Rotation.org Writing Team
Game Stations Workshop
Summary of Activities
Through a game of concentration and fun game "stations," students will understand Psalm 23 and begin to commit it to memory. A set of printable illustration memory cards will be taken home to continue that process and to share with others.
Scripture for the Lesson
Psalm 23 (NRSV)
Key/Memory Verses: The entire psalm!
See the Bible Background at rotation.org for this set's complete list of objectives. Remember that one of the key objectives of this lesson and all in the set is memorizing Psalm 23.
Preparation and Materials
- Read Psalm 23 and the Bible Background.
- Print 2 sets of the Concentration playing cards attached to this lesson on heavy paper. We have provided two versions: ConcentrationCards-NRSV.pdf and ConcentrationCards-NoText.docx which you can use to play the game with just the illustrations, or to open in Word and add your preferred translation of the Psalm.
- Print the Game Station Illustrated Placards: Illustrations only or the illustrations with NRSV text included.
- Print out a set of the take-home "Flash Cards" Word doc, one per student. Edit as desired. For more options, see the "Printable Resources" section of the lesson set.
- Print the Teacher's Guide to Psalm 23 to help share insight into the verses as you play the games.
- Prepare the game stations using the Game Supplies, Setup, and Playing instructions at the END of this lesson plan.
- Consider the age and time adjustments suggested at the end of this lesson plan.
Invite a volunteer(s) to collect and set up the Game Stations in advance and then help you manage/explain the games during the lesson. It's a great way to involve teens and parents.
There are two main games in this lesson:
(1) Psalm 23 Concentration, and (2) The Psalm 23 Game Stations.
(1) The Concentration game introduces Psalm 23 and some basic concepts. (2) The Game Stations reinforce student memories and give the teacher more opportunities to share insights and discuss the psalm's life application.
The following description assumes a class size of 4 to 6 students who can read. See the age and class size adjustments at the end of this lesson for adapting this lesson to younger children or larger groups, and also for those with less than 40 minutes of class time.
Welcome your students and explain what they'll be doing and learning today.
Say: Today we are going to learn one of the world's most famous and comforting poems, a poem called "Psalm 23." It was written by King David and is found in our Bibles. Let's see how fast everyone can find it!
Bible Skill: Show students that Psalms is found right in the MIDDLE of (most of) our Bibles. Show them how to split their Bibles to find the psalms. If you have time, show them how to split the second half of their Bible pages to approximately locate the Gospels.
Read Psalm 23: Invite everyone to read the psalm out loud with you. Go slowly. Tell them ahead of time that they'll be playing several games to see how much they remember.
Ask: Why do you think this psalm is so famous? Briefly discuss some possibilities (it's positive, comforting, assuring, promising).
Ask: Some people have called Psalm 23 the "Good News" or "Gospel" Psalm. What are some of the "good news" ideas you see in it? (Note a few and then move on to the first game. You'll have ample opportunity during the games to offer more insights).
Psalm 23 Concentration Game
Split into two teams of 2 or 3 players each. If you have more students, create a second Concentration game area. (These will be the teams for the Game Stations also.)
Randomly arrange the 20 Concentration Game cards (10 pairs) face down on the floor in the shape of a large square. Space them out so that children can walk between cards to turn them over. The first team turns over two cards. If the cards match, they get to remove them from the floor and look for two more matching cards. If they do not match, turn them back over and the second team takes its turn. Play continues until all the cards have been matched.
As cards are matched, share insight into the meaning of the matched verse from your "Teacher's Guide to Psalm 23" as you feel is appropriate.
After all the cards have been matched, invite the two teams to quickly work together to lay all the cards on the floor in the order in which they appear in Psalm 23. Keep in mind that you have pairs of each card so you can have them create two correct orders!
Psalm 23 Game Stations!
Playing all five game stations will help students commit the entire psalm to memory and provide you with many brief teaching opportunities. If you are short on time, focus on the first three stations.
Place the printed Scripture Verse Placards prominently with each game. Have the students recite them together before you "hide" them during the game and they have to recite them from memory as best as they can.
Station 1: The "I Shall Not Want" Ball Pit
Station 2: Green Pastures
Station 3: Right Path and Darkest Valley, Rod and Staff
Station 4: A Table, Oil, and Cup Before Me
Station 5: Goodness, Mercy, and the House of the Lord
Seat children at tables, announce the Game Station winners, then hand out the take-home flashcards, one set per child. Have them put their flashcards in order. Then, randomly hold up a card and ask them "which verse is this?" Do this just a few times, then close the lesson with prayer thanking God for being our shepherd and promising to care for us "all the days of my life."
Game Station Supplies, Setup, and Gameplay
You may have other materials at your disposal to create the game stations. The following supplies are suggested. If you are short on time or space, just set up the first three stations. Recruit volunteers to help you collect and set up each station.
Game Station 1: The "I Shall Not Want" Ball Pit
Supplies and Setup:
- A small pool or container big enough to hold 50 to 100 plastic balls.
- Plastic "ball pit" balls (50 to 100 pieces are under $10 at Walmart or online).
- Draw and write on the balls as follows:
- Draw a sheep face on as many balls as you have students.
- Write different things that "God Gives" and "Doesn't give" on the balls so that you have one of both kinds for each student in your class. See the list in the box below of "give/doesn't give" for suggestions.
- Most of the balls will have nothing on them.
To begin the game, show the students all the sheep balls and dump them into the pool. Then show and read aloud the two types of message balls (something God gives us, something God doesn't give us), then dump them into the pool and mix all the balls and announce the rules.
Split into two teams and have one player from each team approach the pool. On "go" they have ten seconds (or more, your choice) to find and remove one sheep ball, one "God gives" ball, and one "God doesn't give" ball. They receive one point for every correct ball, and zero points for duplicates. They can't have help from teammates. Once found, each "give/doesn't give ball" is kept out of play for the duration of the game (making it harder for later players to find the "give/doesn't give" balls). Play until everyone has taken a turn. Announce the winner. To add to the fun, the teacher may stir the balls with a broom or shepherd's crook while students are looking. Each student keeps her or his "sheep ball" after finding it.
After Game 1: Recite Psalm 23:1 together and say and ask the following: Just like sheep need their shepherd to take care of their wants and needs, so too we depend on God to take care of our wants and needs. This is the good news of Psalm 23 that we will hear in every single verse. But the big question is "what are our needs?"
Should we expect our Good Shepherd to give us everything we "want"? ...like money and ice cream? (No, that's not the kind of "wants and needs" the psalmist means.)
Looking at the "needs" balls you found, tell me what are some of the "needs" God is pleased to give us? (The "wants" God will give to me.)
Game Station 2: "Green Pastures"
Description: Two students, one from each team, will simultaneously be guiding their "sheep balls" with their "crooks" along a path on the floor --stopping at three "verse stop" areas: a green pasture, still waters, and a restful-restoring finish.
Game Play: Have the Verse Placards prominently displayed and invite students to read them out loud. Then remove them for the game.
Have the first two students start guiding their sheep (balls) along the path. When they reach each of the three "verse stops," they must WHISPER to the game leader (so the other player can't hear) the verse portion that matches where they are on the game board before moving on. For example, when the player gets her or his ball to the still waters, she whispers "He leads me beside still waters." If she gets it right, she gets 2 points for her team and continues on. If she gets it wrong or only partially correct, she can look at the card and say it out loud to the teacher for 1 point before continuing. You decide how "correct" they need to be.
Supplies and Setup: Create the game area using 2x4x8 boards (you'll reuse them in Game Station 3). Think of it like a "putt putt" hole with three verse holes. The crooks can be as simple as paper tubes or dowels. Students will need their sheep balls from the first game.
The Three Verse Stops:
- To create the "green pasture" verse stop, any green cloth or blanket will do.
- To create the "still waters" verse stop, you may simply place a paper plate upside down on the floor and cut a hole in it for the ball to sit in. Color the plate blue. Or you could put out a bowl of water with a simple cardboard ramp for the sheep ball to roll up and into the water.
- To create the "restores/rests my soul" verse stop, you may simply have a pillow onto which the students must scoot the ball.
Make these as difficult or as easy as your age group and time allows.
After Game 2 say and ask: Shepherds are good to the sheep. They lead sheep to grassy areas to eat and feel safe. They take them to clean water to drink. And they know when sheep need their rest. Where and how does God feed you? What unclean things does God want to lead you away from? Other than sleep, what are some things God helps you do to make your thoughts and worries take a rest and you feel renewed in spirit?
Game Station 3: Right Path & Darkest Valley, Rod and Staff
Supplies and Setup: To save preparation and time, you'll be re-using the "Green Pastures" 2x4x8 boards from Game Station 2 and adding a "darkest valley" tunnel to the end of it.
Lay down several 2x4x8 boards to create a "right path of balance beams" the students will walk.
At the end of the right path balance beams, place a "dark tunnel" to crawl through/under. This tunnel can be as simple as a long table covered with dark tablecloth or tarp or a child's play tunnel or a series of cardboard boxes.
At the end of the tunnel, place a Rod and a Staff (simple cardboard props).
You will also need a timer (on your phone is fine) or a stopwatch.
Gameplay: This is a timed event. Students from each team take turns crossing the balance beam path and making their way through the tunnel to grab the rod and staff. Review the verses before the game starts and then hide them from view.
Players are sent back if they fall off the "path" or do not recite from memory the verse for each activity -- which they are to recite as they walk the path and crawl:
- Crossing the balance beam path: "He leads me in right paths for his name's sake."
- Going through the dark tunnel: "Even though I walk through the darkest valley I fear no evil."
- Grabbing the rod and staff: "For you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me."
The game leader may decide how closely each student has to quote the line. What will happen during this timed event is that students waiting their turn will really listen and work on remembering the verse they will have to recite when it is their turn. This kind of "game tension" is a great aid to memorization and fun.
Ask After Game 3: What are some ways God our Good Shepherd leads us in right paths? (Examples: coming to Sunday school, prayer, reading the Bible, leaders, etc.) According to this part of the psalm, WHY don't we "fear evil"?
Game Station 4: A Table, Oil, and Cup Before Me
Gameplay: Students compete to see who can "set the Table," anoint themselves with oil, and make their cup overflow (into the bowl) the fastest and recite the verse from memory after they sit down at the table. The teacher awards "points" from 0 to 3 (perfect) at his/her discretion. Setting and Reciting can be done one at a time or two students from two teams can vie to complete the table setting and reciting the fastest and most completely.
- A table.
- Two chairs.
- A folded tablecloth.
- Plate, fork, spoon, napkin.
- Various foods that you can snack on later or "prop foods" of empty bags/boxes that can be reused or plastic "play" food that a child might have.
- A plate with a small amount of oil on it (olive oil or baby oil).
- An empty cup sitting in a bowl and a pitcher of water.
Ask After the Game: One of the chairs is for you. Who do you think the empty chair could be for? (Suggest that it is for your "enemy" and that the Table described in the psalm is a table for reconciling with your enemies.) What "Table" do we use in worship and what do we use it for? (Communion Table. Point out that it too is a table of invitation, peace, reconciliation.)
Game Station 5: "Goodness, Mercy, and the House of the Lord"
Description: On "go" individuals or players from each team rush to a table where they find 3-foot pre-cut lengths of yarn (2 per player), masking tape, permanent markers, and a basket of "pit balls." They tape one end of each piece of yarn to a ball and tape or tie the other end to their ankles. They write "Goodness" on one ball and "Mercy" on the other. Then they rush off around the room (navigating some simple obstacles like chairs) while READING the Verse Placard in their hand, and finish by sitting on a table you have labeled "House of the Lord." This is a timed event. Award points based on fastest, second fastest, etc., making sure everyone gets points (award good handwriting points to last place finishers for fun).
- Two 3-foot pieces of yarn per player.
- Two balls per player.
- Two permanent markers.
- Rolls of masking tape.
- Verse Placards.
Ask after the Game: What is "goodness" and what is "mercy"? (Blessings and forgiveness/love are synonyms). Share the insight that the word "follow" in Hebrew is actually closer to "purse or chase" ...which is why we tied the balls to the yarn to make them "follow." Psalm 23 reminds us to LOOK for God's love surrounding and chasing us EVERY day of our lives.
Invite players to KEEP their "goodness and mercy following them" as they exit class and explain to others where their two balls came from and what they mean.
Game Station 1 suggested "gives, doesn't give"
...to be written on the plastic balls.
Of all the lines in Psalm 23, "I shall not want" may be the most difficult for children to grasp. It is primarily a poetic way of expressing CONFIDENCE in the Lord, but children may think it means "God will give me everything I want or need," like food and shelter, and of course God is not a vending machine so we need to explain its meaning. As discussed in the Bible Background and Psalm 23 Teaching Guide, "I shall not want" can mean "I don't have to worry" along the lines of "my shepherd won't abandon me." "God is what I need the most."
The following two lists help make plain the meaning of "I shall not want." You may add others. Write them on pit balls and follow the Game 1 instructions for playing with them.
Things the Good Shepherd Gives Us (with comments in parentheses)
- Salvation, the free gift of forgiveness.
- Guidance (life of Jesus, people, scripture, pastors, and the Holy Spirit)
- Comfort (both spiritual and personal)
- People to help us (God sends people to help us.)
- A place to call home and be cared for (his church, his heaven, his presence)
- Free will to make decisions and learn from our mistakes
- Peace (confidence in God's love)
Things the Good Shepherd Doesn't Directly Give Us
- Food. (God is not Kroger.)
- Money. (Unfortunately there are some Christians who preach such blessings.)
- Housing. (God does give us a "house" ...his house: his family, his Church.)
- Clothing. (But God does promise to clothe us with his love and righteousness.)
- Physical Protection. (God will not physically stop you from jumping off of a cliff.)
- Everything we ask for in prayer.
- Answers to all our questions.
For Younger Students and Non-Readers: Simplify your comments and discussion in the game stations. Adjust the game layout and "rules" to make the games easier. Have them try their best to recall the individual verses during the game and have everybody recite them before and after each game.
Class Size Adjustments: For class sizes of 7 or more, have two games (or more) of Concentration happening at the same time. Be sure each game has a leader providing insights. For larger classes at the Game Stations, divide into more teams and have a player from each team compete at the same time at each station, or assign students to be the player at certain stations and cheerleaders at others.
If you are short on time: Set up just a few of the Game Stations to play the verse games you want to focus on. We suggest focusing on Psalm 23:1-3 (stations 1, 2, and 3). Or you can split the lesson plan into two lessons (a Concentration game lesson and a Game Stations lesson); expand the discussion time after the Concentration game and add an additional game that turns the Concentration placards into a "flashcards" competition in which you show the illustration and the students compete to say the verse. Adjust so that every player feels a sense of accomplishment.
Written by Dawn Parr and the Rotation.org Writing Team
Copyright 2020, Rotation.org Inc.