Rotation.org Writing Team
Shepherds and Angels
Summary of Activities
Students will capture the rich emotions and actions of the story by posing for still photos using a fun bird's eye technique known as “FLAT LAY” technique (or “Sideways Scene"). As they do so, they will consider their own reactions to the “good news" of great joy.
This lesson demonstrates a rather new and fun photo and video technique for the Drama Workshop that you can use for many other Bible stories!
Scripture for the Lesson
Luke 2:1-20 (NRSV, with an emphasis on verses 8-18, Shepherds and Angels.)
Key/Memory Verse: “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord." Luke 2:10-11 (NRSV)
See the Bible Background at rotation.org for this set's complete list of objectives.
Preparation and Materials
- Read the scripture and Bible Background.
- Gather supplies:
- Whiteboard or easel paper; marker.
- Cell phone or digital camera.
- A "Selfie-stick" or a tripod (attached to a camera or a cellphone) to extend the camera over the scene.
- A TV with an adapter cable that connects to your cellphone or camera so that you can show your photos to the group.
- Step ladder to take the photos from above the scene.
- Backdrop sheet or tarp and green and brown "scenery" sheets. Depending on what you have available, place a dark-colored sheet or tarp on the floor, and add "scenery fabric" (green, tan, and brown sheets or fabric as outlined below). Keep in mind that your camera above the scene can only show about a six-foot width by five-foot height of your scene and actors, so don't make your scene area too big. A twin or full-size sheet on top of an 8 x 10 tarp on the floor is about right.
Props for the Scenes:
- Crumpled green paper to create “shrubbery” in the "field."
- Rolled white towels for your pretend sheep.
- Paper cut-outs: large stars and light-rays of different lengths.
- Shepherds' crooks or staffs, cut from cardboard or dark brown paper.
- Talk bubbles (three to five) cut from white paper or poster board.
- Black thick marker to write on the "Talk bubbles."
- Manger (optional, draw on paper).
- Simple shepherd costumes.
- Angel costumes - at least one, preferably shiny and dramatic. Golden (tinsel) halos. (Try to avoid using wings. Angels in the Bible are not described as having wings, only some heavenly creatures are described as such). An angel is a "messenger"—which means it is something the shepherds and we are supposed to become!
- Note: When creating your props and writing text consider the color of the paper against your backdrop color as well as the size relative to your students and the amount of room you will have on your backdrop.
Before the Start of Class:
- Recruit at least one helper to take the photos for you. (This way you can focus on directing and setting up each scene.) Show them how to hold the camera/phone over the "Flat Lay" scene using the selfie stick or tripod. Do some practice shots.
- Preview your hook-up between the camera and TV to make sure you have the right cable.
- Decide if you want to have some students be a multitude/heavenly host of angels as part of your photos. (A good idea for larger classes.)
- Lay out the tarps and place the scenery and props.
- Write the following on the five speech-bubbles: (1) “Do not be afraid.” (2) “Good News!” (3) “A Savior is born!” (4) “Glory to God!” and (5) “Peace on earth.” These function as "captions" in your photos and reminders of keywords in the verses. (You could also write the words on pieces of white paper and place the words on the posterboard speech-bubbles.)
- Write out on the board or easel or print a large copy of the "Students' Photo-shoot Storytelling Chart" seen below. They will fill in the "Shepherds' feeling..." column during the lesson.
Welcome your students.
Ask: Why do we celebrate Christmas? (allow a few replies)
Say: We celebrate to rejoice in the good news that Jesus is born! Salvation and forgiveness have been delivered in person! Jesus brings God's love to everyone!
Ask: Who was present at the very first announcement of Jesus’ birth?
Say: Shepherds and sheep and angels! Today we will hear this Bible story, act it out in a special way, and take photos as we do using that ladder over there while you the actors lay on the floor underneath the camera!
Ask: Are you feeling curious, excited, or scared about what I just said about the ladder and photos?
Say and Do: Can you imagine the LOOK on the SHEPHERDS' FACES when the ANGEL appeared to them to announce Jesus' birth? The Bible says they were TERRIFIED.
- Show me your "TERRIFIED" face.
- Your "excited" face.
- Your "in love with the Baby Jesus" face.
Say: In our story today, the shepherds will go from "trying to stay up at night" to "being terrified" to "being curious" to "being excited." We're going to re-enact all those scenes and emotions and capture them on our camera. Ready?
The Shepherds and Angels Photo-shoot
1. COMPLETING THE STUDENTS' PHOTO-SHOOT STORYTELLING CHART
Show your students and describe the following "Students' Photo-shoot Storytelling Chart" with the right hand "feeling" column left blank. We've filled in the "feeling" column as a guide for the teacher (suggested feelings in red). You will be asking students to help you complete it after reading the Bible story and prior to doing the actual photo-shoot.
Say: As I read the Bible story to you (or as we read it together), listen for the emotions and feelings in it so that we can complete our Photo-shoot Chart. What we fill in will guide our actors' poses in the upcoming photo-shoot.
Read the story in the Bible
Have everyone find the story (Luke 2:8-17) in the Bible and listen to it as you dramatically read it. Modulate your voice and reading pace to impart some of the dramatic emotion of the story which you will be asking students about after the reading.
After the reading, walk through the Photo-shoot Storytelling Chart -- asking students to fill in what the shepherds were feeling in each part of the story. This is an excellent time to recap the story and add a few additional insights and details.
Students' Photo-shoot Storytelling Chart("Shepherds' feeling..." will be filled in by students)
|Luke 2 Verse #||ACTORS||What||Shepherds' feeling…|
|1||v8||Shepherds only||sleeping/watching sheep||sleepy|
|2||v9||Angel and Shepherds||angel appears||terrified!|
|3||verses 10-12||Angel and Shepherds||Do not be afraid||listening, hopeful|
|4||verses 13-14||A lot of angels!|
|6||verses 16b||Shepherds & baby Jesus||found Jesus||in love with Jesus|
|7||verse 17-18||Shepherds & other people||told others||excited to share|
Chart Notes: Depending on the age and size of your class, you may change how you ask for chart input (if you ask at all), such as assigning verses to various students who can decide on the "feeling" and poses for their scene. You may also choose to do fewer photos if you're short on time.
2. DO THE PHOTO-SHOOT
- Look at the Teacher's Photo Layout Chart provided below for what to put into each scene and what to talk about.
- Assign parts and have everyone get into costume.
- Place the props and actors in the scene and work on their "pose" for the photo. (An adult helper or student assigned to help with props would be a good idea here.)
- Take several photos of the scene "from above" using your ladder and extension pole. Check each photo. *Use the Time-Delay feature on your camera/cellphone to snap the photo and then be able to get out of the photo.
- Use the Teacher's Layout and Comment Chart (below) to ask questions about each photo scene before moving on to the next one.
- Repeat for each scene.
If using a cellphone, turn it "sideways" to take the photo in "landscape"(wide) not "portrait" orientation.
Extend your pole/stick/tripod over the top of the actors as far as you can so that it is over the center of the scene.
Take a couple of photos of each scene. Check your camera after each shot to be sure you've got the scene action you want and everyone was in frame.
BIG TIP: If you do not have a selfie-stick that has a plug-in to allow you to snap the photo by clicking a button on the stick's handle, do this: Use your cellphone or camera's TIME DELAY PHOTO option, setting it to "3 seconds" so that the photographer can extend the cellphone or camera over the scene, and then another helper can press the photo trigger on the cellphone or camera and have 3 seconds to get out of the scene.
Teacher's Scene & Questions Chart
|Scene #||Who||Props||Posing hints||Reflection Questions|
(to be used when reviewing all the photos)
|1||Sheep & Shepherds||Sheep, crooks or staffs, stars, green “shrubbery”||Remind the students that they need to orient themselves to where the "ground" is in the scene (green sheet pasture). Tell them not to jump up after the photo is taken, but to stay where they are.||Nighttime in a field is not the kind of place you expect God to send a message. What does this say about where God wants to talk to you?|
|Add light-rays||Dress one student as an angel with light shining down on shepherds, who are reacting to the sight of an angel.||In the Bible most encounters with angels are frightening! Why is that? Would you be afraid? Why, why not?|
|Speech bubbles: “Do not be afraid.” “Good News!” "A Savior is born!”||Stay in the same basic position but change expressions/poses.||The angel's words calmed the shepherds. How do you suppose they felt being the ones CHOSEN to receive the good news that everyone had been waiting almost a thousand years to hear?|
A lot of Angels and Shepherds
|Speech bubbles: “Glory to God!” “Peace on earth.”|
|Dress more students as angels or simply place extra speech bubbles at the perimeter of your scene.||Why do you think God sent a whole HOST of angels? What does this say about how God was feeling that night?|
|5||Shepherds||"Road" fabric||Shepherds pose in "haste" running poses.||Why were the shepherds so excited to go find Jesus?|
|6||Shepherds & baby Jesus||Manger||Arrange tan fabric on top of the dark background to create the stable.||How do people feel when they are looking at a little baby? And what does that tell you about how God wants US to feel about his Son?|
|7||Shepherds & other people||Speech bubbles: "Good news"||Remove manger.||What are some examples of how we in the church spread the good news to others? (Sunday School for one!)|
- To save time, encourage students to not stand up between scenes. (Once they stand up you’ll waste time trying to get them back down on the floor!) Pose subsequent scenes by having them scootch into position.
- Remind students to show the appropriate emotions felt by our story characters, not only in their faces but with their bodies too. Exaggerated facial expressions and body positions help tell the story in the still photo.
- The "Questions" column is for use during the "Reflection" when you show all the photos.
Connect your phone or camera to the TV and start reviewing all the photos.
As you show the photos, use the "QUESTIONS" found in the right-hand column of the Teacher's Chart seen above that correspond to each photo (or photos -- you will likely have taken two or more snapshots of each scene to show).
Say: So here are a couple of questions I have for you before you go.
- If God sends messages to humble shepherds, how is God sending messages to YOU?
- What do you think God trying to TELL you about Jesus this Christmas season?
- When you leave here today, what can you do to SHARE the message just like the shepherds were excited to do?
Close with a prayer that we would all be more than "posers" at Christmas, pretending to be part of the story, and instead become sharing shepherds and announcing angels of the good news of Jesus' birth into our world to save us from our sins.
Let the students know that you will be printing the photos so that they can pick them up next week and check with you to get a copy.
For Younger Students:
Use the illustrations found here to create a VISUAL storytelling chart as the story is told. The illustrations are part of our Games Workshop lesson plan too!
For Older Students:
Allow students to direct the layout of each scene and to help take photos.
Spend more time on the discussion questions.
For those with more class time:
Take additional photos showing "close-ups" of angel and shepherd faces with various expressions. The kids will love to see these during the photo review. Create an extra scene of students (without costumes) telling others the good news in a modern-day setting.
For those who need a simpler approach:
Begin with the Students' Chart already filled out. Reduce the number of questions you ask while reviewing the photos.
About the Cellphone to TV Connection
The connection is really simple and just requires an inexpensive cable that has one end that plugs into your cellphone and the other end which plugs into your TV. See here for more info.
About the "selfie stick" or tripod to hold the camera
Both have mechanisms to securely hold your camera or cellphone as you extend it out over the top of your scenes. (You'll keep the tripod folded as you extend it.) Selfie-sticks often have a plug that can plug into the camera. This plug is connected to a button on the stick's handle so you can snap the camera's photo from the stick. If using a camera on a tripod or pole, or using a cellphone on a selfie-stick that doesn't have the plug, you can simply use your camera/cellphone's TIME DELAY feature to have someone press the photo trigger and then step out of the scene as the camera counts down and snaps its photo.
Written by Carol Hulbert and the Rotation.org Writing Team
Copyright 2019, Rotation.org Inc.