Rotation.org Writing Team
A "Scripture Mystery Box" Workshop
a "hands-in" learning experience
Students will participate in a "hands-in" reading and exploration of Psalm 23 using special "Mystery Boxes." Using only their hand and sense of touch to identify the verses inside each sensory box, they will then sequence the boxes in the correct order and then discuss what each verse object means to us today.
About the Mystery Boxes
The Mystery Boxes are created in advance by the teacher or helpers. Students insert a hand into the box through an attached sock and use their "deciphering" skills to feel what's in the box and decide which Psalm 23 verse is in the box. They record their findings on a worksheet (provided).
Once constructed, the Mystery boxes can be used again to help memorize other scriptures that have scenes, lists of things, or episodes.
See the second post in this lesson forum for Mystery Box photos and construction instructions.
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.
Preparation and Materials
- Read the Bible Background and scripture.
- Print the Psalm 23 Mystery Box Materials Checklist.pdf (This is provided for ease of teachers when gathering supplies.)
- Print the Pictures of King David PDF.
- Print Teacher's Guide to Psalm 23.
- Make the Mystery Boxes; see the full details with photos in the post below this lesson.
- Print the Psalm 23 Mystery Box Matching Game "Worksheet," one per student.
Choose either the Editable Word Doc to change the translation or the NRSV PDF.
- Print out the Psalm 23 Scripture Cards in color on cardstock, then fold-on-the-line provided to create free-standing cards to go with each box. These cards will be used in the Opening activity, and eventually will be matched with their corresponding box.
Choose Editable Word Doc to change the translation, or the Editable NRSV version. Both open in Word.
- Clipboards or hard writing surfaces for the worksheet for students.
- Pens or pencils, one per student.
- A timer (most cellphones have a timer).
- Pocket Sheep Supplies: Wads of cotton, strips of thin leather thong, and permanent markers.
- A photo of someone special to you.
- A cross - either a cross necklace or a pocket reminder.
- Opening Bible Study of Psalm 23
- Mystery Box Exploration
- Reflection and making a "Pocket Sheep"
Welcome your students and explain what they'll be doing and learning today.
Show the printed pictures of King David, and ask students what they know about him before sharing the following.
Say: King David was a shepherd as a young boy and also a musician (he played the harp). It is believed that he wrote many of the psalms found in the Bible, including Psalm 23, the one we are studying today. We know from stories about him that David loved God and had a close personal relationship with God—praying, worshiping, asking for God's help, and obeying God's commands. Psalm 23 is David's reminder to us that God is ALWAYS with us and guiding us—just like a Shepherd guides and cares for their sheep.
Find Psalm 23: Teach your students how to split their Bible in half to find the Psalms. ("If you land in Job, turn forward a few pages to get to Psalms. If you land in Proverbs, you've gone a bit too far, just turn back a few pages until you find Psalms.") Note that if you split the right half, you will find Mathew and the other Gospels. Remind them that Psalms were originally sung, but we only have the words to them. Note that many of the hymns we sing in church are based on the psalms.
Read the Psalm or have it read by students, assigning one verse per student.
Following the reading, ask: What do you know about sheep? (Confirm and/or guide to correct answers.)
The following set of questions helps students understand some of the metaphors used in Psalm 23 and reminds them that THEY are the sheep in the Psalm in need of God. Use as many as you have time and attention for. Consult your Teacher's Guide to Psalm 23 for additional insights into the psalm verses.
Ask: Why is calm clean water important to a sheep?
Sheep are not very smart. They will drink polluted water and get sick, so the shepherd has to be careful to guide them only to good water. Name a bad thing God wants us to stay away from, and a good thing God wants to lead us to.
Ask: What happens if a sheep doesn't go down the right path but a wrong one?
Sheep will follow the sheep in front of them even if it leads to trouble. They will stumble onto rocky ground which risks breaking a leg. Do people ever act like sheep—going and doing things they aren't supposed to do? How does God try to guide us?
Ask: What do you imagine a "dark valley" is like?
Narrow paths and valleys between pastures can be places where predators lurk. Why did King David say that he was not afraid in the darkest valleys? (Because he says "You are with me, your rod and staff comfort me.")
Ask: What are a rod and staff?
They are the shepherd's tools and weapons. When sheep see the shepherd ready to protect them, they are comforted. What does God give US to protect us and comfort us? (The Holy Spirit, guidance from scripture, prayer, and other believers.)
Ask: What does "You anoint my head with oil" mean?
Sheep need the shepherd to apply a special oil to their nostrils to keep flies from laying eggs inside their noses and making them sick. Gross! King David was anointed with oil on his forehead when he was a boy as a sign of God's love and that he would one day be the new King. What liquid did the church put on your head and maybe your entire body as a sign that you too are loved and belong to God? (water, baptism)
Say: Well these are important words, ...but only if we remember them! Let's gather around the Mystery Box table and find out about the fun way we're going to remember these words.
Mystery Box Scripture Game
Give everyone a worksheet, a pencil, and a clipboard they can write on.
Say: I have a challenge for you! There are SEVEN Mystery Boxes—each one of which has part of a Psalm 23 verse in it. We're going to take turns GENTLY reaching into each box, and touching everything inside to find out WHICH VERSE the things inside the box feel like, and then match the box's letter-sign to the correct verse part on your worksheet.
Here's the catch: you only have 20 seconds to feel the objects in each box. When you pull out your hand, you need to write the letter of the box on your worksheet next to its verse match before moving on to the next box.
Don't talk to anyone else and keep your answers secret until we all get back together again.
Begin by having everyone line up at the first box and letting the first person reach in. Click "Start" on your timer. When time is up, have him or her immediately remove his hand, step aside and secretly record the letter of the box next to the verse on the worksheet before moving on to the next box.
- If you have 5 or fewer students, you may all wait until everyone has completed the 20 second exploring of the box before moving as a group to the next box.
- If you have a larger class, move some of the students to the opposite end of the table and start from those boxes. Have an extra helper there with a timer to oversee each student's 20 seconds with the box.
After all the students have explored each box and written down their "guesses" as to which box belongs with which verse...
Pull out your Psalm 23 Scripture Cards again, hold up the first one, read it out loud, and ask for a show of hands "which Mystery Box" matched that verse.
Your matching discussion might go something like this:
How many of you think this verse and photo matches BOX 1? BOX 2? ...and so on. Then ask an individual student, "Why did you think this verse on the card matches Box X?
Doing it that way will keep certain students from shouting out the answers and dominating the conversation.
As each box is identified, place the corresponding Psalm 23 Illustrated Scripture Card with it. As you add the card, you may interject an additional teaching insight of your own or one from the Teacher's Guide to Psalm 23. Once each box has a card, invite the students to place the Mystery Boxes in the correct order and then "walk the boxes" together reciting the Psalm out loud.
If you have the time, open the boxes one by one to let the kids see what you put in them. In our test class, they enjoyed seeing what they had touched, and it gave us another opportunity to talk about the verses.
Pocket Sheep Reflection
If you are short on time, you may simply conclude by giving each student their own set of Psalm 23 Flashcards. They use the same illustrations seen in this lesson. See the flashcard printing options at the Psalm 23 Printables section of our online lesson forum.
If students don't have time to quickly make their own pocket sheep, as of 2019 Oriental Trading Co. sells inexpensive miniature plastic lambs by the dozen.
Ask: What do many people carry to remind them of someone special to them? (Show a photo of someone special to you).
Ask: What do many Christians wear to remind them of Jesus? (Show a cross necklace as an example of a symbol that it can either be worn around the neck or kept in a pocket.)
Ask: What could you make and put in your pocket to remind YOU of Psalm 23? (Show them a small "pocket sheep" that you have made).
Have each student make a Psalm 23 Pocket Sheep:
1. Compress a wad of "sheep's wool" (cotton wad) approximately 1" high and 2" long.
2. Tightly wrap in the middle with a piece of leather or twine string). Additional string can be added to wear the sheep as a necklace or hang it in their bedroom as a reminder.
3. Add two dots for eyes with a black permanent marker (optional).
Ask: After completing the Pocket Sheep, ask students "what might be the next time coming up in the life" that they need to feel the pocket sheep to be reminded of Psalm 23's comforting words.
Suggest other places/locations they could put the Pocket Sheep to be a constant reminder of God's shepherding presence in their lives. (Examples: Attach to your bedroom doorknob with a string, put in your school backpack.)
If time permits, make another pocket sheep to share with a friend or family member.
Close with a whole-group recitation of Psalm 23 and prayer of praise to the Shepherd.
For Younger Students:
We've included pictures with the scriptures for visuals for the younger children who cannot read. With the Mystery Boxes, ask them what they feel and what they think it is. If they're not sure have them look at the scripture verse pictures for ideas of what they are feeling in each box.
For Older Students:
Older students can get into more details on what the psalms means to them. Students who are older may enjoy viewing a hand motion interpretation of Psalm 23, then learning a few of the signs that match the verses or the whole Psalm; see it in the next post.
For those with more class time:
Invite parents to join the class and try their hands at matching up the Mystery Boxes.
For those who need to "simplify" the lesson or main activity:
Short of preparation time, select which boxes you have the time and supplies to make. Cover all boxes by also discussing which boxes are missing. If short on time you could also skip the sheep reflection.
An "intergenerational" event:
Depending on how much time you have, students or a "family table" could be assigned a verse mystery box to construct from a table loaded with supplies. Then circulate the boxes to each table and worksheets to each participant with the instructions that someone at the table is the "20 second timekeeper" (using their cellphone timer). Let the tables exchange boxes with each other until every box has been explored by each table. Have an "MC" of the event hold up each box announcing its letter and ask the crowd to announce which verse it represented. Let each table "score keep" how many of its participants got it right. Consider awarding a sheep prize to the best score.
Written by Nancy Stamey Eubanks and the Rotation.org Writing Team.
Copyright 2019, Rotation.org Inc.
King David images copyright Sweet Publishing, used with permission, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.