Curriculum Plan Step 2: Buckets and Structure

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This is the second in a three part series on how to create a curriculum plan for your youth ministry.  In Part 1, we developed lists of what we want our youth to know, feel, or do while they are in the youth ministry. Now, we must take that information and organize it into buckets or categories that we can use to build our curriculum plan. Then, we need to pick a structure for our plan.

Buckets

Mark DeVries likes to call the category system that we are about to create “buckets,” because in our next step we will pull a specific topic out of each general bucket category as we finalize the curriculum plan.

Take your know, feel, do list and go through and mark each item in two ways. Decide what grade-level is the best time for a youth to learn, experience, or do each item. Additionally, mark what program is the best place to learn, experience, or do each item. You might use JH (junior high) and SH (senior high) to distinguish the age levels. Then, you can use SS (Sunday school), YG (youth group), BS (Bible study), R (retreat), MT (mission trip) to distinguish the programs.

Once you have labeled or marked each topic from your know, feel, do list, you are ready to organize them into buckets or categories.

The goal of this step is to gather similar topics and experiences into general category buckets so that you end up with something like this:

[table id=23 /]

Structure

Once you have organized and labeled your buckets, you can move on to the next step of picking a structure for your curriculum plan. You have six or seven years (depending on if you have 6th graders in your program) for youth to learn and experience all the things that you hope they will. Having a six or seven-year curriculum plan will help you to ensure that you are covering everything. There are several different ways to structure your curriculum plan. These questions can help you as you think about which structure is right for you.

1. Do we like students all learning the same topic on the same day, just taught at different levels? (For example, all classes are studying Acts, but at different levels of teaching.)

2. If yes, do we like the idea of all teachers having the same resources – same books – for all grades? It’s simpler. Is that important to you? (It makes it easier to train together and share resources and ideas, but it can feel constraining.)

3. How much of what we want to teach is age-specific? Are there topics that you really want to teach in 6th – 8th grade but you probably wouldn’t want to teach in 9th – 12th?

Four Common Curriculum Structures

Church Calendar

If you choose to develop your curriculum plan around the church calendar, then you can safely assume that it has been carefully planned. By using a curriculum based on the lectionary, you will cover the major Biblical themes of the Old and New Testament every three years and you will not have as many decisions to make. If your pastor uses the lectionary in worship, then your lessons will align with worship.

Denominational or “Canned” Curriculum

If you choose to go with a denominationally planned curriculum or use a publishers “canned” curriculum, then you trust that those leaders have done the hard work of making these decisions for you. You can trust that the curriculum is theologically in line with your denomination.

Rotating Buckets/Topics/Categories

If you choose to develop your own curriculum plan and develop as structure from the buckets, categories, and topics you have created, then you have a greater sense of control over a broad set of topics. You can cover a variety of topics each year. It is also easier to teach specific topics at certain age levels.

With this plan, all youth use the same curriculum resource each week, though they may be divided into any number of grade configurations. For example, all the youth could meet together, or they could meet as junior high and high school groups, or they could meet in grade level classes. The key to this rotation is not how many classes you have but how many curriculum resources you use each week. You may choose to rotate the junior and senior high through different buckets creating a two-year rotation for junior high and a four-year rotation for senior high like this:

[table id=20 /]

[table id=21 /]

Annual Themes Benefits

If you choose an annual themes benefit, you have the flexibility to customize your curriculum to your church’s mission and character. It is easier to teach specific topics at certain age levels and each topic is hammered home.

This rotation is like school, with each grade having its own distinct curriculum (for example, 7th grade always does an overview of the Bible, 8th grade always talks about relationships, etc.). This structure requires having as many separate classes as you have grades or teaching everyone together. Once the first year curriculum is set, those topics and much of the material is simply repeated year after year. The disadvantage is that the first year will require locating six or seven different years’ worth of resources for the entire year.  This structure looks like this:
[table id=22 /]

Of course, you can choose a different structure for each of your program areas. You might use annual themes for Bible study and a rotating themes model for Sunday school.

We find that folks typically decide to deal with biblical subjects in Sunday school and Bible study and topical subjects during youth group and small groups. However, you can structure your curriculum plans however works best for your context. The important thing to remember is that if you want youth to know, feel, or do certain things before they graduate from your program, you need a system and structure for that to happen.

What curriculum structure do you use for each program?

Now you are ready for Curriculum Planning Step 3:  Scheduling & Curriculum.

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