Creating a Scope and Sequence
(a.k.a. "5 or 6 Year Curriculum Plan")
for the Workshop Rotation Model
plus..."A Suggested 5 Year Scope and Sequence of Lessons"
by Neil MacQueen
The original version of this article was part of Neil’s Rotation “how to” articles for which this website was created to give away. This article has since been updated below to include many good suggestions from the Rotation.org community.
UPDATED IN 2017:
This post now contains my church's new 5 year Rotation plan. The old one was from a former church. They are very similar and demonstrate the fact that plans and people do evolve!
Purpose of This Article
The purpose of this article is to discuss HOW a church might arrive at a LIST of Bible stories that are to be taught in Rotation-style Sunday School (aka "Scope"), and how you might ORDER those stories over a period of years (aka "Sequence").
This isn't rocket science, but those of us in the Rotation Model have learned a few things over the years that you may find enlightening and helpful.
In the traditional model, we let the publishers pick our stories for us. But it’s not hard to do on your own and can build OWNERSHIP.
Since writing this original article, I’ve seen many other good S&S’s, and modified the scope and sequence suggested here. That’s the nature of the thing! …which makes this first part of this article all the more important: getting the “how and why” right. I've also REPLACED my original list of stories TWICE in this article as I've moved to different churches. The lists look very similar.
Creating our own list has also encouraged us to challenge cherished assumptions. This article will describe them.
In a traditional Sunday School you teach 52 different stories a year for five or six years (1st -6th gr). That's about 250 different stories possible, though many stories repeat, such as, Easter.
The Workshop Rotation Model's pace of 10 to 12 Bible stories a year for five years. Subtract from this number certain reoccurring seasonal stories, such as Christmas and Easter, and the scope of your Bible teaching is down to around 40 different Bible stories over 5 years.
This pace allows you to try many different creative approaches to major stories. It emphasizes REMEMBERING. And eases your preparation burden.
It isn't the purpose of this article to debate the wisdom of teaching 40 stories in Rotation versus the 250 stories in the traditional model. Rotation people obviously think it's a good idea. But this one thing is true: any pace which doesn't produce ownership, excitement for the word, and an acceptable level of Bible literacy is the wrong pace.
I've also evolved to understand that its what we emphasize IN stories that more important than arguing between two good story selections. The best list in the world fails if it is only taught as "information" and does not help our kids encounter the living spirit of Christ.
Assumptions Guiding the Selection of Stories:
1. The Primary Goal of Sunday School is... to teach Bible stories to children in a way that grows their knowledge of God’s Word, faith in his Son, and attendance in his Church.
What's your definition or goal for Sunday School? And how is it different from fellowship groups, worship and other children's programming? Your Scope and Sequence shouldn't just be a catalog of Bible stories. It should help you achieve your goals, not just fill in blocks on a calendar. (Having said this, let's also remember that Sunday School alone can't do all we want to do for our kids. After coming up with your scope and sequence, you should also have a discussion about how to transform your children's ministry to accomplish ALL your goals.)
2. Faith needs scripture memory to help it grow.
This is one of the reasons for creating four or five week lesson sets. It's also one of the reasons I will repeat certain "more essential" stories in my S & S. There is no comprehension and meaning without remembering what you learned. Scripture must be understood and remembered, not merely 'covered' by the teacher or heard. You cannot appreciate the story of the cross if you do not remember it.
3. Bible Literacy is a Good Thing
To some of you this might seem obvious. But we live in a post-modern world where many, including some leaders in the church, believe the Bible to be less important to faith than ever before. They want Sunday School to be 'fun,' even if it means the kids can't remember much of what they're taught. These people are not serious educators. They do not understand the next assumption:
Corollary: Literacy takes time. It's true for math, reading, and language literacy. Even software literacy! Repetition is crucial to most forms of learning, including learning a story, and spiritual formation.
Corollary: Repetition doesn't mean repetitive drilling. Learning is tremendously enhanced when done through various media and experiences. Content should be repeated, but methods should be varied. Sunday Schools that emphasize what you know over what you believe will produce full heads and empty hearts.
4. We teach to instill a long-term memory.
This would seem to be an obvious rule, and somewhat a repeat of #3. But I'm always surprised when Rotation churches do things like reduce their # of weeks to 2 or 3, try to cover too much in a lesson or rotation, or never get back to certain key stories. Long term memory is the product of repetition, focus, and memorable teaching. Go back to assumption #1: our goal is to teach Bible stories. If you agree with that assumption, the kids don't remember what you taught them, did you meet that goal?
5. The Rule of Less is More and More is Less. **
The more stories we try to teach without adequately teaching any of them, the less we actually teach. Rotation Model is very realistic. It says there is a limit on how much we can do WELL. It says that REMEMBERING takes time and repetition. Rush and you fail.
Resist the temptation to create thematic Rotations that sweep lightly across many stories which each seem to speak to the theme. A story taught lightly, is most likely a story not taught at all. **This is a primary Rotation Model value. If you don't get this, you don't understand the Model.
I see this in some Rotation lessons about "the Lost" stories/parables, ...where writers will lump together lost coin, lost sheep, lost son. By lumping them all, none gets remembered or taught well.
6. The Canon within the Canon
#6 here is a big idea that simply says, you can't teach the whole Bible to kids, it's too big and complex. It's impossible for several reasons: 1) There isn't enough time to teach each story in a memorable way (and if they don't remember it, it isn't teaching), 2) Most of our kids don't attend regularly.
The term "canon" often refers to the list of approved books of the Bible. Because you can't teach them all, or all the stories, your five year list of stories will in effect become a "canon within the canon."
So be ready to make some tough choices.
Some Canon Rules to help you make the tough choices...
Not everything in the Bible is suitable for children. You probably have your own list (and if you don't you should). On my list of PG-13 scriptures are any in which the prophets or Kings slaughter with glee, images of terrible judgement, and any story that depicts God in an un-Christlike manner. (I'm not saying throw them out, just wait til they are older and can grapple a little more with such passages.)
Some stories or ideas are more important for children to learn than others. Example Application: Paul's life story is more important for KIDS to know than Amos' and Hosea's. Example Application: Knowing about the life and teachings of Jesus is more important for KIDS to know than the entire book of Genesis. (which isn't to say we're not going to teach Genesis).
It follows then that some stories -being more 'important' than others, belong in more 'important' timeslots. The highest attendance months are my most important timeslots. Example: We should teach Jesus when we have more kids around, and Noah in August (no cards or letter please).
Jesus' life story and his teachings are more important to teach children and youth than any other part of the Bible. This is not to say other parts aren't important. This 'law' merely establishes priority. We want our kids to understand who he was, what he did for us, what we expects from us and what we can expect from him.
7. The Law of Stories
Prefer to teach Bible stories over Bible verses. There has never been a better medium invented than STORY to indelibly convey the rich textures of truth. Corollary: The best and most memorable truths in the Bible are found in its stories and images. Even the Apostle Paul in Romans had to rely on the story memories of his followers to parse his rhetorical explanations of faith and Law (See Romans 3 and his many references to the stories of Adam and Abraham).
Rotation Application: If you have a Bible truth to teach, teach it using a Bible story. In most cases, it is better to teach a story than just a scripture verse. The story stands a MUCH better chance of be remembered, and conveying additional meaning.
8. I Believe Real Learning Can Be (and should be) Fun & Attractive!
Again, this might seem obvious to you, but many of our dear brethren and sister-en secretly (and some -openly) doubt it. They "just want the kids to have a good time and want to come back." What these teachers lack is the gift of creative, kid-friendly teaching, or the proper model to be able to pull it off week after week. Unfortunately, some of our teachers were bored as kids in Sunday School and now think all they have to do is make it fun. The problem is that "fun" isn't enough to keep them coming. Don't underestimate kids --help them find where the BREAD is and they'll come back for more.
9. The Law of K.I.S.S. (also known as Keep It Simple Stupid)
This is similar to "More is Less." The Law of K.I.S.S. says 'thou shalt not create overly complex lessons and curriculum." You can't reinforce the basics enough and you can't bring it down to their world too much. I've found that most teachers and printed curricula work over the kids' -and sometimes the teacher's heads. I often have to catch myself on this. Recently, I was teaching about Paul and we got on the subject of Paul and Jesus were willing to take risks for the Gospel. I'm thinking "stick up and speak up for the Gospel kids!" But for the 3rd grader sitting right in front of me, her struggle was to apply this lesson to her brother who liked to repeatedly hit her on the arm. I'm a father of three and have been teaching, and working in churches for over twenty years. I'm also a coach in two sports. If I've learned anything about training, writing & teaching a lesson plan, or raising kids in the way they should go it's K.I.S.S.
10. The Law of Assumptions (a.k.a. The Law of "Who Says So?")
Question everything. Every planning and teaching assumption deserves our scrutiny. For example, Should we be teaching Old Testament during our peak attendance times and put off Paul to our lowest attendance times? AND...Just because we've always taught Noah, does the story rate a high ranking in our scope given its questionable depiction of God's mass-murdering character? (Yes, I know, I'm a heretic.) Especially question those who say, "This is the way we're supposed to do it." If they were so right, Sunday School wouldn't be in the mess it's in.
- What are YOUR beliefs, assumptions and laws governing curriculum ?
- How does your Scope & Sequence inadvertently reflect priorities and ideas you may not agree with?
A member of our site once shared an argument their development team was having over their perceived need to have "balance between the selection of stories from different Gospels" --some felt that Mark wasn't represented enough. (This concern revealed their lack of understanding that Matthew and Luke are largely based on Mark.) They also worried that going from one Rotation story that came from Luke into another story that came from John might "scramble the Gospels" in the heads of the kids. These were "theories" and solutions (and worries) in search of a problem none of us has ever experienced. Kids transition easily.
As described in another of our "How to Pick Stories" articles, first you pick the story that needs to be taught, then you decide which Gospel teaches it "best" for your kids, and go with that.
11. The Law of "Not Everything Has to Be Taught in Sunday School"
After the selection process, you WILL have a set of stories and passages that you'll want to teach in other place in your program. For example, WORSHIP and PRAYER passages are particular good for children's sermon series. And single line verses, like "turn the other cheek" are good for both children's sermons and fellowship night lessons. So when you're done making your 5 year plan, take all you left out and make another list with it!
WHO is the Scope for? -your regular attenders? -or the irregular attenders?
While it is true that irregular attenders will hopefully attend at least one lesson in each Rotation, the LIST or 'Scope' of our teaching should be for all practical purposes designed for our regular attenders. They stand the best chance of benefiting from our intentional planning.
Thus, we create a Scope with regular attenders in mind and one question:
What stories do we want our regular attenders to encounter over the next four to six years?
How many years in a Scope?
A consensus has emerged that a 5 or 6 year Scope and Sequence is best with a certain set of key stories repeated in the Sequence. This fits nicely into the typical elementary Sunday School program. See my example on this page for one way to accomplish this.
Without question, SOME stories, such as Advent and Holy Week, get extra emphasis.
If your Sunday School workshops are for grades 1 through 6, you might create a six year Scope (with some stories repeating).
Your Sunday School 'Scope' should be created with the rest of your church program in mind.
A well-designed Sunday School Scope and Sequence takes into account what's being taught in other venues and timeslots. In one church, our Fellowship program did a musical about Joseph, so we didn't include him in our Sunday School scope and sequence. In another church, we decided that Baptism and Prayer are great subjects for a series of children's sermons.
Look at what your Fellowship Program is teaching. If you're teaching the story of Holy Week in years one, two, and three on Sunday Morning, then maybe your Fellowship program should teach about it in year four. If you don't have time on Sunday morning to repeat certain key stories every few years, such as Prodigal Son, then make sure the Prodigal's story gets taught in fellowship, or in children's sermons.
Do NON-Bible stories belong in our Scope?
I think we should all have a Rotation on "What it means to be a Presbyterian" ...even you Lutherans ;-) But rather than putting it in Sunday School, our annual St. Andrew's Day celebration might be a better way to teach it, in addition to doing it during Confirmation. Don't try to thrown the kitchen sink into your Scope and Sequence. It may fit better elsewhere.
Should we have special Rotations on "How the Bible Came to Be?"
Yes....but on the other hand, this is a perfect subject for the fourth graders to study prior to the annual fourth grade Bible presentation. And... shouldn't such Bible Skills be taught with each Rotation? I digress here a moment: In our original plan for Rotation, Melissa and I created the Bible Skills and Games Workshop to carry some of this 'how-to,' geography and culture load. When it was renamed "The Temple Workshop," others who copied the workshop decor may have lost some of our original intent once the original name was lost. Bible Skills and Knowledge should be a specific emphasis which one or more workshop teachers might be very well suited to emphasize over a period of years.
Should we have a specific Rotation on "The Forgiveness of God?"
...or create rotations on theological concepts, like ""Covenant" ??
No, I don't think so, and here's why...
MANY stories are about forgiveness and covenant. I can almost guarantee you that IF you pick 10 good Bible stories a year, you will touch on EVERY major theological concept about God and all about God's character every year. No need to 'isolate it' in a special Rotation. And many stories are about "covenant." Stick to the major Bible stories, and you WILL cover all the important concepts!
The other problem with selecting "theology" and "values" to teach is that you'll probably end up with a bunch of one-line scriptures, and STORIES are always much better to teach with (and stories teach MANY theological/value points). In my experience, when you teach "subjects" the teacher usually ends up doing a lot of talking. Whereas, stories are usually much easier to creative teach. YES, you will teach subjects! ..but do them within the context of the Bible's story as much as possible.
- Teach theological topics, such as "God's Love," or a skill, such as "How to Pray," or a subject, such as, "Mission Projects," through Bible stories. Stories are powerful memory producers. And recognize that most stories have several subjects in them. When you pick the story, identify the focal subject.
- Teach "reoccurring subjects" such as Mission, through non-rotation times (assembly times, children's sermons, and real service projects). Of course, the parable of the Good Samaritan is a good rotation story to teach service.
- Teach "Skills," such as, Bible skills, Prayer skills, and Worship Skills while you're engaging in those activities.
- Last but not least, seriously question whether or not some subjects belong in Sunday School, or are age appropriate. Sorry fellow Presbyterians, but I seriously doubt the need or efficacy of teaching Presbyterian History to 2nd graders.
Do we need different Scopes for K-2 and 3-6?
So people think we need two lists of stories: one for younger, one for older. I tend to think not. Most churches can't afford the luxury of running two separate lists of stories. My other reason is this: the top 30 or so Bible stories are important for every age of student!
Some publishers have gotten us to think we need different stories for different age groups. Or, they organize older kids stories by "values" and such. But as I read the top 30 or so Bible stories, I find they contain all the 'values' and 'life topics' we could every want to teach!
What IS true is that we should emphasize certain aspects of certain stories for certain age groups. Do I need to spell out what those should be? No. You have plenty of capable adults who can help you do this.
Putting the Stories in the "Right" Order
The term "sequence" in "scope and sequence" refers to the order in which your stories will be taught. And surprisingly, there is a pretty big tradition about the proper sequence, due mostly to following the "church year." This has led us to teach Old Testament in the Fall, and New Testament in the Winter-Spring as our natural sequence.
The theory was, "we talk about Jesus after he is born at Christmas." And of course, in the program year, that means FALL is usually about Old Testament.
TROUBLE IS... FALL is usually our PEAK ATTENDANCE.
I believe THERE IS a priority pecking order of Bible stories, so I'd much rather be teaching about the Good Samaritan in October than about Noah. Thus, my Scope and Sequence reflects this belief to a certain extent.
DOES TEACHING STORIES OUT OF SEQUENCE MATTER MUCH TO THE KIDS?
Does it matter if you teach about Joseph then skip to Jesus and back to Abraham?
On average I don't think so. We're not teaching reading or math skills that build on each other. I've been teaching Rotation two decades in 4 different churches, and "out of order" has never been an issue.
Exceptions to the Observation: When teaching stories about Jesus in the same year. I wouldn't teach about his Baptism prior to the Christmas story. And I wouldn't teach Last Supper after Easter.
It also matters when you're teaching big stories, like Exodus or Joseph. In those cases, I would order my rotations to walk through the story sequentially.
Here's a very creative twist --taking two or three months and moving through the ENTIRE Exodus story in rotation fashion. We did this in my church several years ago and it was wonderful. We created a series of 3-week rotations and marched right through the Exodus story all the way to Sinai, including manna and the Ten Commandments. When we got to the Ten Commandments we did a five-week rotation. By teaching the story AS one story broken into parts, the kids were able to follow along wonderfully. It also allowed us to work our way through some fun movies, including Prince of Egypt and DeMille's Ten Commandments.
How to Go About Creating a Scope and Sequence
1) Form a "Scope & Sequence Team." Include the pastor, sharp teachers, some elders, and some older kids.
2) Have your Team read this article and discuss it.
3) In small groups, brainstorm a list of 30 to 40 Bible stories they think every 6th grader should know.
4) Get back together and compare lists.
5) Compare your list to other scope and sequences found at this site.
6) Whittle your list down to 5 or 6 years, with 8 to 9 stories per year, including those you'll need to repeat (Easter, for example).
7) Begin organizing stories in certain years and times of the year.
8) Create a Draft Scope and Sequence document. Pray on it, and circulate it to other staff and leaders for suggestions and approval.
9) Finally, after your list is approved, POST your Scope and Sequence in a prominent place in the Sunday School. Don't bury it in a filing cabinet. This will help teachers, students and parents. It may also bring you teachers who want to teach their "favorite story." At the beginning of each or semester, remind your pastor of the Scope. Encourage the occasional sermon or adult education class in-step with your Scope. Create a library shelf of resources to take home on the Rotation.
Planning and Gleaning Note for Design Team and Staff Person:
If you're the staff person in charge of the Scope and Sequence, keep a large copy of the Scope and Sequence posted in your office and/or develop a filing system with a place for each story and subject. We all come up with ideas out of sequence as we read, teach and wake up in the middle of the night. Accumulate these resources long before you need them instead of hoping you remember them when the time comes!
The Five Year Scope and Sequence for Neil's Church
My team and I developed this 5-year list last year. We started with a much larger list of about 60 stories, discussed and debated, then whittled it down and ordered it as follows.
Note: July-August isn't scheduled in our church due to attendance -but we expect to grow into those months. We also have a couple of "open" slots for new thoughts.
Paul’s Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5)
Parables of the Kingdom (seed, leaven, etc)
Parable of the Good Stewards
Birth of Jesus –Isaiah and the Annunciation to Mary (3 weeks)
Call of the Disciples
Jesus and the man let down through the roof
Trial and crucifixion (3 weeks)
Walk to Emmaus
Asleep in the boat during the storm
Elijah: Chariot of fire -- Elisha picks up Elijah’s mantle
Exodus: Burning bush, Let my people go
Exodus: Wandering in the Wilderness: Manna and water
Parable of the Good Samaritan
Jesus' Birth and the Shepherds (3 weeks)
Baptism and Temptation of Jesus
Jesus Feeds the 5000
Last Supper and Gethsemane (3 weeks)
Parable of the Sower
Jesus and Peter walk on water
Creation (Genesis l)
The Ten Commandments
Parable of the Prodigal Son
Elijah the Prophet and the Still Small Voice
Mary and Martha
Jesus on the Cross
Paul on the Road to Damascus
Stories of Abraham and Sarah
Jacob and Esau
Special programming, tba
Ruth, Naomi and Boaz
Anointing of David
David, Saul and Goliath
Paul in jail in Philippi (Acts 16)
Adam and Eve (Genesis 2)
Christmas story/topic TBA
Story of Esther
|Romans 8 ~ What can separate us from the love...?|
Parables of the Lost Sheep, the Coin
Paul -1 Corinthians 13
Daniel and the Lion’s Den
Stories of note NOT included above which will be taught in our fellowship group and/or children’s sermons:
- The Great Commandment
- Lord’s Prayer
- John 1: “In the beginning was the Word………”
- Raising of Lazarus
- Introduction to Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and Promised Land
- Jesus the boy in the temple
- Armor of God (Ephesians 6)
- Fiery Furnace
- Ecclesiastes 3: “For everything……”
- Jesus asks Peter, “but who YOU say that I am?”
Saying it again: Please keep in mind that it's HOW we teach each story that's just as important as which stories we pick (if not more). Don't obsess over story selection and then ignore digging into what the story is really about and the best way to connect it with your kids.
Subjects & Stories I'll mainly reserve for Children's Sermons*:
Baptism, Communion, Prayer, Names for Jesus that reveal something important about him (Counselor, Prince of Peace, etc.)., Heaven, being a Church, The Body of Christ, Mission stories.
I will also introduce the kids to "People in the Bible I want you to meet."
Job, Shadrach/Meshach/Abednego, Miriam, Samuel, Jeremiah, King Saul, Peter.
I'll take two or three Sundays (or Wednesday evening devotion times) to tell a little story about each person. My point is not to say YOU have to do it this way too, but to show you how I find other places to cover important subjects.
And.... as you can tell by my Five Year Scope and Sequence, we'll be dealing with the subject matter of many of these stories (in addition to the topics found in some of the stories below that I don't want to teach, yet). Example: Prayer will be dealt with in the Lord's Prayer Rotation and Daniel, in addition to praying with the kids each week. Example: Mission will be dealt with in Pentecost (sharing Good News) and Man Let Down Through the Roof (bringing others to Jesus), among others.
Subjects and Stories I'll especially want to do in my VBS program:
-Marketplace 29 A.D –style, “Life in Bible Times”, because I like the village idea
-The Tabernacle/Temple/Worship, because I'm going to do a big Tabernacle project
-Sermon on the Mount, because we can do this outside and it's a sprawling topic.
Stories I believe aren't suitable or necessarily "for kids"...
We all have certain stories we'd rather not teach IN SUNDAY SCHOOL. Here are mine. Please don't email me about this list. We all have our odd ideas & heresies. I'm willing to share mine with you so at least you know I didn't 'overlook' them when making up my Scope.
Cain and Abel: Does a 1st grader need to know about "the first murder?" No. But my 5th graders do, so I might teach a 'rotation' on Cain and Abel in their fellowship group.
Tower of Babel: What's the point here that can't be better dealt with by another story?
Noah: It's just a cute animal story once you sidestep God wiping out everybody. That's not the God I know in Jesus. As far as teaching the concept of 'Covenant' there are many other stories to do it with. (Yep, heresy!)
Samson: Do we really need to teach this story about a warrior who likes to sleep around?
Woman caught in Adultery, Woman at the Well, Job... The subject matter or story elements are not for young children.
Obadiah, Amos, Joel and Friends: Most of the minor prophets' stories are too heady for my kids.
End Times: Wait until they're older. You'll just scare them now. (of course, "Heaven" is a great topic).
Church History and Heroes of the Church: Better taught in Worship, Confirmation and/or in Children's Sermons. Five weeks on John Wesley or John Knox for younger kids is bizarre, and one week is useless.
Some Jesus stories, including: Cana, Rejection, Demoniac, Fig Trees, Woman at the Well, etc. etc.
OK....that's my list. What's important is that you have YOURS. We can't teach it all.
Original Copyright July 2000. Updated in 2005 and 2009 and 2017. Neil MacQueen. This article is for sharing, not for publishing or profit-making. You are welcome to copy it entirely or in parts for your training purposes.
Neil MacQueen is a Presbyterian minister and one of the original authors of the Workshop Rotation Model. His book, Workshop Rotation ~A New Model for Sunday School is available through the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, or through Neil's Sunday Software company, www.sundaysoftware.com. You can find other articles by Neil at www.rotation.org