Reply to "Article: What is the Workshop Rotation Model?"

The Original Workshop Rotation Model Article

Here is an updated version of the original Rotation article that helped launch the Rotation movement out of Chicago and across the country.  It was published in Presbyterian Outlook magazine, and thereafter in in several denominational and non-denominational resources.

You are welcome to quote or print this article.

Workshop Rotation: A New Model for Sunday School

by Neil MacQueen

"We weren't trying to invent a new model, -we were just trying to solve our problems," said Melissa Hansche, D.C.E. at the Presbyterian Church of Barrington, -the church in Chicago Presbytery where the model got its start.

What Sunday School problems is she referring to?

  • Bored kids and teachers
  • Declining attendance
  • Lack of Bible literacy
  • Drab and uninviting classrooms
  • Sedentary teaching
  • Expensive curriculum (that's half used)
  • Poor teacher preparation
  • Trouble recruiting teachers
  • (your problem here)

The decline in Sunday School is one of the worst kept secrets in the Church. Some say "it's a sign of the times." Others of us wonder out loud whether the traditional model EVER worked. (Where are all those kids we had in our Sunday Schools back in the so-called "good old days" of the 50's and 60's? They're at home reading the Sunday paper.)

"Like a lot of other churches in our Presbytery, we knew we had to do something and soon." said Hansche. "And we knew that looking for yet another ‘new and improved' curriculum wasn't the answer either. Been there, done that."

Here's the Workshop Rotation Model in a nutshell: 

  1. Teach major Bible stories and concepts through kid-friendly multimedia workshops: an Art workshop, Drama, Music, Games, A-V, Puppets, Storytelling, Computers, and any other educational media you can get your hands on.
  2. Teach the same Bible story in all of the workshops for four or five weeks rotating the kids to a different workshop each week. And here comes the extremely teacher friendly part:
  3. Keep the same teacher in each workshop for all five weeks -teaching the same lesson week after week (with some age appropriate adjustments) to each new class coming in.

The results, says Linda Beckham, D.C.E. at Tampa's Palma Ceia Church are astounding. "The kids love it, the teachers love it, and we can't ever imagine going back to the old way."

Here's why it works:

The Workshop Rotation Model concentrates on the major stories of the Bible over and over again. It eschews the popular but educationally unsound lectionary idea of changing the story each week.

The model's philosophy recognizes that kids not only love repetition, but they need it to develop a lasting memory and understanding of content.

The multiple-intelligence (creative methods) approach in the model isn't a fad or merely kid-friendly, it is calculated to take advantage of our student's God-given thirst for multi-modal learning.

Traditional designs have long attempted to teach through multimedia, but their frenetic lessons with six or more different steps, a game, a craft, Bible study and music all in 45 minutes left our teachers breathless. And few had the gifts to teach in each mode properly. The model allows teachers to get better at teaching their lesson. Repeating nearly the same lesson each week means that by the second week of the rotation, the teacher has already begun improving the original lesson plan. No more "if I only would have...." in the parking lot after class. Next week you can!

No more Saturday night planning of a brand new lesson each week (hoping you get it right and it works). No more recruitment hassles, --because they get to improve their lesson each week, instead of prepare a brand new one, teachers are happy to sign up for five week rotations.

And because the teacher is assigned to teach in the creative mode they are comfortable with, the teaching and learning experience are enriched. No more lectures and music cassettes still in their cellophane wrappers, no more overused worksheets, or fumbling popsicle stick Jesus' crafts.

Rotation Model "workshops" transform beige and boring classroom spaces into a blizzard of creative, kid-friendly design.

The Art Workshop looks like a real art room. The Theater Workshop is more than just a box of old bathrobes and cloth in the corner. Rotation workshops say "we're teaching kids, not cons, and we want them to come back." Because each room is organized around a specific teaching medium, dramatic makeovers don't get torn down a week or a month later like they do in traditional classrooms or VBS. Theater workshops can sprout theater seats and a popcorn machine. Drama workshops get a stage and accumulate props and lighting. Computer workshops get dedicated secure space for their equipment. Art Workshops become messy exciting places to learn.

The Rotation model harnesses Christian education's successful history of creating fun learning spaces for special occasions like VBS, and brings that experience and excitement into every classroom, every Sunday.

There is no need to buy expensive curriculum, which prompted one denominational publisher to describe Rotation as "the third rail for curriculum publishers." Instead, in a fit of connectionalism, Rotation educators began calling each other and saying "I'll trade you my Moses rotation for your Ruth, and do you have any good art projects for the Prodigal Son?"

Churches are gleaning from each other. They're digging into their stockpiles of creative materials and hitting their resource centers. In-house "design teams" composed of a minister, elders and C.E. leaders provide the educational and theological backbone. Together they help shape the simple but creative lesson plans and then count on the teacher to improve on them each week. Unlike earlier models which fell by the weight of their planning, and dissatisfaction with curriculum they had spent plenty on, this model is proving easier to implement and maintain.

Because each workshop uses essentially the same lesson plan for about five weeks in a row, every week isn't a gauntlet of planning. And even if you do want to buy Rotation curriculum (and there's some good stuff to be had) because we take a slower pace through the Bible, and re-use lessons each week, Rotation is easier on your budget.

Building on the "we can do it" spirit, a website for the Rotation Model,, sprang up in the late 90's to host free Rotation lessons, provide articles (like this one) and give Rotation educators a way to support one another across denominational and geographic boundaries. features the model manual, thousands complete rotation lesson plans, a resource directory and a creative ideas area for each workshop, all of which can be printed out. All along one of the strengths of this model has been the willingness of churches to share with each other. We believe that the grassroots sharing of resources and lesson materials is a vivid manifestation of the connectional nature we have professed for so long.

The growing success of the model underscores several important issues in Christian education.

First, the model demonstrates that the spirit of innovation is alive and well in the grassroots. Rotation has flourished outside of the traditional curriculum establishment. The gifts to reinvent ourselves and be successful in our ministry are out here.

Second, the model seriously addresses the underlying problems of Sunday School and offers practical solutions. Because Rotation is a response to realities, its "DNA" has built a structure that's extremely adaptable to size, theology, age ranges, skillsets, and space. Because Rotation educators see the model as a response to "what doesn't work", they are likely to ask "what else doesn't work anymore", and examine the root causes, rather than buy into the publisher's solution of "the next new and improved" curriculum.

Third, the model's early and continuing co-operative impulse -enhanced by the use of the internet, demonstrates the ability of individuals to resource each other outside the publishing establishment and beyond traditional denominational boundaries. is a proto-type. It is a new resource paradigm made possible by new technology that challenges the foundation of traditional curriculum publishing.

Neil MacQueen is a Presbyterian Minister.

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