study will empower students to (1) stay engaged and on task and (2) become reflective thinkers;

As students mature through this stage, there should be less teacher talk and more allocated time for student discovery learning, sharing, and wondering;

Because learning lacks meaning and purpose until applied, this age group requires real-life opportunities to share their faith through a variety of interactions, both inside and outside the classroom.

Conclusion

Teaching Bible lessons in the 21st century can be both daunting and challenging. Sometimes it seems that Adventist educators have an overwhelming responsibility, but we can call on supernatural help. Jeremiah 33:3 reminds teachers, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (NIV).

If the next generation of young people is to embrace Christ as their personal Savior, they must, from infancy, have learned to know and love the Scriptures. By providing and engaging in an active multisensory, modality-based learning environment (The Four H Teaching Strategy), as described in this article, teachers can be assisted in their goal to introduce students, of all ages, to Jesus as their Friend, Guide, and Savior.

More than 100 years ago, Adventist teachers were reminded that: “The teaching of the Bible should have our freshest thought, our best methods, and our most earnest effort.”32 This statement and its aim are still relevant and crucial in the 21st century, but we cannot rely on the previous generation’s methodology to reach contemporary students. Today’s young people and children live in a constantly changing society; have unique life-style issues, and experience the world differently from previous generations. So Adventist teachers have been admonished to constantly seek for the “best methods” and ideas to meet these contemporary challenges while also ensuring that Bible teaching “has our freshest thought.” Students will see that Bible teaching is relevant, appropriate, and meaningful for all age groups and learning abilities when it engages the teacher’s “most earnest effort.” God has asked teachers to sow the seed. He has promised that He will look after the harvest.

Finally, it is the goal and prayer of the author that both student and teacher will have a transformational encounter with Jesus as they interactively study the Bible together through the multisensory experiential environment of The Four H Teaching Strategy.


This article has been peer reviewed.

Barbara Fisher

Barbara Fisher, M.A., recently retired as a senior lecturer from the School of Education at Avondale College of Higher Education, Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia, where she researched and lectured in Literacy and Religious Education (Curriculum Studies) for more than 25 years. She has taught in New Zealand and Australia and studied and taught in the U.S.A. Ms. Fisher has presented lectures on faith-based education for teacher in-service seminars in Australia, Mexico, and the South Pacific. She is passionate about faith-based education. Her book, Developing a Faith-based Education: A Teacher’s Manual (Terrigal, N.S.W., Australia: David Barlow Publishing, 2010), has been translated into Spanish and Russian. Recently, she completed A Reader’s Study Guide (available in English and Russian) that is designed to assist the reader in the application of and reflection on the information gleaned from each book chapter. She is currently a doctoral candidate at the Avondale College of Higher Education.

This article has been adapted from a chapter in the book Developing a Faith-based Education: A Teacher’s Manual (Terrigal, N.S.W.: David Barlow Publishing, 2010), and is printed with permission from the publisher and author. For more information about the book, see http://avon daleaustralia.spiffystores.com/collec tions/books.