What is the Workshop Rotation Model for Sunday School?

Below in this topic are several articles describing the Rotation Model, and one describing how traditional Sunday School can adopt certain Rotation Model philosophies and practices.

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A Brief History & Introduction by Neil MacQueen for Rotation.org

The Workshop Rotation Model for Sunday School was created * in 1990 at the Presbyterian Church of Barrington in suburban Chicago. When I arrived there in 1989 as the Associate for Education and Fellowship, I found a beautiful church upstairs, but a tired, boring and rather dysfunctional Sunday School downstairs.

The conditions of our classrooms were so bad I didn't want my own kids in them, let alone anyone else's. We found broken furniture, bad lighting, closets full of unopened supplies, unused curriculum still wrapped cellophane, and rarely used a-v equipment. Attendance was okay, but the mood of the kids, teachers, and rooms was gloomy.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and boy were we in need!

Like many other Sunday Schools, ours was suffering from these common problems:

  • teacher & kid apathy
  • boring rooms and methods
  • lackluster, uninviting learning environments
  • parent indifference
  • purchased resources and lessons going largely unused
  • and students not knowing their Bible stories, let alone wanting to come back.

So in June of 1990, we sat down to brainstorm our way out of this mess.

Working with a team of volunteers, we identified our problems and came up with a creative plan to reorganized our space, teachers, lessons, and style of teaching: classrooms turned into creative "workshops" that the kids rotate through, but the teachers stay-put in.

* The idea of rotating kids, teaching creatively, and remaking rooms was not new, and maybe that's why it works! Our Workshop Rotation Model drew upon lot of ideas and programs we had first-hand experience with over the years, such as, VBS and learning centers. What was new was that we made that model the rule for the entire year, and not just for special occasions.

Having to be creative each week for a new lesson can be exhausting, however, and that's where the Rotation Model really made its breakthrough. By teaching the same story for four to five weeks in a row, and only rotating the kids, we created a sustainable pace of creativity, while adding excitement, depth and memory to the learning. 

In 1991 we started to share our model with other churches, and when they started having the same success, we realized our solution wasn't peculiar to just our situation. So we banded together to support each other and share lesson ideas. As Rotation spread, we stayed in touch with each other through conferences and the creation of Rotation.org.

The Workshop Rotation Model in brief:

1. Re-organize your classrooms into creative "workshops," including: Art, Drama, Games, Computer, Cooking, Video and more. You choose.

2. Rotate your grade groups into a new workshop each week.

3. All the workshops teach the same Bible story for a 4 to 6 week "rotation."

4. Teachers stay put in the workshop teaching the same lesson each week to a new group.

5. The story gets explored and learned in-depth through a variety of creative teaching mediums.

The kids look forward to a different learning experience, teacher, and room each week.

The teachers don't have to plan a new lesson each week. Instead, they plan once every four or five weeks, modifying their basic lesson each week for a slightly different age group, and getting better and more creative as the weeks pass.

By doing so, we also liberated the classroom environment and the teachers. They were no longer responsible for putting up a new coat of construction paper on bulletin boards and selecting which media they might use for a lesson. Instead, the creative workshop spaces were created for them, and the teachers volunteered to four to five week stint in the workshop of their choice & preferred teaching style.

The following example Rotation Schedule pretty much tells you how "the WoRM" works. This example shows three groups rotating through four workshops over four weeks.  The "open" week can be an off week for that teacher, or you could add a fourth group in your rotation. For a five group/five-week rotation, you'd simply add a fifth kind of workshop.


The Results:

  • Enthusiasm and Anticipation for each new week and workshop.
  • Improved Bible Literacy through creative repetition of the lesson
  • Creative teaching methods that are sustainable because you build the room (workshop) around that method and attract a teacher who likes that medium to staff that workshop.
  • Rooms become and stay attractive and creative. No two workshops look the same. Your drama workshop is designed around props, scenery, staging which doesn't have to be torn down each week.
  • Content is learned in a multi-dimensional way. (multiple intelligences)   Kids learn better and more deeply when more of their learning styles are used.
  • Students who are there each week get a deeper experience and memory by repeating the story through different media with a different teacher.
  • Students who only attend occasionally are always exposed to the MAJOR stories of the Bible (whereas, traditional curriculum moves so fast through the Bible that it must fill out their calendars with minor stories). 
  • Yes, that's right: this is not a "lectionary" approach that changes the story every week. This is a rational, kid-friendly, educationally sound approach. The lectionary is for adults.
  • Because we're covering 10 to 12 stories a year, instead of 40 in the traditional model, the teacher's planning time goes down, while the creative methods go up.  Your budget isn't tied up in 52 purchased lesson plans, and resources are easier to budget. 
  • Because teachers stay put in a workshop, seeing a different group each week, teachers get to deepen their knowledge, shorten their planning, and sharpen their lesson plans. Some rotation churches have "shepherds" that accompany each class through each workshop.
  • The model has proven to be very scalable and adaptable to just about any church size or situation, -from one-room Sunday schools to large facilities, from broadly graded classes to individual grade groups from preschool to early teen.

A Simple Concept

At first, Workshop Rotation looks complicated because it's different. But to Rotation folks, it's the traditional model's "changing the story every week" that's difficult! Having to prepare a new lesson and be creative each week is complicated and exhausting. And thinking kids will get and remember each lesson after just 40 minutes is crazy. Rotation is familiar creative teaching techniques, re-organized and slowed down to benefit both the teachers and the kids.

The real work is CHANGE.  Getting people to change, and converting traditional classrooms into workshops is the hard work.

Part of the problem is that the traditional model is easy for leaders and people who think beige is a color. All they have to do is find a volunteer and hand them cellophane-wrapped lessons.

The Workshop Rotation Model changes your leaders into a creative team, -your rooms into inviting media-inspired learning spaces, -and your teachers into confident prepared mentors to our kids. It puts the leaders in charge of the room design and teaching techniques, instead of leaving the rooms up to the individual teacher's idea of creativity, -or lack thereof.

The "WoRM" is more work for the leaders because they have to organize the lessons and supply the teachers, rather than just recruit and hand out curric. But for creative leaders and teachers, the creativity is a gift.

Where do we get our lessons?

When we started Rotation in 1990, we had shelves of creative lesson idea books and old lesson plans to glean from.  Since the advent of the internet, the availability of creative lesson ideas has exploded. Rotation.org is the perfect example of how things have changed in the world of curriculum. 

Rotation.org was originally created to collect creative lesson ideas and resources to plug into your workshop lesson plans. And it has since evolved to offer complete lesson plans. These materials have been generously written and donated to our site by some very creative Rotation Model teachers. (Maybe someday, the denominational publishers will wake up to our group-sourcing model?)

But here's an important lesson insight to keep in mind:  
ost Rotation teacher lean heavily on the lesson plan the first week of the rotation, but by the end of the first lesson, they already know how to improve it, and Rotation will give them that chance with each succeeding week. The kids' grasp of the story also changes with each successive week. In that sense, all Rotation lesson plans are provisional rough drafts. 

Who decides what to teach?

Your church does. You pick the list of major Bible stories you think your kids should know, and then pick the lessons for your workshops. A new video for the Video workshop every four or five weeks, a great art project for your Art Workshop every four or five weeks, and so on. It's not hard, and there are many suggested 5 and 6 year "scope and sequence" lists here at our site.

While most lessons here at rotation.org have plenty of theology and reflection, you'll want someone on your lesson team who knows what your church wants to say.

Yes, you can now buy Rotation curriculum. Some of it is good, and some of it I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole.  Being a gleaner at heart, I want choices. And I know I can adapt any good idea.  Some rotation publishers and currics have come and gone. Publishers are caught in "market cycles" -- the need to sell new things. Rotation.org eschews that old marketing model. Long before the internet and rotation.org, Rotation educators shared what they had with each other. Rotation.org continues that vision.

To learn more about each workshop, go to our Workshop Design and Teaching Resources Forum.

To learn more about how to set up and manage the Workshop Rotation Model, including, how to create a scope and sequence of stories to teach, go to the Setting up and Resourcing the WoRM forum.


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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, www.rotation.org, 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.

Rotation.org 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. www.rotation.org 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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Intro to the Rotation Model Presentation
March 2020 Update

We are in the process of replacing our original presentation.
It should be available in early summer 2020.

In the meantime, WINDOWS users can download and run the original
"About The Workshop Rotation Model" presentation which we've attached to this post.

Download the presentation's 'Intro zip' file and extract/unzip it on your computer.

You'll see a README file and the Intro...exe presentation. Click the Intro..exe file to run.


Print a Handout about the Rotation Model


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How traditionally organized Sunday Schools can take advantage of Workshop Rotation Model practices, philosophies, and creativity.

In a sentence, here are the Workshop Rotation Model's strengths that traditional models can borrow from: extra-creative lesson plans for "major" stories that are repeated for several weeks in a row with a different approach each week.

Traditional Weaknesses ⇒ Creative Opportunities

Traditional curriculums change the story every week. This treats all stories as equal, even though most pastors and teachers would agree that some stories are more "major" and some rather "minor" -- especially when it comes to kids. For example: Moses > Gideon. Prodigal Son > Priscilla and Aquila. (I still remember the Sunday I visited a church where they announced, "this week the kids are studying Moses, next week Joshua."

As every teacher already knows, most published curriculums are uneven. They will have a good lesson followed by a weak one, or a good quarter followed by a weaker one. This is due to publishing practices and human nature. Even the best curriculums are subject to "teacher fatigue" when they grow tired of the same old approaches and format. 

Church educators and committees have long tried to "spice things up" with off-curriculum lessons and special events. (Though Rotation folks would ask, "why not make the regular lessons special?) This is often in response to flagging enthusiasm and a recognition that the curriculum isn't so great all the time.

Once you "hold these truths as self-evident,"  it opens up possibilities of making a change in the teacher schedule -- weeding out the weak lessons and replacing them with better ones that complement and follow up on the stronger ones.  This is something many teachers already do without permission. In the best case scenario their supplements are great. In the worst, they are play days.

Naming our problems and attempting to solve them is what gave rise to the Rotation Model. Change begins with honesty. And while "going full rotation" isn't the answer for many churches, employing some Rotation Model practices can help.

Here are some specific Rotation-inspired adaptations to traditional curriculum that MANY of our members are already using.


Traditional Sunday School curriculums change to a new story or passage every week. Of those 52 lessons, many are simply weak. Rotation programs spend 3 to 5 weeks per story on average to gain depth but do so with extra creative lessons to excite and enhance learning and retention.

Adapt:  Every month, pick out the one or two "WEAK" lesson plans in your traditional curriculum and SKIP them. Now add a lesson from Rotation.org that complements the two lessons you are keeping from your curriculum.  ("Weak" = lesser or obscure passages or poorly realized lesson plans.)


Traditional curriculums tend to use THE SAME sedentary and "less than creative" techniques each week (crafts, worksheets). Rotation programs use a different creative approach each week, so we have lots of creative ideas in our Lesson Forums for major Bible stories.

Adapt: Identify ahead of time the weak activities in otherwise good lesson plans, and then scan Rotation.org for better activities that fit that lesson.

Adapt: Pick two classes a month to supplement your existing lesson plan with something more creative from Rotation.org.

  • You might even ask a creative volunteer to be the person to prep that special lesson and come lead it alongside the regular teacher.

This is the #1 reason people come to our site for -- a better activity than their curriculum has given them.


Traditional programs tend to have "special lesson" times of the year where they move away from the staid curriculum. 

Adapt:  Pick a four week period (or two) every year where "everybody rotates" through a series of creative multi-week lessons on a MAJOR Bible story drawn from Rotation.org. Assign teachers to lead each the special lessons -- repeating it each week for a different class. (This rotating of kids is familiar to you from VBS and is what puts the "rotation" in Rotation Model). While you're at it, recruit new teachers to help you do these special rotations. This will not only gives your regular teachers a break, but your kids and their parents something exciting to look forward to.

Adapt: Pick two or three weeks during the summer for a series of special Sunday School lessons about one great Bible story -- cherry-picking the lessons from Rotation.org (which many of our members do).

Did you know that our Writing Team Lesson Sets can function like Vacation Bible School or special Summer curriculum, ...and that many of the Team's workshops can be adapted into intergenerational events? It's true!


Adapt: Designate a special room or space that classes are invited to come into per a schedule. This "workshop" is staffed by a special volunteer who has developed a terrific lesson on a subject or story you have deemed to be important. The teacher who brings their class into this space acts as an assistant. The teacher who leads the lesson makes it better with each passing week as they adapt it for different ages.

This can be done on a regular basis, or a few times a year.

Kids love having a special Sunday and place to go to. In Rotation we call these special rooms "workshops" and they are decorated around either the theme of the story or the learning approach (a theater or art room or game space. An Exodus village or seaside with the Savior). This decor is part of what makes Rotation learning attractive to kids.


Learn more about Workshop Rotation Model principles and ideas.

What is the Workshop Rotation Model

Rotation: The Power of Repetition and "Do Over"

WoRM vs Traditional Lesson Plans... What's the Difference?


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